Contaminated Soil: An NHH + L&Q Response

silwood estate returfing

On the 28th of July, Spectacle received a reply to inquiries into the contaminated top-soil on the Silwood estate. We have recently compared the answers we received from Notting Hill Housing and London & Quadrant in response to the questions we posed:

Spectacle: From where was the topsoil currently being removed brought?
Notting Hill Housing + London and Quadrant: We understand from the groundwork sub-contractor the original soil was sourced from the South-East area. (where?)
S: Have soil tests been conducted on the contaminated soil, and if so, what did the results of these tests reveal?
NHH + L&Q: 15 gardens were tested by a geotechnical engineer between May and September 2009. The laboratory tests confirmed 11 of the 15 gardens had soil marginally above Environment Agency ‘Contaminated Land Exposure Assessment (C.L.E.A) ‘trigger levels’ for domestic gardens. (what are ‘trigger levels’? what is the scale?)
S: What are the health consequences related to this soil contamination?
NHH + L&Q: We do not consider the marginal nature of the soil classification poses any threat to health. It is key to note the soil was classified as being adequate for communal gardens and that of the sample tested 27 percent were deemed to be suitable for domestic use by the Environment Agency C.L.E.A. (27 percent, 4 out of 15, is not a laudable percentage. has an independent party provided comment on/ looked into health concerns?)
S: How is any contamination thought to have arisen?
NHH + L&Q: As part of the build contract, Higgins Construction sourced and imported top soil. (… which was already contaminated? … which became contaminated en route? … which was not fit for purpose (domestic use) and became contaminated after installation? when did contamination occur and how?)
S: For how long has Higgins Construction known about any contamination present in the topsoil?
NHH + L&Q: In March 2009, it was brought to our attention that a Planning Consent condition relating to ground remediation had not been discharged. In order to satisfy the condition, Higgins Construction arranged to take further soil samples from across sample of gardens in May and September 2009. The results of these tests were sent to the Lewisham Council Environmental Health Officer and Planning Department to sign off the condition that all soil and sub-soil met the required specification… a few fell outside of the required level s for domestic gardens.
S: Will any contamination have affected the fruit and vegetables grown in some residents’ gardens in such a way as might adversely affect the health of anyone who might eat them?
NHH + L&Q: The marginal nature of the soil classification does not pose a threat to health from eating produce grown in the soil. It is key to note that soil in any garden would have a degree of ‘contamination’ and that the issue is about present day classification.
S: On what basis was the £250 compensation for each affected garden calculated?
NHH + L&Q: The £250 is an arbitrary without prejudice figure offered by Higgins as fair compensation for the disruption to residents’ lives’ during the works.
S: How long will these works (removing contaminated topsoil, replacing it with new topsoil, and repairing residents’ gardens) take?
NHH + L&Q: As of the 16th July the works are complete to approximately half of the gardens, with the end of August being the forecast completion of the last property. This is slightly longer than first envisaged but ensuring the work is completed safely and correctly remains the priority. The quantity of residents’ garden apparatus and replanting to some gardens has elongated the original programme , but Higgins wish to ensure all tenants receive a high standard garden replacement.
S: How much will these works (removing contaminated topsoil, replacing it with new topsoil, and repairing residents’ gardens) cost?
NHH + L&Q: As it was a contractual obligation of Higgins Construction PLC to discharge the planning consent, the cost of the remedial works is being met by Higgins Construction PLC and notbeing passed to the respective RSL. The estimated cost is over £100,000 and is being wholly financed by Higgins Construction PLC as part of their contractual obligation.
S: In addition, we were informed during a conversation on Silwood Estate with a Higgins Construction employee that some paperwork related to the contaminated topsoil had been lost. We would therefore also like to know:
Of what nature was this lost paperwork?
How was this paperwork lost?
If this lost paperwork was in connection with the contamination of the topsoil, why is the issue only being addressed now, several years after the topsoil was bought and laid in residents’ gardens?
NHH + L&Q: Higgins Construction PLC advises that no paperwork has been lost. Lewisham require further documentation to discharge the planning condition and all current work is being very carefully monitored and all soil is being tested. Final analysis and a Conclusion Report will be submitted to the Lewisham Planning Department to clear the final condition to the planning consent after the works are completed.

Keep an eye on the Spectacle Blog for updates on this issue.

Click Silwood Video Group for more blogs
See our Silwood Video Group project pages for more information and videos.
Or visit PlanA our general blog on urbanism, planning and architecture.

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Digging Down Deeper at Silwood

Yet another twist in the Silwood tale as around 50 residents are having their back gardens dug up because of ‘contaminated’ topsoil.

All residents in Phase 3a of the estate plans will have to endure this disruption, as diggers roll in to pull up plants, trees, and even patios.

And the reason behind these noisy – and presumably expensive – works? Topsoil that is apparently contaminated with ‘light traces of oil’, said a spokesman from Higgins Construction, the building firm working on the estate.

The gardens affected were previously filled with topsoil bought in from elsewhere. And it’s unclear whether the soil has been contaminated right from the start. Some residents suspect as much, saying that plants seeded in the soil haven’t grown easily. One pointed out a rose bush planted five years ago – still barely more than a few shoots.

But the Higgins Construction spokesman we met suggested that oil could have made it into the soil through people ‘redecorating’ their sheds and fences. It would have to have been fairly large-scale redecoration to have contaminated the soil in so many different gardens.

There’s also the mysterious matter of some missing paperwork regarding the topsoil bought in several years ago. It was lost, apparently, somewhere between Higgins Construction, Lewisham council, and the contractor. It seems that the relevant paperwork was not in place when the original bought-in topsoil was laid down.

Residents are certainly confused about what’s been going on. The first they heard of the new digging works was a note through their letterboxes saying their soil was contaminated.

They weren’t allowed to opt-out of the works, and many feel that they  weren’t given sufficient explanation as to why their gardens have to be destroyed in this way.

Several residents also expressed great sadness at the loss of their gardens – and some who had been eating food grown in their plots were worried about the effect the contamination could have had on their fruit and vegetables, and therefore on their own health.

The Silwood  Video Group plans to write to Higgins Construction, London and Quadrant, and Lewisham council asking for a formal explanation of what the contamination is,  how it occurred and the health implications. We also want to find out how long the works will take – as some tenants say the disruption has already gone on for longer than was promised.

Keep an eye on the Spectacle Blog for updates on their responses.

Click Silwood Video Group for more blogs
See our Silwood Video Group project pages for more information and videos.
Or visit PlanA our general blog on urbanism, planning and architecture.

Spectacle homepage
Befriend Spectacle.Docs on Facebook
Follow SpectacleMedia on Twitter

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