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Update: Plans thrown out on appeal

Sunday, 21 March 2010

" . . . it is not clear whether it would be possible to develop the site safely"

The Planning Inspectorate has ruled that houses should not be built upon the land across the road from the old Cape Asbestos factory, Acre Mil

The Inspector wrote in her finding, "despite the previous, permitted car
park use, it would represent encroachment into the countryside and conflict with that purpose of including land in the Green Belt. Whilst it would not be visually detrimental, the proposed scheme would be harmful to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness and the erosion of openness."

The Inspector also said, "The concerns of neighbours and others that there may be asbestos dumped at the site, and therefore a risk of significant contamination and danger to health, must be taken very seriously . . . To my mind without further information about the likely location, type and level of any contamination it is not clear whether it would be possible to develop the site safely. I do not consider that, had I been minded to allow the appeal, the matter could have been satisfactorily addressed through conditions."

Cape Asbestos, Acre Mill and the risk posed by disturbing buried asbestos

Thursday, 5 November 2009

A planning appeal has been submitted by Lyn Gledhill (agents, Moreton-Deakin Associates), the owner of land across the road from the old Cape Asbestos factory, Acre Mill, in Old Town against the decision of Calderdale to refuse planning.

Last night a meeting was held at the White Lion in Hebden Bridge to discuss the threat to our area from disrupting asbestos still buried on the land.

Lest we Forget was the title of the meeting called to remember the hundreds of local people who have died because of their association with Acre Mill in Old Town. And to raise public awareness of the serious danger to all who live round here if the land at Acre Mill is disturbed.

The meeting was chaired and addressed by Jason Addy, Academic Researcher from Manchester Metropolitan University. Jason also presented excerpts from 2 groundbreaking investigations into Hebden Bridge's asbestos legacy - World in Action and Yorkshire Television's Alice Fight For Life. Jason was both knowledgeable and eloquent.

The meeting was told that Calderdale had turned down plans for a proposed “eco-home” because it would infringe the green belt area. However, there was concern that no reference had been made of the contamination of the site by “potentially hundreds of tons of asbestos”.

It was stressed that opposition to the development was not based upon Nimbyism but a serious concern for the health of the people of Old Town and Hebden Bridge. The land containing the waste is at the top of a hill and near a water course. Asbestos dust would be disturbed and could risk causing cancers for decades to come. If the disturbed soil is allowed to dry out, that is when it could become very dangerous.

There has been no soil samples taken. Asbestos particles are usually invisible to the human eye. If asbestos is in the soil of mud picked up on shoes, and shoes dry out at home, it could be subsequently breathed in. The village school is 50 yards away.

Acre Mill
Thanks to Frank Woolrych of the Hebden Bridge Local History Group for making this photo available: it was taken in the seventies by an unknown photographer.

Acre Mill used white, brown and blue asbestos which had been mined in South Africa. The mill was started just before WW2 to make gas masks. Those that worked at Acre Mill in the early days were exposed to larged amounts of asbestos and went on to suffer and die from asbestosis. From the 1960s there was a growth in the number of cases of mesothelioma and lung disease arising from lower levels of asbestos contact. The problem here is that there is no known lower limit. Even to this day, there are people in the Hebden Bridge area dying of asbestos related cancers.

The World in Action film was first shown in 1972: Dust at Acre Mill was produced by John Sheppard who died last month and whose death was reported recently in the Guardian. Jason described John Sheppard as "an incredible investigative film maker."

The World in Action programme demonstrated how Cape Asbestos who ran Acre Mill repeatedly broke Government regulations, especially with regard to ventilation which was virtually non existent. One former worker explained that on one occasion that had to break a window because the dust was so thick. Hessian sacks were used to transport the poisonous material when regulations required the company to use non porous materials for transportation. When the Factory Inspectors visited, they would phone management beforehand.

Excerpts were also shown from Alice: Fight For Life the Yorkshire TV programme of 1982 following Alice Jefferson's last few weeks as she struggled with pain. Alice worked at Acre Mill 30 years earlier and was diagnosed with mesothelioma, the incurable cancer linked to asbestos exposure. Those who watched the excerpts were visibly moved by Alice's courage and her sadness of not being able to see her children become adults.

Jason Addy stressed that he didn’t think that either programme could be made now. Yorkshire TV employed half a dozen people to work 2 years on the 90 minute programme. These days, there is more litigation involved in controversial issues.

The programme makers also had to face serious opposition from the asbestos companies. In the 1970s, the asbestos industry was still expanding. After Alice: Fight for Life was shown, £60 million was wiped off their shares. Asbestos was only outlawed in 1999.

Many people would like to put Acre Mill behind us. Others, newcomers to our area, will know little or nothing about this local disaster, probably the UK's worst ever industrial tragedy. But there is a serious risk to our whole area, today, if the hundreds of tons of sleeping asbestos are disturbed at Acre Mill.

See also:

Hebweb Feature on Acre Mill

Forum thread and Planning Watch for details of how to make your representations

Hebweb News - Cape Asbestos - Lest We Forget

Hebweb News: Alarm grows over plans which may disturb Acre Mill's deadly asbestos (March 2009)

Video clips: these groundbreaking documentaries retain their incredible power to highlight the damage and injustices caused by asbestos

World In Action: The Dust at Acre Mill (1972) - filmed in Hebden Bridge, with interviews with formers workers of Acre Mill.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Alice - Fight For Life: interview excerpts:

Part 1 | Part 2

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