Homeowners face clean up charges

NEW laws have left homeowners facing a crippling £50,000 bill to clean up land contaminated by a 19th Century ironworks in what looks set to be the first of several cases.

NEW laws have left homeowners facing a crippling £50,000 bill to clean up land contaminated by a 19th Century ironworks in what looks set to be the first of several cases.

The regulations threaten to leave thousand of homeowners across East Anglia with huge costs if surveyors find their properties are built on land blighted by poisons such as mercury and arsenic.

Since 2001 local authorities have been testing land for harmful chemicals and it has now been revealed homeowners could be liable for the clean up costs if the original polluters cannot be found.

Sarah Croslandand her mother Diane Dantesare affected by the new regulations.


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Miss Crosland is purchasing the Old Coach House in Hall Street, Long Melford, from her mother and other relatives.

The house has been in their family since the 1950s, but an environmental survey carried out in the grounds of the property revealed high levels of lead, mercury and arsenic, which are harmful and must be cleaned up.

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It has been discovered that a former blacksmiths' forge and iron works contaminated the land in the 1880s and the early 1900s.

Miss Crosland said that Babergh District Council has told her she will have to carry out the work as the original polluters no longer exist. She says the authority has said it will carry out the work and claim the costs back when the property is sold.

"We think it is outrageous we have to pay out because somebody contaminated the area more then a hundred years ago," said Miss Crosland. "We have received quotes and it will cost us around £50,000 to re-lay the entire garden. We will also be liable for any damage caused to the area when the work is being carried out. We are refusing to do the work at the moment and will take legal advice if we have to."

The new regulations were introduced in Britain in 2001, under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. They were designed to highlight contaminated areas on former industrial land and brownfield sites that may be used for development.

Many local authorities have been identifying potentially contaminated sites, and homeowners now risk being asked to pick-up the tab.

Suffolk County Council member Richard Kemp has taken up the case on behalf of Miss Crosland and is now asking Sudbury peer Lord Phillips to raise the matter in the House of Lords.

"I think the whole thing is a catastrophe. The Government must now introduce a contingency fund or we will find it has a dramatic effect on property owners.

"Villages like Long Melford have historically had a lot of forges and factories and you can be sure several other properties will be contaminated, and that will be the same for all the villages throughout Suffolk.

"I have now sent all the information to Lord Phillips and I am asking him to raise the issue in Parliament."

Anthony Redman, a chartered surveyor for the Whitworth Co-Partnership in Bury St Edmunds said: "These regulations could potentially affect every house wherever there has been a history of industrial process, and in a place like Suffolk that is every village.

"I think homeowners are being caught up in legislation that was not intended to catch them. This is the first case I know where a homeowner has been asked to do the work, but there could be thousands more to come because the chances of finding the original polluters are nil.

"The problem is the local authority now has the ability to require the homeowner to carry out the work on the contaminated land," he said.

Babergh's environmental officer James Buckingham said: "We have not made any decision over Miss Crosland's case and negotiations are ongoing.

"Legislation has been introduced to allow local authorities to find potential contamination sites.

"Under these rules homeowners are one of the liability groups we can look at to meet the costs and ensure the clearing of a contaminated area.

"We do try to find the original polluter, but if they no longer exist we then look towards the owner or occupier. There are several exclusion tests if people cannot afford it."

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