Former Hall's Site in Paddock Wood

Following the completion of investigation works and risk assessment, the final summary report is in the last stages of preparation before publication. We aim to make this available to download from 13 April 2015. The report does contain a non-technical summary but also has a full and detailed account of the work that we have done, the conclusions we have drawn and why we have made them. We will be holding a final public drop-in session on Thursday 16 April 2015, from 4pm until 8pm at the Wesley Centre, Commercial Road, Paddock Wood, TN12 6DS. Council officers and our advisors will be on hand to answer any questions you may have.

Halls Site Investigation Update - 17 December 2014

We have now received the initial draft of the detailed risk assessment for asbestos. This indicates that the risk from asbestos in the soil to residents is low and that no further work should be required. We have to wait for the final risk assessment report and for the conclusions and methodology to be agreed by Public Health England before we can formally tell residents that the investigation process over. We are expecting to receive this towards the end of January.

Once we have the report we will send a letter out as quickly as possible to all residents and interested parties formally advising them of this and ending the investigation process. Residents will be able to use this letter to confirm to any mortgage lenders or buyers that there is no reason for any question over house sales.

Following this we will produce a summary report of all of the work undertaken in the process which will be made available to all parties. This will involve the compilation and summary of a large amount of data and will take several weeks to complete.

We thank you for your continued patience in this matter and assure you that we are working as quickly as we can to bring the process to an end as soon as possible.

Halls Site Investigation Update - 25 November 2014

The laboratory results of the asbestos sampling have been received and collated. These have now been sent to a specialist in risk assessment of asbestos in soils. We are expecting the results of this to be received in the middle of December. This will enable us to make a decision as to whether any further tests are required or if the process can be completed. We will have to liaise with other agencies about this decision which might take 3-4 weeks depending on their availability. While we will do everything we can to complete the assessment as quickly as possible it likely that we will not be able to notify everyone until the end of January 2015.

We do appreciate how important having this process concluded as soon as possible is to everyone and we are doing everything we can to push things along as quickly as we can while making sure it is done correctly.

Investigation of potential land contamination

Part 2A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, places a legal duty on all local councils to try to find land in their area that might have been contaminated by current or a former uses. The council then has to put any sites they find in order of priority based on the risk they might cause to human health or the wider environment. We have been going through this process for some time, in line with our Contaminated Land Investigation Strategy published in 2008 (currently under review).

Our work to date has identified the site of the former Hall’s Site in Paddock Wood as the top priority site in our district for several reasons but mainly because of the historical use of the site for making mainly timber sheds and greenhouses which involved timber treatment. This was before the houses were built and that we cannot be certain that any contaminated land was dealt with when the houses were built in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Need to investigate

This means that we now have to investigate further by doing an intrusive investigation of the area where the Hall’s site was – a plan showing the area is available to download from this page. To do this we will have to dig some boreholes in the ground across the area of the old factory and take some soil samples for testing. The holes need to be made in residents’ gardens as that is where people will be most at risk from any contamination that might be in the soil. From the results of the testing we will then be able to decide if the land is contaminated and therefore posing an unacceptable health risk, or if it is not.

If it is contaminated we then need to decide the best way to carry out remedial work. We will only say it is contaminated if risk assessments show that anything in the soil is causing an unacceptable risk to health. To help us we have employed expert consultants who have significant experience of supporting local councils with this process to design the investigations and do the risk assessments.

Depending on which part of the site you live you will have had a letter asking you if we can dig a borehole in your garden, or telling you that you are on a lower risk area of the site. We are not planning on digging holes in the lower risk areas of the site at this time. If you live on the lower risk area we may still need to look at your gardens and collect samples but this will depend on what we find in the first investigation.

We know that you will have a lot of questions and concerns and we've provided information on what we think would be residents' main concerns via:

  • Frequently Asked Questions tab (FAQs) 
  • Attached documents and reports
  • Links to specialist websites

There were two drop in open information sessions in Paddock Wood, for details please see the May 2014 Update PDF.

If you have further questions then please submit your enquiry using our online form.

Investigations of the land at the former Hall’s Site have shown that the levels of contaminants in the soils in the area, do not pose a significant risk to health.  These frequently asked questions and answers have been prepared by the council to answer any outstanding queries you may have.

Why did Tunbridge Wells Borough Council investigate the area? 

The council has a duty under Part 2A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to inspect its area for land which, in the past may have been used in a way that led to contamination (timber treatment) and address any potential issues arising from this.

The council made its decision about whether to investigate the Former Hall’s site area based on the potential for contamination of the site and considering the number of households potentially affected. We started this process in April 2014 as there had been some problems with house sales locally because of questions raised over potential contamination. In addition, changes to contaminated land legislation and government guidance concerning contaminated land had recently been completed.

What was the council looking for?

This area was the site of a former works that we understand carried out timber treatment and we looked mainly for hydrocarbons associated with timber treatment substances like tars and creosotes. We were provided with evidence that the site might have been involved in constructing barns with asbestos material in them so we also looked for that too.

Where did you look?

We have divided the site into three zones. The first area (Zone 1) is where the timber works was based and this is where we initially concentrated the investigation. The other two areas (Zones 2 and 3) were used for storage so were likely to be at lower risk of contamination, therefore   we decided only to investigate these zones if we identified a public health risk within Zone 1 area.  Based on the results found in Zone 1, we did not need to extend our investigations into Zones 2 and 3, although some investigations were made by private householders within these zones, which did not identify any contamination issues.

What did you do? 

We took a large number of soil samples from the ground across the site, targeting specific areas such as locations of old tanks, as well as random samples to get coverage of the whole of Zone 1.   The work was split  into two phases, the first phase found that there were no concerns about most of things we were looking for in the soils (e.g. hydrocarbons) but did find that asbestos was present in a number of samples distributed across the site.

The second phase then concentrated specifically on asbestos taking more samples from Zone 1. We also used a specialist company to investigate if the asbestos in the soil was likely to be transferred to the air during normal gardening activities

We were able to use the results of these investigations to make an assessment of the potential risk to health from the asbestos in the soils.

We have used leading experts to help us to do these at all times and have consulted with Public Health England.

What was the conclusion? 

Although there is some asbestos in the ground, the level of risk to health has been classified as “category 4” as defined by the Statutory Guidance that we follow.  This is the lowest level of risk within the contaminated land risk assessment process and means that there is minimal health risk from the concentrations present and that the asbestos present was not likely to be transferred to air and be inhaled. Given this residents can continue to use their garden as normal such as by growing vegetables and letting children and pets play in the soil.

What advice has the council taken? 

The council is following guidance provided by the Government and Environment Agency. We employed experts to help us to design and implement the site investigation and to undertake the required risk assessments. The companies we have used have significant experience of supporting councils in making decisions about contaminated land and are leading experts in asbestos in soils.

What happens now? 

You should have already received a letter that certifies that we do not think the land across the whole estate is contaminated.  This will be followed by a summary report and we will be happy to answer any further questions you might have.

Do I need to do anything? 

No, you can carry on using your property as normal.

What if I find asbestos in my garden? 

It is very unlikely that you will find asbestos in your garden and even if you do it is unlikely to be in a form (dust) that could be inhaled which is the exposure route of concern from a health perspective.  If you do find any materials that you think might be asbestos containing material, first damp down the debris using water, and either gently flush away small particles to the drain or, wearing protective gloves to prevent scratches, pick up larger pieces carefully, place in two plastic bags and seal.   Do not sweep up or vacuum asbestos as this will create airborne dust.  It can then be taken to the North Farm amenity site where it can be disposed of.  You should contact them first to check that they have room for it. 

What if I am having building work done? 

There is no need for any extra precautions but you should tell your builders that they may find some asbestos in the garden so that they are aware.  They should then follow the same advice as above.

How about selling my house?

The investigations have shown that the estate as a whole is not contaminated, you have been provided with a letter that confirms this.  House sale should not be affected by questions over contaminated land.

What other information can we see? 

The web page for the project has links to other places you can get general information on contaminated land including the Environment Agency and Public Health England. We will also be publishing a summary report about the work we have done and the conclusions.

Will you identify individual properties where samples were taken? No. We have investigated and assessed the site as a whole rather than as individual properties and we are making the decision that it is not contaminated on a whole site basis.  This will ensure those properties we have not sampled are not discriminated against.

How can I ask more questions? 

You can fill in the contact the investigation form on the web page and we will answer your questions as quickly as we can and will aim to get back to you within 24 hours (excluding weekends and bank holicays).

Will I be able to speak to you about this?

We will be arranging for council officers and our consultants to be at a drop in session at the end of March 2015 where you can meet us and ask us questions.

 

Why is Tunbridge Wells Borough Council investigating my home now?

The council has a duty under Part 2A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to inspect its area for land which, in the past may have been used in a way that led to contamination and address any potential issues arising from this.

The council makes its decision about whether to investigate further based on risk from the possible contamination and considering the number of households potentially affected. We are starting now because there have been some problems with house sales locally because of questions raised over potential contamination. In addition, recent changes to contaminated land legislation and government guidance concerning contaminated land are now complete.

Why have you not done it before now? 

Although we did carry out a desk study in 2008 there have been lots of changes in the guidance that councils have to use to make decisions about contaminated land. The guidance about acceptable levels of contaminants in soils were also withdrawn. The recent work commissioned by the government departments to look at these changes means that we now have the tools we need to investigate the site and complete a risk assessment we can be sure of.

What is the council looking for?

This area was the site of a former works that we believe may have carried out timber treatment and we will be looking for a number of different chemicals, but mainly for hydrocarbons associated with timber treatment substances like tars and creosotes. We have also heard that the site might have been involved in making barns with asbestos material in them so will be looking for that too. 

How do you know where to look?

We have divided the site into three zones. The first area is where the works was and this is where we will be looking on this occasion. If you live on this area you will have had a letter telling you and asking if we can investigate and test soil in your garden. The other two areas appear to have mainly been used for storage and we might look there later or not at all depending on what we find in the first stage. The first stage of the inspection has been designed to give us a picture of the whole site and we hope that this gives enough information to allow us to conclude that the site is not contaminated. It might show us that there are some areas that need further investigation. If this is required we will come back and look in more detail at these areas. The historic maps of the site and different zones are shown in the reports attached to the web page.

How will the council measure the risk?

We will take soil samples from the ground during the investigation according to an investigation plan that we will work out in advance. We have chosen expert consultants to help us to do this. We will then use the results of the investigation to show which places are not contaminated and which places either are definitely contaminated or need more investigation. Our consultants are experts at risk assessment and will make sure that we only say that land is contaminated if there really is a risk.

What is the risk?

Risks from contaminated land are generally very low. The council has a legal duty to inspect land where historic records suggest there is significant risk of contamination being present. However, the land will only be determined as being contaminated if the council considers contamination in the ground poses a significant possibility of a significant harm (SPOSH) to the most sensitive receptor on site. Our risk assessment will assume the most sensitive receptor on site would be a small child living on site from birth to the age of six. A significant risk will be considered to be present where the assessment identifies a theoretical 1 in 10,000 risk of ill health during an entire lifetime as a result of contamination that may be present. This approach follows guidance set by the government. The table below tries to put this level of risk in context, compared to some other risks that people are generally faced with in life.

Risk Level
Description
1 in 15 Risk of serious complication from catching measles  (eg pneumonia 1:25)
1 in 100
risk of developing lung cancer at RADON action level
1 in 8000
risk of death on the road
1 in 1000
risk of death if non-immunised child catches measles
1 in 10000
Risk of adverse health effect from contamination (not death)
1 in 10000
Risk of maternal death in pregnancy

Can my children still play in the garden while we wait to find out about contamination?

Yes, but like you normally would, you should make sure they wash their hands afterwards and before they eat.
Is my drinking water safe? We don’t think there will be an issue with drinking water but we may carry out tests of the water as part of the estate wide site inspection if we think this is necessary.

What advice has the council taken? 

The council is following guidance provided by the Government and Environment Agency. We have employed experts to help us to design the site investigation and to do the risk assessments. The company we are using has significant experience of supporting councils in making decisions about contaminated land. We will also employ experts to do the investigation and take the soil samples.

Do you want to dig a hole in my garden? 

If you live in the first area your letter will say that we would like permission to dig a borehole in your garden. The hole is made by a small tracked machine and is about the same diameter as a drainpipe. Most of the holes will be filled in straight afterwards, but some might have a fitting put on them so that we can monitor and take water samples later. 

Do I have to let dig you the hole? 

We would very much like to have your permission and we believe it is in your interests to let us dig a borehole as we will get sample results about your garden which could take you out of the process very quickly. If you really don’t want to let us in we will try to find an alternative but we should make you aware that if necessary we have legal powers that allow us to get access to property. We would only use these powers as a last resort.

Will you make a mess in my garden?

We will make sure we leave your garden in the condition it was when we arrived.

What will happen next and how long will it take?

The council will use the information from the initial inspection to decide what, if any, further investigation or remedial work is needed. If there is anything then we will arrange with the homeowners affected to do this. The council has allocated a budget that will cover the investigation and a full risk assessment of the site. Our outline timetable for the initial work is detailed below but this might change depending on a number of factors including what we find:

  • Intrusive investigation planned to commence in June 2014
  • Interpretation of results and initial report to residents during August 2014
  • If needed, second investigation to commence in October 2014
  • Assessment of remediation options and costings if a problem is identified, ongoing

We will put regular updates on the web page about progress and timing as and when we have information. As we find out a property is not contaminated we give the homeowner a certificate that to say that and take it out of the process immediately to make the process as quick as possible for you.

Why my solicitor didn’t tell me about this?

The contaminated land regulations have been in force for over 10 years. Solicitors have access to external environmental searches detailing this type of information for example the Landmark Envirocheck and Homecheck products. A free check can be carried out online at the Homecheck website. The council also gets request for further information from solicitors. Obtaining this information is good practice and should be provided in any land transaction.

Can I still sell my house?

While the investigation is being carried out it might make it difficult to sell a property and we know that the possibility of contaminated land on the site has already caused some problems for house sellers. However in the longer term the investigation will determine if the land is contaminated or not and if it is it the council will make sure it is dealt with. When this process is finished it will remove uncertainty.

Who is will have to pay for any necessary remedial works?

The council will pay to carry out whatever inspections are necessary to find out the potential risks and decide if any work is needed to control these risks. The council will also carry out investigations into the people or organisations that either caused or knowingly permitted the contamination to remain on site during the development of your house. This is known as the polluter pays principle. If we can trace the people responsible then the council will determine liability and costs for each such person. However, in absence of such people then costs can be charged to the landowner. That means you might have to pay some of the costs but only if our expert consultants decide that remedial work is needed and we can’t pursue the original polluter. The council is currently investigating whether the original parties that operated the works site and those that built the houses still exist.

Will you say my garden is contaminated if it is not as clean as would be required for a new house? 

No. We will only say it is a contaminated if it is causing an ‘unacceptable level of risk’.  This means that the contamination is so high that it cannot be left in the ground when we compare the risk to the levels in the risk table above. This is what the government guidance says we must do and it would not be fair to dig up everyone’s garden unless we really need to. Regulations are in place requiring developers to ensure that any new house build uses clean soil in gardens that do not pose a risk to people living there.

What other information can we see? 

The web page has links to other places you can get general information on contaminated land like the Environment Agency and Public Health England. You can also download the technical reports we have about the site.

How can I ask more questions? 

We arranged for council officers and our consultants to be at two drop in information sessions (May 1 and 2) in Paddock Wood, for an overview of the discussion please see the PDF 'May Update'. 

If you have further questions and comments please contact us using our online form.

What contamination did you find during the investigation completed in June/July 2014?

Following the site investigation that was completed in July 2014 we have now received preliminary results. These show that there is no evidence of significant historic contamination of the site associated with hydrocarbons or heavy metals that may have been used in the timber treatment process. However, the investigation has identified the presence of asbestos material in the soil at varying depths at locations across the site. We found small amounts of asbestos in the soils and need to carry out further testing to fully assess any potential health risks from this.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material that was extensively used within many building materials in the UK from the 1950s through to the mid-1980s. It was used for a variety of purposes on account of its excellent thermal and electrical insulating properties.. Asbestos is found in many products used in buildings, including ceiling tiles, pipe insulation, boilers and sprayed coatings. Any building built before 2000 (houses, factories, offices, schools, hospitals etc) may contain asbestos. This means that the presence of asbestos is common in the general environment. We think that the asbestos that has been found on the former Halls site is most likely from the former buildings previously on site.

What are the health risks from Asbestos?

It is important to stress that bound or cemented asbestos materials in good condition do not usually pose a significant risk of harm to human health. Asbestos poses a potential risk when individual fibres become airborne and are inhaled. This may occur when cemented or bound asbestos containing materials are damaged for example.

However, a key factor in the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease is the total number of fibres breathed in. Most evidence relating to adverse health effects from asbestos exposure is from occupational studies. Less evidence is available from exposure to the public, especially from asbestos that is present in soil. People who work with asbestos or with asbestos-containing products are likely to be exposed to much higher levels of asbestos fibres in air than the general public. Working on or near damaged asbestos-containing materials and breathing in high levels of asbestos fibres, which may be many hundreds of times that of environmental background levels can increase the chances of getting an asbestos-related disease.

Do residents need to take any extra precautions?

Public Health England (previously the Health Protection Agency) has produced some generic Do’s and Don’ts relating to potentially contaminated land sites. Whilst investigations are ongoing it would be advisable to continue to follow the advice provided on the information pack.

What are you going to do now?

We are going to do more investigation focussing solely on asbestos in the top 600mm of soil in garden areas. This will involve digging a further 40 boreholes by hand in garden areas, collecting and testing about 100 samples. We will use the results of this next phase of work to find the areas where there is the most asbestos in the soil. We will then carry out further specialist assessment in localised areas to determine the proportion of asbestos that could potentially actually be released to the air during simulated gardening under very carefully controlled conditions.

During the site works

If a borehole is being placed in your garden we ask that you stay away from the work area. Our contractors have undertaken their own risk assessment for the proposed additional works in light of the results of the first phase of works. As a precaution they will be wearing their standard protective equipment for working with soil potentially containing asbestos (including wearing disposable asbestos protection suits, gloves and ‘P3’ face masks).

When will the work be finished?

The work will be finished as soon as possible. We are aiming to complete the site works in September and we will then be working very hard to have results and risk assessments completed as quickly as we can. However we are working with industry specialists in this area and it is important that we get it right and so we ask that you are patient while we do this.

When will you tell us the results?

If we conclude that the site as a whole does not pose an potential risk to health we will issue a statement to all interested parties confirming this. If we do determine any part or parts of the site as contaminated there is Statutory Guidance which prescribes what information should be made available.

How can I ask more questions?

You can fill in the form on the web page and we will answer your questions as quickly as we can and will aim to get back to you within 24 hours.

We arranged for council officers and our consultants to be at drop in sessions on 1 and 2 May 2014, where the public were able to met us and ask questions.

Please see the May 2014 update for an overview of everything that was discussed as well as recent progress in the investigation.

How can I ask more questions? 

You can submit your enquiry online and we will aim to get back to you within 24 hours.

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