Assurances over contaminated land

North Gare sands
North Gare sands

ENGINEERS have moved to reassure the public that an area of contaminated land at a popular walking spot is not dangerous.

A large stretch of sand dunes at North Gare Sands, close to the former Leathers chemicals site in Hartlepool, has been classed as contaminated with traces of spent oxides including cyanide and sulphur.

But Hartlepool Borough Council said any risk is extremely low because of the thick clay cap they have put in place on top of the land.

It is the dunes along the walkway rather than the beach area that is affected.

And weekly checks are carried out with any breaches repaired immediately.

The site, on private land and several hundred feet long, has only recently been officially classed as contaminated.

Now council engineers have submitted funding bids towards a long-term solution.

Engineers say it is too steep to put fencing up and there are fears sections could wash away at high tide.

Alastair Smith, assistant director (transportation and engineering), said: “Our staff are doing weekly checks and if any area is highlighted as a concern then it is immediately capped and made safe.

“Any risk to the public is extremely low.”

Mayor Stuart Drummond said: “I don’t want to create mass hysteria.

“This is safe and not a danger to the public.

“We have a good history of dealing with contaminated land with zero risk to members of the public.

“I have full confidence it can remain open for people to enjoy.”

Ongoing efforts to secure funding from the Environment Agency was discussed by the cabinet committee.

Two bids, for a total of £55,000, have been submitted towards maintaining capping and further investigative work.

Members heard zinc and acid works have been in the area from as early as 1908.

Councillors raised concerns the affected area was popular with dog walkers and families and asked whether fencing could be erected.

Mr Smith said: “We believe by maintaining and inspecting the clay cap we are keeping the area safe.

“We do not think there is any need to close this area as long as it is maintained.”

Independent councillor Paul Thompson said: “I think we need to stop the public getting near it. I am not that comfortable with the area being completely exposed.”

Officers said it was a valid point, but the terrain was difficult to fence and capping was sufficient.

Malcolm Walker, a community advisor appointed by the mayor, said it would be a “considerable loss of public amenity” if it was fenced.

Work is ongoing to ensure those liable rectify the problem either by agreement or by serving a legal notice.

Officers warned the process is complex as there are various residual businesses potentially involved.

Dave Wilson, engineering design manager, said it was the Environment Agency, after an investigation, that said the land should be classed as contaminated.

That was done officially six weeks ago and now the council has to develop a remediation strategy.

The contaminated area has been capped for the past 15 months after it was classed as urgent work because of the spent oxides in the land.

The initial work cost £6,000 and repairs have been carried out since.