Council soothes allotment holders over soil tests

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Allotment holders are feeling more secure after "positive" talks over the future of their plots.

Council representatives met with Mudchute plotholders over the weekend to explain their plans to test for possible contaminants in the land.

A recent soil survey by the council revealed traces of lead and arsenic, prompting the authority to call for further samples to be taken at depths of between 30 centimetres and six metres.

Mudchute Park and Farm has already taken steps to suspend sales of its produce and has restricted grazing, but the council has pledged the discovery "is not likely to present any immediate health risks".

Allotment holders feared any six metre drilling would destroy their plots, and possibly lead to the seizure of the nine-decade old site for development.

Despite earlier emailed indications that six metre drilling would occur on a "limited number" of plots, the three-person council delegation assured its audience that it would not be drilling that deep into any of the plots themselves. Nevertheless, two holders volunteered their sites if necessary.

Head of environmental health David Farrell said: "There will be no rigs coming onto the allotments and we will be drilling the two six metre bore holes on either end of the allotment. We will attempt not to involve any plot."

The Wharf attended Saturday's meeting at the allotments, in which the council explained the operation. Samples will be taken from each allotment from the first 30cm of soil and then between 30 and 80cm to judge the contamination at surface and root level.

A further four six metre samples will be taken to gauge the geology of the area, and will then be filled in with bentonite clay.

The council has received government funding to carry out its required soil contamination testing, and targeted Mudchute due to its history as a site for companies such as Duckhams Oils.

Previous sampling at 15 spots in the area revealed 630mg/kg of lead and 62 to 97 mg/kg of arsenic, above the guidelines of 450mg/kg and 43mg/kg respectively. But Mr Farrell assured plotholders that "while the results trigger an investigation, they don't raise alarm".

The investigation on-site is expected to take a week, and samples will then undergo around four weeks of lab testing. Interpretation by consultants may take a further eight to 12 weeks, and no definitive estimate could be given of the total duration. Should the land be declared contaminated, contaminated land officer Yolande Macklin assured plotholders that "it would be cleaned up to a certain criteria for allotment use".

The council said government money was also available for this clean-up, but that it would have to be applied for separately.

While many allotment holders felt the meeting had been a success, some remained wary of the involvement of contaminated land consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff, whose work also features land redevelopment. The Isle of Dogs and District Allotment Society has asked for access to the data, and for organisations such as the Health Protection Agency to be able to scrutinise the results.

Plotholder Hugh Stewart said: "I genuinely believe at the moment that this is above board, but in the future different parties could be motivated to act by economic need, whether that's a developer or authority.

"I think the council representatives today have behaved in a professional manner and have been open in explaining the process, but there's an underlying sense of unease about how local and central government looks at allotments."

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