|Salusbury Primary and Paddington Old Cemetery
Carolyn Downs, Brent Council Chief Executive, publicly apologised yesterday evening for the Council's failure to contact the headteacher of Salusbury Primary School over the possible asbestos contamination at Paddington Cemetery, which borders the school.
Ms Downs was moved to apologise after parents had told the meeting about their fears for their children's health when they heard about the issue earlier this year. Several parents pointed out that the children grow vegetables in the school garden adjacent to the cemetery, The area has been closed off to pupils pending investigation of the soil. Parents said that even if they had not been told it was incumbent on the Council to inform the headteacher so that she could decide what action to take.
The Chair of Governors of Salusbury Primary requested a clear timeline of Council action to reiterate their commitment to making the area safe. She asked for the school to be consulted over the timing of the proposed removal of soil from the cemetery mound. She asked for much better communication and transparency.
Council Officers had argued earlier that they had received advice that there was more public risk in raising parental anxiety by publicising the issue than the low risk posed by the asbestos contamination itself.
The CEO had earlier told the meeting that the full report into the asbestos had only been withheld from the public in case there was enough evidence to press criminal charges against those who had dumped the asbestos.When it was clear that there was insufficient evidence the report had been published on the council website. LINK
During the meeting the tension between Cllr John Duffy, who has pursued the issue relentlessly, was palpable. Duffy was confined to making interventions from the audience and his contributions were frequently curtailed or interrupted by Amar Dave, Head of Regeneration who was conducting the meeting. I think it would have been better if Duffy had been invited to join the panel and make his contribution alongside Chris Whyte (Operational Director of Environmental Services), Michael Bradley (Head of Audit and Investigations) and Simon Clennel-Jones (of Delta Simons who prepared the investigation of asbestos at the cemetery). That would have enabled him to make a clear presentation of his own investigations and answer questions from the audience.
Duffy contested whether Michael Bradley's report had been truly independent, he wanted an external investigation, and pointed out that the Delta Simons investigation had analysed soil samples after soil had been removed to the West London Waste Authority facility.
Cllr Duffy protested that the Bradley investigation had not interviewed gravediggers at the site, the people most at risk because their daily work disturbed the contaminated soil, and had spoken to managers instead. He was told that workers would now be interviewed.
The Simon Delta report had emphasised the low risk posed by the incidence of asbestos found which they said was normal for an urban environment but a member of the audience pointed out the section in their report that stated:
Officers said that Veolia had advised their workers to contact their GPs over possible exposure which raised for me what appeared during the meeting to be a grey area of responsibility between Brent Council, as a public body, and Veolia, a multi-national company.Nevertheless, the Client as landowner (and potentially as employer) has a duty to manage to ensure exposuresis kept as low as reasonably practicable; further, the assessment has identified the potential for exposures to exceed a level at which has been considered in civil litigation as being a material contributor to a case of mesothelioma. (Para 8.1)
This was evident when Friends of Old Paddington Cemetery LINK raised issues about works, other than asbestos related, at the Cemetery which was listed on the National Register of Parks and Gardens and where English Heritage should be consulted about any changes. The Friends had been distressed about the destruction of footpaths to accommodate new graves without any consultation. It was unclear from responses whether the council had been fully informed of works Veolia had carried out.
Officers said they were going to remove all the soil from the 'mound', the area where the suspect soild had been dumped as a way to reassure residents.
After the meeting it was clear that some residents still did not feel they had the full pictures and there was particular confusion over key dates and what took place on them. The timeline promised by the council may address this or it may raise further questions.
Other Brent councillors were present at the meeting, including Muhammed Butt, leader of the Council, but none spoke except for Cllr Duffy.