Call for action on Queen Charlton dumping ground

PEOPLE living near a huge pile of unknown contaminants believed to include asbestos are calling for action, amid fears children will be “at risk” if they gain access to the site.

After the failure of a scheme to establish an anaerobic digester plant just outside Queen Charlton village, near Keynsham, outbuildings lie half-submerged in water and a quarry is filled with so much material that it now looms six metres above the surrounding ground.

The site – which is bigger than Queen Charlton itself – has been abandoned by the company that owns it, and now nobody is keeping it secure.

Rob Duff, of Protect Our Keynsham Environment, a group of residents calling for the site to be made safe, said: “I have been a town planner since 1983 and this is the worst site in the green belt I have ever come across.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Dan Norris, and Edmund Cannon – who are all vying to be elected the area’s MP on July 4 for the Conservative, Labour, and Green parties respectively – were among about 30 people who held a protest outside the gates to the site, calling on Bath and North East Somerset Council to act.

Mr Duff told the protest: “We don’t know what was tipped over there in the big hill. We don’t know what contaminants are there, other than we know asbestos was tipped, and woodchip. Other than that, it was uncontrolled.”

A statement from the group added: “There is strong evidence in court documents and planning documents which refer to asbestos being deposited or found on the site. We won’t know for sure until B&NES Council does an inspection.”

Mr Duff said: “We are a kilometre from Keynsham, we are only yards from houses. If children are to come and play on here, they are at risk.

“So the residents here would like to know what’s on there. They would like the council to take action and investigate the site under Environmental Protection Act powers and, if possible, involve the Environment Agency – and either tell residents ‘it’s safe, we’ve cleaned it up, everything’s gone’ or make it secure.”

Signs on the gates read ‘Danger: Deep water’ and ‘Caution: Guard dogs on patrol’, but nobody is guarding the site.

Campaigners say the company that owned the site has dissolved, meaning ownership has reverted to the Crown.

Mr Duff said: “The council could have acted on this site over the last eight years and haven’t done so. And therefore it’s now a problem.

“The Crown will not act. They will not take responsibility of the site because they don’t have to take responsibility of the site. The land has literally fallen on them because the owners have gone away.

“The only way this site is going to be made safe is if Bath and North East Somerset act. And here, on behalf of the residents, I am asking Bath and North East Somerset to act.”

A spokesperson for Bath and North East Somerset Council said: “We have taken planning enforcement action by issuing an Enforcement Notice requiring the removal of the unauthorised anaerobic digester facility on the site. This notice remains in effect on the land and would bind any subsequent owner of the land.

“We are also considering taking further planning enforcement action in relation to the unauthorised waste deposited on the land.”

The electoral candidates for North East Somerset and Hanham who attended the protest were unanimous that action should be taken.

Mr Norris said: “B&NES Council do need to act. We know there has been a huge amount of material – three times the height of me, six metres – has been spread across this general area.”

He called for the site to be inspected to find out what had been dumped, adding: “We need to know, and we need to discover what is going on, and then we need to act if it is appropriate. And I believe it probably is.”

Sir Jacob praised the “remarkable” campaigners. He said: “The Environment Agency, at one point, was pretty good and was taking an active interest. That seems to have tailed off. But the council is singularly failing to enforce the planning restrictions here and has done, I’m afraid, for a long time.”

Mr Cannon added that it was a “classic example” of the danger of relaxing planning laws.

He said: “There’s a lot of people saying that the planning restriction makes it very difficult for developers, and I think this shows that planning regulations are, in fact, very weak when it comes to protecting the environment.

Liberal Democrat candidate Dine Romero was not at the protest, but Mr Cannon said he felt she should have been, adding: “She was the leader of the council during the time this should have been dealt with.”

Ms Romero, who was leader of the council between 2019 and 2021, said after the protest: “Planning enforcement officers have done everything possible within planning enforcement laws. I expect the council and I, if elected, to work with all agencies to return the land to its original safe state.”

The plan for an anaerobic digester facility was submitted by Resourceful Energy Anaerobic Limited (REAL), but the scheme was refused by B&NES Council planning committee in March 2022. The developer appealed but later decided to withdraw its challenge.

John Wimperis, Local Democracy Reporting Service