Power firm told to clean up polluted housing site

Residents welcome High Court ruling

Emma Dunlop

A DONCASTER homeowner who sparked a pollution alert after discovering an old coal tar pit in his back garden has welcomed a High Court decision to make a company pay to clean it up.

Mr Justice Forbes sitting in London yesterday said that the case, which centred on an old gasworks site at Bawtry, near Doncaster, which was developed for housing in 1966, was of "general importance and has wide implications".

Coal tar, usually disposed of underground within brick-walled tanks, was first discovered by Steve Curtis when he was levelling the garden of his home in Ivatt Close in October, 2001.

Following his discovery the earth had to be removed from gardens in three neighbouring streets after substances were found from the gas works that used to stand on the site.

Mr Curtis and wife Lisa, who have two boys, Thomas, three, and Daniel, six months, say their children have never known what it is to have a garden to play in after being told they must not use it in case it was contaminated.

But despite the contamination being discovered years ago, no one would accept responsibility for cleaning it up.

The National Grid Gas plc had argued because the pollution was caused by gas companies active decades before it came into existence, it should not have to pay.

The company, which transports and distributes gas throughout the country, asked the High Court to rule that it was not liable for the pollution, but Mr Justice Forbes disagreed. The "who pays" decision could now affect as many as 2,000 other sites around the country where the ground was contaminated by old utility companies which have ceased to exist.

Welcoming yesterday's decision Mr Curtis said: "I certainly welcome this ruling but I have mixed feelings about this too.

"It is good to find the people ultimately responsible and they should be taken to task and be held responsible for their actions irrespective of whether they created the issue or not. They inherited the legacies of the land when they took over.

"But I want to take this further and am thinking of some kind of civil action against National Grid Gas plc. We have had to endure a nightmare for six years without any garden. People should not have to endure this sort of situation."

Bosses at the National Grid Gas plc last night said they would be appealing the

decision.

Managing director Phil Kirby said: "If this judgment were allowed to stand it would inappropriately allocate liability and discourage brownfield land being brought back into beneficial use."

The Bawtry site was occupied by the Bawtry and District Gas Company from the early 20th Century until 1931, and then taken over by the South Yorkshire and District Gas Company until nationalisation in 1949, when the newly created East Midlands Gas Board took control.

Gas production ceased before 1952, but the site was kept for storage and distribution purposes.

In 1965 the site was sold, and the following year was developed into private housing plots.

The developers, who would have been responsible for a proportion of the clean-up costs, are no longer in existence.