Scottish housing association sued over toxic land
Residents are suing a Scottish housing association over land underneath their homes they believe is contaminated.
People living on the 400-home estate off Watling Street in Motherwell say the land under their homes is toxic and responsible for various health problems they have suffered, such as nosebleeds and headaches, and cracks in their homes and the smell of gas.
They have been fighting to get North Lanarkshire Housing Association to recognise their concerns since 2009 but yesterday resorted to legal proceedings in the Scottish Court of Session in Edinburgh.
Collins Solicitors, which represents 43 families in and around the estate of Watling Street, issued the proceedings on behalf of married couple Angela and Robert McManus.
The firm want the court to use this as a test case and establish the presence of toxic vapours in the air of the properties and confirm they could affect the health of residents. It also wants the housing association to come up with some kind of solution, which could mean knocking down the homes and remediating the land or stopping the vapours going into the homes somehow.
The residents say the land was used by Metropolitan-Vickers, an electrical engineering company, between the late 1930s and the 1950s, and was not properly ‘cleaned up’ before houses were built on it. A report commissioned by North Lanarkshire Council by consultancy WSP Environmental does say the site was used by Newton Victor in the 1940s — a subsidiary of Metropolitan-Vickers — for the manufacture of medical equipment including X-ray and radiation therapy machines.
Ground testing on the site by North Lanarkshire Council and experts appointed by Collins Solicitors found the presence of trichloroethylene (TCE) – often used as an industrial solvent - tetrachloroethylene (PCE) – a solvent used in dry cleaning - and other toxic solvents on the site.
Collins Solicitors said residents commissioned tests in June and July last year that found levels of neurotoxins - a substance that is poisonous or destructive to nerve tissue - in the air inside the houses to be far higher than those recommended by the World Health Organisation.
Des Collins, senior partner of Collins Solicitors, said: ‘All along we have warned that if the residents were not able to secure voluntary remediation of the site, legal action would follow.
‘The properties are unfit for human habitation – the neuro-toxic vapours are making the residents ill. Whilst it is important to ask why the site was not properly remediated before the houses were built the much more pressing issue is to find an immediate solution to the on-going health problems.
‘LHA, as landlord to a number of residents on the estate, is responsible for the provision of accommodation which meets basic standards. We anticipate that this test case will be sufficient to demonstrate the extent of the problem and the need for extensive remediation.’ Angela McManus has lived on the site since the houses were built and Robert McManus moved to the site in 2004. The homes were built in the late 1990s.
The solicitors say proceedings again North Lanarkshire Council (which it says failed to ensure a sufficient remediation programme was carried out before the homes were built), City Link Development Company (which built the homes) and Clyde Valley Housing Association (which owns some homes on the Watling Street site) could follow the current proceedings.
They do not expect a decision on the North Lanarkshire Housing Association case to be made before 18 months.
North Lanarkshire Council did not wish to comment. The North Lanarkshire Housing Association and City Link Development Company were ‘unavailable for comment’. Inside Housing is still waiting for a comment from Clyde Valley Housing Association.