Weedon Bec Parish Council

Serving the people of Weedon Bec

Clerk: Mrs Susan Halkett
16, St Mary's Way, Weedon
Northamptonshire NN7 4QL

Why did the Parish Council get involved with sorting out the Mound in the first place?

In the mid 70s when the Parish Council took the Mound over, the impact of asbestos was not seen as much of a problem as it now, but research has since shown that the danger is greater than originally thought. Asbestos can cause cancer.
Soil tests were undertaken in 1993 and it was recognised that there was contamination but as Daventry District Council (DDC) did not include the land in the register of contaminated land, no further action was taken, as the risk was not recognised at the time as significant. DDC did not advise the Parish Council that any action was required.
In 2014, a drains survey and review was undertaken as part of work to investigate flooding on the pitch, at the same time the centre of the Mound started to sink. As part of this review, the previous report on contaminations was reviewed and the matter was referred to DDC. Better understanding and related legislation put in place since the early 1990s meant that the contamination levels were now identified as unsafe. As the landowners, the Parish Council was advised by DDC they needed to address the problem.

DDC did not say anything about unexploded ammunition being in the Mound.

The Parish Council brought in contractors to remove the asbestos but the contractors had to stop when they found unexploded ammunition, as it was too dangerous for them to continue.

Why didn't the Parish Council know about the unexploded ammunition?

The land was transferred from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) via DDC in 1978.

The MoD has since claimed that they sold the land 'as seen' and should not now be liable for any contamination. The MoD has not provided evidence to support this view.

DDC suggest the Parish Council were aware of the possibility of contamination at the time it was transferred but there is no record of this. DDC say that all their old records about the transfer were destroyed in a fire in 1985. When DDC assessed the Mound in 2014 because of concerns about the asbestos found, they did not say anything about the possibility of unexploded ammunition. The Parish Council would not have gone ahead with digging up the Mound if we had known there might be unexploded ammunition in it.

I've heard that DDC are supposed to deal with contaminated land – why haven't they sorted out the Mound for us?

DDC's policy on Contaminated land can be read on their web site at: www.daventrydc.gov.uk/business/environmental-health/contaminated-land/

It says that since April 2000 the local authority has a duty to manage contaminated land issues in their area. DDC are the local authority so must decide whether a piece of land is 'contaminated' and if it is, they must decide who is responsible for tidying it up (remediation). This is called 'determination' but before 'determining' land, DDC try to come to a voluntary agreement between the landowner i.e. the Parish Council and any other parties i.e. the MoD. DDC has set up one meeting with the Parish Council and the MoD. The MOD, until very recently, has only communicated with the Parish Council through DDC.

If DDC knew about the contamination and ammunition why didn't they tell us and why don't they pay to make it safe?

DDC suggest that the Parish Council would have known the land was contaminated when they bought it.
Under present legislation a local authority i.e. DDC is responsible for making owners of land or the people who contaminated it clean it up. DDC say they do not have money to help pay for it.
The Parish Council say the Mound and Jubilee Field are public open spaces and can be used by anybody so it is unfair that any cost should fall entirely on Weedon Bec village residents. The Parish Council did not knowingly buy land contaminated with ammunition.

Who has paid for the work that has been done so far?

The Parish Council took out a government loan for £215,000 to cover the cost of removing the whole Mound because DDC said it contained dangerous asbestos and needed to be sorted. To repay this loan every household in the village will be charged an additional £8.68 a year from 2017 to 2047, on top of any annual rise in Council Tax.
Some of the loan has been used up by the extra security costs incurred after the discovery of the bombs. The Parish Council has now reduced the costs by directly covering the security and by buying the two lots of hired fencing that are around the Mound but still has to pay for the 24 hour security guard which costs £240 per day excluding VAT. The security is required to remind people that the Mound is out of bounds, unsafe and to meet the requirements laid down by DDC as regulators and our public liability insurers.
There is some money remaining from the loan that the Parish Council has set aside for the time being until it is determined if it can be paid back or used to support future costs.
As things stand, there are funds available within Parish Council budget to cover the security until the end of this year. Before we get to this date the Parish Council need to work out how the required security is paid for. One option, in the short term, is that funds that are set aside for other services to the village such as street lights repairs, grass cutting and tree and playground maintenance will be used. The village would become rundown and untidy and the Parish Council will be saying NO to any new requests for money for projects, which make residents lives safer, brighter and more interesting. In the longer term this could mean that the precept (the budget given to the village from Council Tax to provide local services like those outlined above) would need to be significantly increased to cover on-going security until the Mound is made safe. This is frustrating for the Parish Council who will try to source alternative funding.

Why can't metal detectors be used to find the bombs? It would be cheaper.

The Parish Council's public liability insurance will not provide cover if people are deliberately put at risk. With the Mound in its present state ANYONE who goes on the Mound could accidentally find a bomb or grenade and set it off. That is why there are notices up saying KEEP OUT.
It would not be cheaper if a metal detectorist got injured or killed doing it. Apart from the obvious devastation this would cause within their family, a massive compensation payout would have to come out of your Council Tax.
There is a lot of other metal in the Mound that is not explosive, like old ammunitions cases. A metal detector cannot distinguish between a grenade and any old piece of metal.

We do not want to put anyone at unnecessary risk.

Shouldn't the Mound be removed altogether?

Removal is the most permanent solution to make the land safe but it is very expensive and doing it could be very dangerous. To remove the Mound completely the Parish Council would need to take out another very large loan, which would have to be paid back by an increase in the Council Tax, that village residents would pay for the next 30 years. This would be on top of the cost of the loan the Parish Council has already taken out.

Is it possible to make the Mound area safe without removing it?

Yes, it is possible to put an 'engineered' cap on the Mound consisting of a 'geo-textile' (a strong material like weed suppressant fabric) covered by several layers of earth and stones, enough to protect us and safely absorb shock. This would have to be inspected and maintained regularly. The way of doing this is likely to be a visual inspection made by walking over the ground, in the same way as Parish Councillors inspect children's play equipment every month to ensure that it is safe. If the top layer of soil began to wear away it could be replaced at minimal cost with more topsoil. Any capping solution would be designed and put in place by professional engineers so that the village, DDC and Insurers, could have confidence that the Mound was safe for us to use again as a recreational space.

Why don't they just put secure fencing or a brick wall round it and leave it?

The type of security fence required would be expensive. We might have to put razor wire on the top and make it really high but would that stop someone trying to climb over to retrieve a favourite football? It could mean that space to play is reduced and the basketball net would have to be moved. It would be very unsightly. The Parish Council does not think this is a good long-term solution.

What is the MoD going to do about it?

Whilst the MoD do not have to accept responsibility for the problem they have recently offered to contribute towards the cost of capping the Mound based on estimates that were discussed at meetings between them, DDC and the Parish Council.
The Parish Council is now working to draw up a detailed specification for a cap to cover the whole Mound and make it safe to use as a children's play area and recreational space.
Once we have a more accurate picture of the cost for capping the Mound, and it is felt to be the right action to take, the Parish Council will ask companies to tender/quote for the work.
It's not clear at this stage how close the actual cost of capping the Mound will be to the figure that the MoD has offered.
The Parish Council will also be taking legal advice and, with the help of our MP and other elected representatives/Councillors, we intend to negotiate with the MoD for a contribution based on current prices and for a fair outcome for the village.

Once the decision is taken as to whether the Parish Council should go ahead and accept this offer, Councillors will be working closely with the MoD, before the end of January 2017, to ensure that the money is secured and not affected by any cuts that might be made in the April Budget and to make certain that work starts as quickly as possible.

How can I find out how things are progressing?

The Parish Council plan to hold a public meeting in mid to late January 2017 to answer questions and give a full update on progress. We hope we will be able to present visuals showing the options of what the finished Mound might look like. You will have a chance to tell us what you think.
In the meantime, keep looking at the village website www.weedonbec-village.co.uk for up to date reports and follow the debate on Facebook.

Look out for posters on the village notice boards with the date and time of the public meeting.

To the best knowledge of the Parish Council, the information given in this leaflet is correct at the date of publication November 2016.

This content has been compiled without prejudice, any unintended errors made may not be held against the Parish Council.