The Prime Minister replied:
"I am looking around the Chamber, but I am afraid I am not getting a great deal of help. [Laughter.] "
The Save Spodden Valley campaign explains why this is no laughing matter...
It is the last question of the session. To view it, fast-forward to 28 minutes 55 seconds...
Here is the Hansard transcript...
Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op):
Following the demolition of the former Turner and Newall site, 3,500 tonnes of asbestos-contaminated material is to be transferred from the constituency of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) through the length of my constituency, to be dumped in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor). Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive must at all costs protect the people of those three communities?
The Prime Minister:
I am looking around the Chamber, but I am afraid I am not getting a great deal of help. [Laughter.] Thank you very much. I am not getting a great deal of help from the Opposition either.
Of course the Health and Safety Executive must abide by the rules. I shall have to look into the specific points raised by my hon. Friend, but I am sure that the HSE will act according to the obligations with which it is charged. If I learn anything to the contrary, I will contact my hon. Friend urgently.
END of PMQs...
...A packed House of Commons had erupted in laughter over a question about asbestos- a known killer.
The misery caused by the asbestos once produced in the Spodden Valley of Rochdale is certainly no laughing matter. This former T&N site was the world's first then largest asbestos textile factory in the world.
Late last year a planning application was made to build over 600 homes and a children's nursery there. The developers had the brass neck to state in their Environmental Statement
"of particular note is the absence of any asbestos contamination".
Following many reports on Indymedia plus long-standing investigations by Private Eye magazine, BBC Radio 4's You and Yours programme, and regional TV news, the developers have-
-confirmed there was exposed asbestos in the Spodden Valley:
-that councillors and the public have been misled over soil tests results (the developers said they were 'negative' when in fact, some where positive;
-the developers have publicly apologised for 'past actions' and 'miscommunication' then go on to publish 50,000 glossy brochure packed with inaccurate, dishonest and misleading statements.
The list goes on. Just 'google' the words "Spodden" and "asbestos" if you want to know more.
The PMQ laughter certainly was inappropriate. We doubt that our prime Minister was laughing at the countless people that have, are, and will die from the dreadful, terminal asbestos cancer mesothelioma and asbestos related lung cancer.
It appears that there was mirth because our PM was 'dropped on' with the question and didn't have an immediate answer.
In fairness to the PM- he might not get the answer: He may NEVER get the answer- the rubble is to be moved in a few days time. The truth may be buried forever and with it will be many questions…
The Risk Assessments and Method Statements regarding the disturbance, transportation and dumping of the asbestos factory rubble are NOT available for public scrutiny.
We have asked for the papers from the HSE under the Environment Information Regulations (these reg's have more powers than FOI).
The HSE has no duty in law to disclose these documents.
They will be available when the file is closed. Perhaps weeks AFTER the rubble has been disturbed, transported and dumped.
If mistakes had been made, then the dust will have settled.
Our PM has a full retinue of ministers to ask.
He will find that if he does ask his ministers- that hollow feeling he must have felt in the House as he looked around for help and information, will return to him.
His ministers don't have the answers about the safety of asbestos in the Spodden Valley.
ODPM, Dti, Depts of Health, Environment, Rural Affairs have all been asked - and haven’t given definitive answers.
There is no legally defined 'safe' threshold for asbestos in soil (these are called Soil Guidance Values' (SGVs) - yet Countryside Properties want to build 600+ homes and a children's nursery on the world's largest asbestos textile factory site?
In May 2004, contractors moved onto the site, at dawn, on a Saturday-
acres of mature woodland were destroyed in a weekend.
Woodland that Mr Abdul Chowdry, the asbestos factory’s former health and Safety officer and later a national UK Health and Safety Commissioner, suggested that the trees were put there for “good reasons”.
DEFRA missed a prosecution under the Forestry Act for woodlands destroyed on the Spodden Valley site- despite the contractors admitting to being in breach of the act. They were awaiting health & safety information from the HSE for the Forestry Commission's to inspect the disturbed ground- the 'all clear' never came and the 6 month limit for summary prosecutions passed.
If developers can get away with clear breaches of the criminal then what is to happen when regulating the suppression of miniscule asbestos fibres that can be invisible to the naked eye?
The PMQ related to the movement of rubble.
Tests have indicated one of the piles positive for traces of asbestos contamination.
But the tests were very basic and cannot answer a simple question:
What percentage of asbestos is in the rubble?
Any level over 0.1% asbestos in rubble will classify it as Hazardous.
The wagons may start rolling on Tuesday 22nd November.
NOBODY will know how much asbestos that rubble contains.
NO GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENT appears to have the legal powers to find this question out.
The legal duty to classify the waste is with the ‘holder of the waste’ and NOT with any government department, agency or regulator.
The developers gave their notice to move the rubble in the form of a press release to a local newspaper: NOT to Rochdale Council Planning and Regulation officers and councillors as had been promised.
As it stands, everybody from a citizen in Rochdale right up to the Prime Minister does not, and can not, have the facts needed to scrutinise public health and safety regarding asbestos from the Spodden Valley.
There is not ‘joined-up thinking’. There is the potential for developers to exploit the legal loopholes that hinder cross departmental communication and scrutiny of work that could cause terminal cancer.
Many in the Spodden Valley shared the PM’s desperation as we watched PMQs and he looked around his ministers for an answer.
one thing is certain- It is no laughing matter.