Uckfield town councillors are being kept informed about Wealden Council efforts to ensure removal of dangerous chemicals from a unit on the Bellbrook Industrial Estate, Uckfield.
Uckfield Mayor, Cllr Louise Eastwood (Trust Independent, Uckfield North ward) and Deputy Mayor, Cllr Duncan Bennett, (Trust Independent, Uckfield New Town) both said they wanted to see action taken quickly.
Cllr Eastwood said: “All our councillors are concerned because this is within our town. We have been in discussion with Holly (the town clerk) who has been in negotiations with Wealden District Council, the fire service and the Environment Agency.
“It is a worry for Uckfield but I am sure that our town council is doing all that it can to try and resolve this and see what can be done in discussion with Wealden Council.”
Cllr Bennett said Holly was doing a fantastic job in keeping councillors up to speed with what all of the agencies had to say about the chemicals.
He added: “I know the unit has been inspected by East Sussex Fire and Rescue and also other bodies. They have reassured us that the conditions the items are in don’t pose any imminent threat but the issue does need to be resolved.”
Clerk Holly Goring told Uckfield News that if matters still continued at the time of a full Uckfield Town Council meeting on Monday she would be happy to make a statement under Town Clerk’s announcements and, if necessary, request that the Town Mayor bring the item forward to the start of the meeting to enable discussion.”
Holly added the council remained in contact with relevant authorities who were taking the matter “very seriously and working hard to push for a resolution”.
Wealden councillor Claire Dowling, Conservative, Uckfield Central, which includes the Bellbrook Estate, said she was working as hard as she could to try and get the situation resolved. She was in contact with the council’s head of environmental health and talking to local businesses.
Cllr Dowling said: “They are extremely worried, as I would be in their position. Please assure people we are trying everything we can do. Councils, landlord and agencies need to work together. We are trying to reach a resolution.”
Uckfield News sought the views of other Wealden councillors, Helen Firth, Conservative, Uckfield New Town; Carol Reynolds, Conservative, Uckfield North; and Barry Marlowe, Conservative, Uckfield Ridgewood. Cllr Peter Waldock, Conservative, Uckfield North did not respond to our message.
Cllr Reynolds said media inquiries should go to the council’s communications officer.
Cllr Firth said she didn’t know anything about the situation because it wasn’t her ward but she would try to find out more.
Cllr Marlowe said he had been told the official view was that there was no serious danger at the moment, but he too would seek more information.
Wealden MP Nus Ghani, Conservative, who was asked for help by local businesses, told Uckfield News: “The council are best placed to comment as they have been working with local partners and have deemed the site safe.”
Wealden Council has challenged claims by Mr Kevin Benton, whose pension fund owns the industrial unit where the chemicals are stored, that no officer from the council, or indeed any other agency, had spoken to him or trustees.
He was quoted in an Uckfield News report on Monday saying that if officers had visited the general area they had not visited the site.
A council spokesman said: “Just to clarify East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service spoke to Mr Benton on October 27 and advised him to contact specialist companies to remove the chemicals.
“An officer of Wealden District Council spoke to him in person on November 1 and the pension fund which owns the premises has been emailed on numerous occasions and a letter has been hand delivered to Mr Benson’s home from the council.”
Mr Benton responded yesterday saying the fire service did speak to him on October 27 and provided the names of three companies, none of whom could, or would, help.
He said a Wealden Council officer spoke to him on the street on November 1. He invited them to visit the site and they declined.
Mr Benton said a notice of intended action dated November 1 was sent to an address he left more than two years ago. The new owners dropped it in the post a few weeks later.
“There has been no contact since November 1 between WDC and me. I challenge them to demonstrate that there has been.”
Mr Benton said Brown Shipley, the professional trustee of the pension fund, confirmed they had not received any communication at all from the council.
Mr Benton added: “Wealden District Council persist in making public statements that are simply not true such as ‘arrangements are in place to remove the chemicals’ and ‘the chemicals are secure’. They are not secure. I am afraid they are all false. There are no arrangements in place.”
Meanwhile businesses continue to be concerned about the presence of the chemicals.
Symon Cockill from Uckfield Motor Services said he wanted an assurance, in writing, that the chemicals were safe and he had not been given that.
Sally Hills of PP Estates said she and her partner Phil Eves, who featured in a BBC news item on Monday night about the chemicals, said they were having sleepless nights through sheer disbelief at the lack of any action by any authority. “No one is doing anything.”
She added: “To me this is extremely personal, people we love very much are going into work every day and to be honest I am worried beyond words that one day they are not coming home. How can so many agencies actually all do nothing.”
Andrew Smith, of Fergus Smith Special Waste Services Ltd, an expert asked by Mr Benton to identify chemicals in the unit, said there were 25 tonnes of laboratory solvents on the site including chloroform and formaldehyde, which he described as “highly toxic” and denatured alcohol, xylene, and methanol which, he said were “highly flammable”.
He was most concerned about 300kg of Picric Acid, which, if crystalised, could cause a massive explosion. He had never, in more than 30 years in the waste disposal business, seen such a large quantity of it. The most he had seen previously in one place was 500g.
Wealden Council says it is the responsibility of the owner of the site to remove the chemicals. Mr Benton says the responsibility lies with the administrator of the company which occupied the premises before going into liquidation.
Previous Uckfield News stories about the chemicals can be seen here: