There is, I suppose, a theoretical and legal possibility that when the site is cleared and the investigations all completed (which I assume will take at least a couple of years), the operators might claim the right to reopen the site.
I am sure that this would be bitterly opposed by all residents. It scarcely needs to be emphasized, but I have written to the Leader of the council to put in writing the quasi-certainty that this would be incomprehensible to residents. Following is the text of my letter:
“Dear Cllr Claire Holland
I am addressing this message to you in your capacity as Leader of Lambeth Council.
You will of course be very familiar with the serious fire that occurred at the waste services depot on Shakespeare Road earlier this month, and with the worrying smoke and pollution issues that caused alarm to many residents in this part of Lambeth. We have heard much from your colleague Jim Dickson and from our MP, Ms Helen Hayes.
This note however is about the issue going forward. Clearly there is going to be an enquiry about how the fire started, what fire safety measures were in place and whether they functioned properly and why the water supply being used by the London Fire Brigade failed. It will be vital to understand also what the owners and operators of this site have to say about their apparent negligence and inaction.
We understand of course that the Shakespeare Road site is privately owned and operated, but licensed by the Environment Agency. No doubt that Agency will be alerted to this incident and invited to consider their licensing policy in the light of possible negligence on the part of the owners.
I’m sure you will be aware that the incident has reinforced local resentment about the operation of such a site in the middle of a heavily built-up residential area and near some schools. This obviously raises questions about the future of the site.
As you of course know, the Shakespeare Road waste transfer station does have planning permission for residential development, which would be a major improvement, but you will also know that this supposedly can only be implemented once replacement waste capacity has been provided on another site.
We realise that it was the intention of the developer that the replacement capacity should be provided at the Windsor Grove site in West Norwood. Despite powerful and united opposition from the local community in West Norwood, and Lambeth Council’s decision to refuse permission for a waste facility at this site, the Secretary of State shockingly allowed the application on appeal. Meanwhile we understand that there are a number of planning conditions which must be discharged before work can begin on the replacement facility at Windsor Grove, and that this has not yet happened. Possibly the owners can be persuaded to look at a different location, and perhaps to revise their planning application.
Meanwhile you will naturally understand that the hundreds of Lambeth residents who have been affected by this incident will scarcely understand if, following this major incident and all the subsequent enquiries and investigations, the owners are permitted and licensed to simply rebuild the waste operation on the same site, pending the resolution of the planning conditions referred to above. I think it would not be an exaggeration to say that the neighbourhood would be, indeed, outraged if this was allowed to happen, whatever new and improved safeguards and precautions might be offered by the operators.
Of course these are early days: the Council and the Environment Agency have much work to do in the weeks and months ahead.
But I believe I am speaking for many residents in strongly urging the Council not to allow the rebuilding of this waste site on its present location, under any circumstances.
We would all welcome some reassurance from the Council on this point.
I am copying this message to our local Councillors and to Ms Helen Hayes MP.”