The closure of the Co-op on Foldgate Lane for more than eight hours yesterday after a burglary shows how desperately we need a second petrol filling station Ludlow. The nearest alternatives are at Craven Arms and Leominster. But a second filling station for our town cannot come at any cost.
Plans for a petrol filling station on Bromfield Road, along with a convenience store, have split opinion. I only gave my support for the project after an assurance that the fuel tanks would be above ground to minimise damage from any leakage. But now the Environment Agency has withdrawn its objections to the scheme. That’s makes it all but certain the development will go ahead with fuel tanks sunk into the water table.
Last November, Mead House applied to put the fuel tanks fully below ground to increase car parking spaces (16/04716/VAR). I angrily described this move as a “betrayal”. This development, which could bring benefits to the town, is rapidly turning sour.
In last week’s submission to Shropshire Council, the Environment Agency unexpectedly stood on its head. In its previous submission at the end of last year, the agency emphasised that the site is in a “sensitive groundwater area”. The agency’s groundwater protection guidance obliged its officers to “object to storage of hazardous substances below the water table in principal or secondary aquifers.” That guidance was changed in March. But I can’t see the changes make any difference to the way the Bromfield Road application should be assessed. Indeed, last November, the agency said it would still be “minded to object” under the new rules.
As England’s environmental champion, the Environment Agency should have stuck to its principles and blocked this scheme. These principles are clearly stated in its guidance:
“The Environment Agency adopts the precautionary principle with respect to protecting groundwater due to the:
- difficulties associated with observing and remediating leaks from underground storage and transmission facilities.
- previous history of pollution from such facilities.”
That first bullet point is critical to this application. How can you observe and remediate leaks when fuel tanks are buried in the water table right next to the Corve?
In its new submission, the Environment Agency says: “We will not object to below ground storage in such situations provided there is evidence that there are no suitable alternatives to below ground storage.” But no evidence has been provided to demonstrate that there are no suitable alternatives. There is a very clear alternative. The developer was perfectly happy with above ground storage tanks when planning permission was approved in May 2015.
The need to have sensors to detect leaks shows that there is a risk, albeit a small one, of a leak. If a leak occurs metres below the ground, a major excavation will be needed to reach it. There are likely to be several days during which residual fuel could continue to leak into the water table.
The Environment Agency is now relying on modelling of how leaks would move underground should they happen, not the precautionary principle that should underpin its work. I can’t challenge the technical details of the arguments but it is blindingly obvious that one contamination gets into the ground, it will be very hard to get it out again. That will lead to contamination of groundwater and the delicate ecological environments of the Corve and Teme.
The Environment Agency was established to protect the environment. I think it is letting us down by not maintaining its objection to below ground fuel tanks on Bromfield Road.