Porthcawl regeneration hopes buried under sludge?

(Pic: David Williams via Wales Online)

As regular readers will know, attempts to regenerate the seaside town of Porthcawl aren’t exactly going to plan.

Bridgend Council (BCBC) have run into serious, long-running difficulties in developing the Salt Lake site, nominally for a supermarket and housing. One of the projects that has gone ahead, however, is a £3.2million expansion and upgrade of Porthcawl Marina, which was re-opened back in April. It’s hoped the development will help to – along with other projects – turn the town into a watersports hub and boost tourism.

The works involved dredging the harbour, and as a result some 15,000 tonnes of silt and rubble has been dumped on the nearby Salt Lake site under a temporary licence agreement with the landowners. It’s been sitting there since at least October 2013, contained behind metal barriers.

BCBC planned to use the silt as construction infill in relation to any proposed supermarket development at Salt Lake. But with development at Salt Lake unlikely for the time being, BCBC are said to have proposed – as an interim measure – landscaping the dredged silt and planting flowers on it.

It’s been revealed in the Glamorgan Gazette that solicitors working on behalf of the landowners (Evans families) have sent an angry correspondence to BCBC, demanding the silt be removed in time for the Senior Open Championships at the Royal Porthcawl Golf Club on July 24th.

If BCBC don’t do it, the Evans’ have said they’ll do it themselves, saying it would cost £2million, which they’ll bill to BCBC (and subsequently Bridgend council tax payers). BCBC claim the costs to be closer to £250,000.

In the last fortnight or so, Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) has called upon Natural Resources Wales to intervene, saying that dumping the silt where it was breached planning conditions. BCBC claim, however, that as it’s being stored on a impermeable membrane it complies entirely with Natural Resources Wales statutory requirements and poses no risk to health.

Porthcawl “Marina” was once a working coal port, so some nasty stuff has passed through it down the centuries. A member of the Porthcawl First Facebook page linked to a report extract from civil engineering company Atkins dated November 2013 (pdf) regarding contamination within the silt. The analysis determines whether it fell at or below the safe levels so it can be reused for landscaping at the site.

The report found three primary contaminants:

  • Lead – Deadly poisonous to humans and other animals, as you probably know. In two samples, levels exceeded the recommended limits by two times (586 mg/kg) and three times (1,200 mg/kg) respectively.
  • Sulphate – Sulphates are present in very low quantities pretty much everywhere, but exposure to high concentrations can cause things like diarrhoea, or breathing difficulties if inhaled. Levels taken in silt samples exceeded recommended limits by between four (654 mg/kg) and eight (1,320 mg/kg) times.
  • Ammonium – This is sometimes used in fertilisers in the form of ammonium nitrate, but can be toxic to certain plant species and cause problems if it gets into water sources. Its “leach rate” from the silt was above recommended levels (2.02 mg/litre) in nine samples taken.

Other contaminants were also picked up (benzene, vinyl choride etc.) but few of these were present in concentrations that exceeded recommended limits.

Atkins drafted three potential courses of action:

  • Moving the silt to a less environmentally sensitive site.
  • Treating the silt at the site itself using something like lime.
  • Complete disposal.

BCBC have, so far, done none of that.

Now, it’s right to point out that you pretty much have to go rolling around in the silt or eat it for it to do any harm. But the metal barriers have already been breached (as pictured above) and the site has reportedly attracted fly-tipping. Landscaping it and presumably allowing people to walk around on it – unless it’s treated – will cause serious health and environmental worries. That’s before considering how it looks now.

The decision to dump sludge from a former working docks in the middle of the town and then leaving it there until the height of the tourist season is pretty dumb by itself. To attempt to landscape it is beyond belief.

I believe that’s called “polishing a turd”.

What was – at one point – looking like a situation where BCBC were victims of circumstance, is now turning into a costly self-made disaster that threatens the whole Porthcawl regeneration project, especially if the relationship between the council and landowners has soured as badly as it appears to have done.