Tower Hamlets Watch

Poplar Harca, Bellway Homes, Urban Living & Disregarding Public Health | December 7, 2010

This post should go out as a warning as to what can happen when a councils planning department, environment health department, building control and corporate interests show a flagrant disregard for the law, and potentially put residents lives at risk. What I’m about to tell you, should, I hope, shock you into action yourselves into looking more closely at planning applications going through our councils planning department.

As one of the pre-conditions for some development planning applications a contaminated land study is usually demanded by the council to inspect the site, evaluate any hazardous materials found in soil or water, and then propose remediation measures for removal or mitigation of the effects to human health of these materials. These Contaminated land studies, as far as I can tell, are required and have to be carried out before any development can actually go ahead. The remediation that the developers study proposes must be approved by the councils Environmental Health Officers, and then again by the Planning Team before even a shovel can be taken to the start of the development. This requirement (i suppose) is to mitigate the effects on the surrounding environment and ultimately the effect on residents surrounding the site, and including those future residents of the site itself, not forgetting the workers on the development.

Recently while researching another topic of pre-conditional proceedures I’ve just discovered some disturbing information regarding one of Poplar Harca’s new build construction of Affordable Homes at their Charlesworth Terrace site. Which lies in Farrance Street E14 behind the old Langdon Park Annexe in Lansbury West. Poplar Harca joined forces with Bellway Homes to form a new partnership called Urban Living, which was set up to develop and provide affordable homes in the Poplar Area for local people. HCA advert on Charlesworth TerraceThis site was funded by huge amounts of tax-payers money from the Homes & Communities Agency without any real financial risk to either Poplar Harca or Bellway Homes, you would think that they would abide by any simple rules laid out for them.

As part of its new build strategy, a proposal was put forward to develop a piece of land behind Charlesworth Terrace in E14 for 7 homes for Social Rent – Planning Application No:- PA/09/00050. This land that was once a green used by children was taken over a few years ago as part of regenerating the estate. It was promised to be returned to residents but never was. Before Development Charlesworth Terrace SiteThis development is twinned with another development at Shepard House in Annabel Close E14, so that between the 2 the Affordable Homes target of minimum 35% for both developments may pass.

On reading the descision notice for the Charlesworth Terrace development you will notice a set of 5 conditions that must be adhered to for this development to be deemed acceptable by the council.

Condition 4 of this particular development is a requirement by the partners of the development to carry out a detailed contaminated land study of the proposed site, checking to see if there are any hazardous materials present in the soil or water. The partners are then required to provide both their findings and more importantly their proposed remedial solutions to remove, contain or mitigate the potential contaminated materials. The findings of this study are then examined by one of the councils own environmental health officers who studies the findings and approves or rejects the proposed remedial solutions put forward by the submitters of the report, in this case Poplar Harcas Urban Living Partnership.

“4. Development of the site shall not begin until a contaminated land study has been submitted to the local planning authority for written approval. The study will identifiy the extent of the contamination and the measures to be taken to avoid risk to the public when the site is developed. Details of this study should include.

  • A desk study report documenting the history of the site
  • A site investigation report to investigate and identify contamination
  • A risk assessment of the site
  • Proposals for any necessary remedial works to contain, treat or remove any contamination

Occupation of the site and development shall not commence until the measures approved in the study have been implemented

Reason The development proposed for this site should not expose future users of occupiers of the site any buildings and services or the wider environment to risks associated with the contaminents present. This condition should ensure that the contaminated land is properly treated and made safe before development to protect public health and to meet the requirements of the following policy in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets Unitary Development Plan (adopted December 1998) Dev51 Contaminated Land.”

As you can see from the above condition it quite clearly states in its first sentence that

“Development of the site shall not begin until a contaminated land study has been submitted to the local planning authority for written approval.”

and then again:

“Occupation of the site and development shall not commence until the measures approved in the study have been implemented”

The instructions could not be more explicit, basically no development can take place until the report, its findings and the proposed solutions to dealing with any contamination are approved by the council. This is so that the council can analyse the findings themselves and get the chance to recommend any alterations to the remedial solutions to dealing with any found contamination.

“9.1 Conclusions


The intrusive investigation has identified generally elevated metal (arsenic, nickel and lead) concentrations through out the made ground across the site at levels that are likely to present a significant risk to human health.

………..” – Page 18 – ENVIRONMENTAL SITE INVESTIGATION REPORT; REC Report 506661/Report 2.1 May 2008

Even though remedial solutions put forward by the Environmental Site Report (Contaminated Land Study) offered a proposed solution to mitigate the effects of the contamimation, these remedies could not be carried out until the council had authorised not only the report itself, but had clarified, confirmed and ultimatly sanctioned these solutions.

As part of the planning conditions, a submission by Poplar Harca’s partnership with Bellway Homes – Urban Living was made to the council on the 17 January 2010 for an “Approval Of Details” for the Submission of details pursuant to condition 4 (contaminated land study) of planning permission dated 17th June 2009, reference PA/09/00050.
Location: Charlesworth House, Dod Street, London
Application No: PA/10/00149
This was basically to ask permission for the council to allow them to build.

On 17th September 2010, the council’s environmental health officer (Mr Felix Oku) had urged the council’s planning officers to reject the remedial solutions put forward in the study. In that response the councils planning officers (Benson Olaseni) took the advice of Environmental Health Officers warning seriously enough and duly rejected the proposed remedial solutions and the report itself in a letter to Mr Klimmeck (Urban Livings Architect) on the 17th September 2010.

The thing is though that Poplar Harca, Bellway Homes or their partnership company Urban Living seemed to have taken no notice of the pre-condition of the approval of planning. Charlesworth site showing 3 floors allready builtInstead of waiting for the return of the report, they ploughed ahead and started building on site, significantly risking the healths of those around the site. As you can see the building by September was already 3 stories high. Residents have reported increased levels of dust in gardens, living rooms and even kitchens. One even reported this to an (Environmental Health Officer), reporting that a child had been covered in the dust playing in the garden and had been putting a hand covered in the material in their mouths asking if there was anything to be afraid of.
The Officer stated that he could not confirm that there was anything to worry about.
2nd Picture of Charlesworth Terrace Site

On talking to Felix Oku myself regarding the matter, he could not believe that the building had gone ahead without waiting for the approval of the planning department, his advice was explicit. That it should not start until a the council’s own remediation measures had been considered themselves.

Artists Impression Of the Charlesworth Terrace Site
– Artists Impression of the Site

What gets me is that no one in Tower Hamlets seems to know how to respond to the question who should be enforcing a breach of these conditions. Environmental Health told me today that its Building Controls Job, Building Control then told me that it was Environmental Healths job, before finally sending me to Planning again. A planning enforcement officer finally told me that these breaches of planning conditions with regards to Contaminated land studies are going on all of the time. Larger building sites just plough through without waiting for consent to build. Nothing is ever really enforced, no buildings are ever torn down, and they have no real power to enforce any real breaches of conditions. This Charelsworth terrace site breach of conditions was first reported in the 25th October and has its own case id (enf/10/00563 – 25th October 2010), and yet to this date, no investigation has even been started.

Who’s really at fault here, is it Poplar Harca?, Bellway Homes?, the planning office, environmental health, building control? who?. The planning enforcement officer also tells me that once a contaminated land study has been given approval, that environment health officers job then is to keep visiting the site to ensure the accepted remediation measures are carried out.

Go look at the site, by September 2010 the wooden frame was already up 3 stories high, all thats needed now is the cladding, as is the way with all wooden framed buildings. The point is Poplar Harca & Bellway Homes decided not to wait for council approval and steamrollered ahead.

So is the Planning Enforcement Officer right? Are there large numbers of development sites in the borough going ahead and risking the health of all existing as well as future tenants of Tower Hamlets. Under Section 78R of the Environmental Health Act 1990, local authorities are required by law to make available a public register of contaminated land in their area. Other boroughs maintain a public register of contaminated land that should be publicly accessible between opening hours. I get the impression that this is freely available to peruse at your leisure, and although Tower Hamlets hints at the fact that their is a public register complying with the law, they actually charge for the purpose of looking at this publicly available register;

“We charge £65.50 to cover the cost of staff time spent searching records and preparing the response. We aim to respond to your enquiry within 10 working days. We search our records for information about contamination of the site and for past uses that may have involved contaminative processes.” – Tower Hamlets Contaminated Land Enquiries. When pointing out this curious fact about it being publically available, an environmental health officer told me that “actually its now £73 pounds to search the public register” and that if I as a concerned resident wanted to look at the public register without paying, detailing the contaminated land sites in the borough wanting to request a viewing that i should “put in a freedom of information request.

Does anyone else see anything wrong here????

Posted in Uncategorized


  1. Thank you for your excellent work.

    Comment by Rachel — December 8, 2010 @ 9:55 pm

  2. I live on kildare walk and am very concerned about Polar Harca and am in need of professional advice. Please can you help

    Comment by [name withheld] — December 11, 2010 @ 6:18 am

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