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New fire warning on tyre mountain

PUBLISHED: 16:03 23 February 2009 | UPDATED: 10:40 07 July 2010

A mountain of tyres which has blighted the Norfolk landscape for a decade could force the evacuation of Fakenham if it caught fire, a councillor has warned.

A mountain of tyres which has blighted the Norfolk landscape for a decade could force the evacuation of Fakenham if it caught fire, a councillor has warned.

Although a third of the discarded tyres on the edge of Tattersett Business Park were removed in 2004, frequent changes of ownership have frustrated efforts to clear the 600,000 which remain.

Norfolk county councillor David Callaby said a blaze at the site could result in an “environmental catastrophe” with acrid smoke from burning rubber drifting across homes and countryside.

Mr Callaby is a spokesman for the council's Fire and Community Protection Review Panel and has tabled a question for the group's next meeting asking what risk assessments have been made relating to smoke and pollutants from any potential fire.

But Environment Agency (EA) and fire service officials said measures such as constructing fire breaks had already been implemented and contingency plans were in place should the worst-case scenario become reality.

Mr Callaby said: “My concern is that if, God forbid, we did have a fire on that site, what would happen to the people in the surrounding area?

“We have more than half a million tyres there and you don't need to be an expert to see that if even part of it goes up and the wind is blowing in the right direction it is going to cause a problem for the residents of this town.

“Depending on the amount of that noxious and poisonous smoke it may well be that we have to evacuate the whole town. That is why I am asking the question. If this did happen we could be sitting on a major health and environmental catastrophe.”

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb described the site as an “environmental time-bomb”.

“There have been various cases where tyre mountains have caught fire and they can burn for a long time,” he said. “We run the risk of air and ground water pollution and we cannot under-estimate the extent of this risk. It is something I have pursued with the EA for many years.”

An EA spokesman said an emergency contingency plan was developed for the site in 2002 in conjunction with Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, North Norfolk District Council and Norfolk County Council.

She said: “It would be wrong to say that there is no risk of a fire at the site and it would also be wrong to say that there is no plan of action should there be a fire.

“Fire risk formed part of the temporary planning permission for the tyre storage, dated June 2003. The conditions included the provision of fire breaks which were provided by April 2005 as part of an EEDA joint-funded initiative to remove one third of the tyres from site.

“Other conditions including the provision of fire fighting water tanks and fire safety kit were discharged to the satisfaction of the planning authority in January 2008.”

The EA spokesman also said the agency was working with the current owners of the site, French bank Société Générale, to ensure it could be sold to a responsible owner.

Martin Barsby, communications officer for the Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, said the service kept a risk file for the Tattersett site, and made regular visits to update it.

“These files contain all the information we would need to help us deal with an incident there,” he said.

“We have a pre-determined attendance for the site which means that, were there to be an incident, we would instantly send an appropriate number of fire engines and also the right equipment for the site.

“In terms of evacuation we would be one of a number of agencies involved in giving advice to local people and any evacuation would be managed in a co-ordinated way in line with Norfolk's emergency plans.”

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said the complex history of the site's ownership had left him “exasperated” in his efforts to clear the tyres from Tattersett.

The tyre mountain became the property of French bank Société Générale (SG) after the previous owner, Highstar Properties, was investigated by the Serious Fraud Office.

It was alleged the company had falsely claimed a £16m mortgage from SG in 2005 using inflated valuations, only a year after the site had changed hands for £2.75m.

Since then, several business consortiums had shown an interest in the site, but Mr Lamb said no progress had yet been made in finding a buyer who could take responsibility for the tyres.

“The history of this is colourful and deeply frustrating,” he said. “I am exasperated at the lack of inertia in terms of getting it sold into the hands of a responsible landowner who will get them cleared.

“My assumption was that SG would want to dispose of this site so they could recover some of their losses and move on, but it has taken forever to secure a sale and we still haven't got there.

“The original perpetrator has long since disappeared. SG has been left holding the baby, so we cannot blame them.

“Ultimately, the Environment Agency is the body responsible for the environment and I have constantly challenged them to take it seriously. If it looks like this hiatus will continue, surely they should take responsibility.”

An Environment Agency spokesman said: “The changing ownership of the site has continued to frustrate our efforts to ensure the total removal of the tyres, but we continue to work with those individuals with an interest in ownership of the site to achieve this objective.”

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