DEVELOPERS have withdrawn plans to build affordable homes on the Sainsbury's site in Leek after traces of potentially deadly asbestos were found.
Ascent, a joint partnership between Staffordshire Moorlands District Council and Moorlands Housing to build affordable homes, gained planning permission in January to build 39 units on the Churnet Works in Macclesfield Road.
The development was to consist of a mixture of 15 terraced and semi-detached houses, and 24 apartments.
But Staffordshire Moorlands District Council confirmed this week that Ascent has now withdrawn its plans – but insisted the site was safe.
A spokesman said: "Ascent has withdrawn interest in this site.
"While low levels of asbestos fibres have been found in the soil at this particular site, this is extremely common on former industrial land and is not due to the deliberate burying of asbestos waste, which is prohibited by law. The developer, Sainsbury's, is responsible for ensuring that the development is safe and suitable for its intended use and, as with all brownfield developments in the Staffordshire Moorlands, the council has imposed conditions on the planning consent to ensure that remediation of the site is undertaken appropriately.
"The investigation of the site has only recently been completed and remediation is ongoing.
"The site is currently considered safe and the asbestos fibres are not considered a risk to public health or the environment."
A spokesman for Sainsbury's said it is now sealing the land with topsoil to contain the asbestos, which can cause cancer if it is inhaled.
He added: "We have carried out independent soil testing on the proposed residential site and discovered a small trace of asbestos fibres in the soil."
"We have agreed with Staffordshire Moorlands District Council to lay on top of the existing land an additional metre of fresh soil, which will cap the area and contain any risk of exposure.
"These works are now underway and are nearly complete.
"There is no risk to public health as the asbestos is being contained and is not airborne, being disturbed or damaged.
"This is a common practice on brownfield sites. The capping will ensure that the site can be used for housing moving forward."
Leek county and district councillor Charlotte Atkins said the withdrawal of the housing plan was "a disaster".
She added: "You would have expected everything to have been done.
"The site is also next to the river and asbestos is a deadly material.
"Questions have got to be asked about this site including the planning and oversight."
Leek district councillor Pam Wood said: "If the contamination is not dangerous, why has Ascent pulled out?
"If there is asbestos it is likely to seep into the River Churnet, knowing how wet the land is. Why was this land not assessed for contamination before we got so far down the line? The council has been scrambling to find land to build affordable houses – now we will need to find a site for 39 units."
Leek resident Roger Adams, of Langford Street, said: "It comes as no surprise to the people of Leek that yet another planning disaster has surfaced. We assume that the agents and the developers provided a clear management plan to the local planning department and Environmental Health Department.
"So who is responsible for monitoring this management plan at the district council and who was responsible for monitoring the removal and disposal of the asbestos?"