Contamination fears at Williamstown North

Fiona Wigmore-Maclean and Jamie Bowes [front] and other residents are demanding action. (Goya Dmytryshchak)

Goya Dmytryshchak

Some of the first residents to move into a Williamstown North housing estate fear for their families’ health and are facing a costly clean-up bill after discovering their land was not decontaminated.

Those who bought into stage one of a 107-townhouse development at 222-238 Kororoit Creek Road in Williamstown North are demanding action. Subsequent stages of the development have been or will be cleaned up but the first 15 lots remain in limbo, according to builder Simply Built.

As part of the development of the 2.179-hectare site, a Construction Environmental Management Plan was prepared by Resolve Environmental for developer Bayland Property Group on September 5, 2018.

It “has been prepared for the site owner (Riddell Development Group Pty Ltd) and builder (Simply Built Pty Ltd) and must be implemented and followed during the construction phase of works,” the plan states.

It states that uncontrolled filling occurred at the site during the 1950s to the 1970s.

“Extensive soil investigation works have been conducted at the site, which have identified chemical contaminants, asbestos, and potential accumulation of carbon dioxide within subsurface soils,” the plan states.

“Exposure to contaminants in soil can cause harm quickly (acute effects) or cause illness long after exposure (chronic effects).”

Father of two Jamie Bowes, who moved in last September, said he feared for his children’s health after learning the land hadn’t been decontaminated.

“The environmental management plan report indicates significant contamination with concentrations of metals (arsenic, barium, cobalt, copper, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, tin, vanadium and zinc), which pose a potential health risk to us as residential occupants,” he said.

“The report also highlights the presence of asbestos, carbon dioxide etcetera.

“We are a young family with two kids under the age of four living on contaminated land that poses a significant health risk in a house that is vastly devalued and now impossible to sell.”

Fellow resident Fiona Wigmore-Maclean said the first stage of home owners found themselves in a dire situation through no fault of their own and no one was accepting responsibility.

“In essence, the environmental management plan has not been adhered to and the builder claims it will cost in the vicinity of $20,000 per lot to rectify,” she said.

“He is not accepting any liability, rather he is saying this is council’s responsibility as it approved his construction management plan and permitted occupancy.

“Everyone is blaming someone else. We just need to get this resolved as a matter of urgency as we are living here.”

Hobsons Bay mayor Jonathon Marsden said the responsibility fell on the builder.

“It’s up to the builder to fulfill their obligations and council will be taking steps to ensure they do that,” he said.

“This is an unfortunate and complicated predicament for the residents of this development and we feel for the residents and landowners who are frustrated with the process.

“We strongly urge the builder to do the right thing and fulfil their obligations.

“Council has had discussions with the builder’s new environmental auditor to encourage them to come to a solution that ensures the environmental audit requirements the builder is responsible for are complied with.

“Council will continue to advocate to the state government for greater planning powers so that we can do more than mediate between parties in these instances.”

Simply Built director Simon Pitard said the council should not have allowed the situation to happen.

“I own one of those lots and have the same problem,” he said.

“I think it’s absolutely disgraceful and the council never should have allowed it to happen.

“We, as the builder, submitted our construction management plan through to the council and that construction management plan had an environmental management plan in it, which was endorsed … it was endorsed by council.

“We have carried out the construction in accordance with that endorsed construction management plan, which makes no reference whatsoever to any contaminated material being onsite whatsoever.

“Our understanding was, as a builder, that the contamination had been cleaned up prior to the site being handed over to us by the developer.

“Can you imagine a mum and dad buying a block of land which is contaminated and having to under go a 12-month contamination clean-up process before they can build on that block of land and each individual 107 lots that have been subdivided having to undergo that process independently.

“After stage 1 was completed and we got notice of the fact that the site was still contaminated, we then went to the other stages to say, guys, we’ve got to put everything on hold because this contamination clean-up hasn’t been done.”