Asbestos fears over derelict site that attracts young people

By Ginny Ware   |   Totnes Reporter   |
Saturday 7th May 2022 6:00 am
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Cllr John Birch at the former Dairy Crest site (. )

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A derelict site in Totnes with buildings containing deadly asbestos is a threat to the health and safety of young people who regularly gain access, warns a local councillor.

Cllr John Birch has accused Fastglobe of abandoning the former Dairy Crest site with no regard to the safety of the community.

There has already been one fatality at the former processing plant. Student Ethan Bonnar, 22, of Torquay died after falling from the roof in July 2020.

The site, next to Totnes Railway Station, has been empty since Dairy Crest closed in 2007. Fastglobe bought it from the new owners Saputo in January 2001 but has yet to start any development on the land.

Cllr Birch, Totnes ward councillor at South Hams Council, hailed the site a “dangerous eyesore” and says Fastglobe has ignored its statutory obligations to make the area safe.

He said: “My major concern is the willingness of Fastglobe to allow youngsters access to the site, on which they clamber in and out of derelict buildings that are are contaminated with asbestos and other dangerous materials and hazards.

“The gaps in the fence surrounding the site present an open invitation to youngsters to explore it, not knowing what dangers are surrounding them, and at times the entrance gates have been left open.”

Open gates at the former Dairy Crest site. (. ) (.)

Cllr Birch says ‘urban explorers’ have uploaded a “rash” of YouTube videos of the site since Ethan died, including one in May last year which shows a group of people walking around freely, and another a couple of weeks ago showing youngsters easily accessing the insides of buildings.

“These videos make a nonsense of the idea that these buildings are kept secure, or that the site is in any way secure from people getting in.

“Evidence of easy accessibility takes the form of widespread graffiti throughout the building that encourages visits by other graffiti artists who too put themselves in danger.

“There has already been one fatality and yet this seems to have been ignored by Fastglobe.”

Life Environmental carried out an asbestos survey of the site in 2015 and identified three buildings containing Asbestos Insulation Board (AIB).

The risk assessment firm recommended access should be prohibited to these buildings.

Totnes Community Development Society subsequently boarded them up but Cllr Birch says since this time the condition of the AIB will have deteriorated and released more lethal fibres, spreading the contamination around the site.

He said: “Exposure to asbestos fibres, which are known to be present, can lead to longterm health problems resulting in death.”

Cllr Birch listed a number of responsibilities Fastglobe has to the site, under the Control of Asbestos Regulations, which include assessing the risk of anyone being exposed to asbestos fibres, and preparing a detailed plan for managing the risks posed by asbestos containing materials.

“It is feared that the owner of the site is neglecting its responsibilities and in consequence putting youngsters lives at risk,” he stated.

Cllr Birch says he will talk to South Hams Council offers to see what steps can be taken to prevent any more accidents and possible deaths occurring on the site.

He also slammed Fastglobe for allowing the site to decay, accusing the glue firm of giving up on the site, leaving Totnes “saddled with a dangerous and unsightly mess.”

Graffiti at the former Dairy Crest site can be seen from the railway (. ) (.)

Totnes land agent, Patrick Gillies who is leading the Brunel Park Partnership, formed to oversee Fastglobe’s multi-million pound plans to transform the site into a mixed development consisting of a creative community hub, housing, holiday park, shops and business units, insists the site has not been abandoned.

Fastglobe aims to submit an outline planning application for the whole site later this year, he said.

Since acquiring the site, Fastglobe has carried out clearance work to provide maintenance access to the leat, ecological surveys, some essential health and safety works, and is working on a major flood modelling project with the environment agency.

Mr Gillies added: “Where we agree wholehearted with Cllr Birch is that the site is an eyesore in desperate need of regeneration.

“That is why we continue to work hard on bringing forward a viable, transformative scheme for the benefit of the local community.”

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