Residents Urged to Report Smells From Southall Development

Campaigners believe air pollution from gasworks site being underreported

Southall Waterside  - Berkeley Homes
Artist's impression of Southall Green development. Picture: Berkeley Homes


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Clean air campaigners are urging Southall residents to report odour nuisance on an app to reveal the scale of the problem near the former gasworks site.

Clean Air for Southall and Hayes (CASH) are asking residents to report twice a day to an app called Odour Collect, due to concerns Ealing Council’s reporting hotline is “very difficult” to use and is deterring people from logging the issue.

Campaigner Angela Fonso said some people have experienced long waits on the phone up to 45 minutes and that it’s “quite reasonable” in the 21st century to have an app to report the problem, similar to the app Love Clean Streets.

She said: “I suspect a lot of underreporting going on…

“I would encourage everyone who lives in Southall present at this meeting to find this app, download it, and start using it because what we’ve experienced with Ealing Council they’re very reticent to take action.”

The call came in a meeting on 26 January hosted by Southall MP Virendra Sharma, addressing concerns about the Southall Green Quarter development – formerly known as Southall Waterside.

Mr Sharma and his team told members what steps he was taking to follow up the concerns over the impact on the health of residents related to pollutants detected at the development, which people have been campaigning against for years.

The CASH group formed in 2018 following reports from residents of headaches, vomiting, nausea and serious illnesses such as cancer which they claim are directly linked to a petrol-like odour coming from the 88-acre former gasworks site.

Work had been carried out to treat the soil at the development to make it safe, which ended in 2019, and Public Health England has produced a series of reports finding it is “unlikely” there is a direct toxicological risk to the long-term health of the nearby population. But this is disputed by residents living in the area.

Mr Sharma said: “Residents were promised when remediation finished there would be no smell, yet the smell continues.

“It is not safe, and it is a nuisance.”

Among action he was taking, the MP said he was urging for Ealing Council to carry out an equity assessment on the health impact of the Southall gasworks site on residents, focussing on factors of deprivation and race.

And he is campaigning for policy change in government and within the Labour party’s position regarding work on brownfield sites.

Speaking in the debate for the Environment Bill on January 26, Mr Sharma also said: “The Government do not seem to appreciate the dire position we are in, for although our air is far cleaner today than at any point in our lives, some communities have not seen the benefits. My constituency is one of them.

“We know that deprivation and race make us more susceptible to pollution. We in Ealing, Southall are suffering because of that and, cruelly, the system keeps making things worse. This is a matter of justice and equity…

“Campaigns such as CASH—Clean Air for Southall and Hayes—in my constituency are saying no and holding us all to account. For thousands living near the gasworks, this is an issue of equity. That is why action must be targeted on the areas with the most polluted air today.”

While residents attending the meeting welcomed Mr Sharma’s position and pledges, some were angered at the lack of previous action, adding: “We expect you to stand up and do a lot more than has been done.”

Another resident said: “It’s taken Mr Sharma nearly five or six years to say he’s behind us, where’s he been hiding all these years and why hasn’t he come before now?”

Meanwhile, progress is being made on Ealing Council’s delay at finding an independent air monitoring consultant that was expected to be in place last August.

Banner outside South Waterside

The council agreed with developer Berkeley Homes to take over the air quality monitoring of the gasworks site due to serious questions being raised by residents and stakeholders over the transparency of data provided directly by the developer, through its own consultant Atkins.

It was reported by Mr Sharma that Berkeley Homes have agreed to pay for the monitoring.

And he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service after the meeting: “The relationship between Atkins and Berkeley Homes is a cosy one and that leaves plenty of room for doubt about a conflict of interest.

“The gaps in the data, the strange presentation of it and emissions near the limits all raise issues of transparency.

“We need independent monitoring of the air locally, administered by Ealing Council, done by a firm acceptable to the local community, so they can have faith in what they are being told, and data published in near real time.”

An Ealing Council spokesperson said: “We are currently working with a proposal from an environmental pollution specialist for VOCs, NO2 and PM monitoring at the Southall Waterside development.

“We hope to come to an agreement with the contractor as soon as possible. As the negotiations are ongoing we are unable to provide further details at this time.”

Berkeley Homes and Atkins were contacted for comment.



While the health effects of the chemical will depend on factors such as the amount and time period of exposure, it is noted that breathing, drinking or swallowing the chemical “can cause nausea, vomiting, pain in the abdomen, diarrhoea, confusion, sweating, fever, fast heart rate, rapid breathing and may lead to convulsions, coma and possibly death.”

Lead campaign group against the Southall Waterside development, Clean Air of Southall and Hayes (CASH), said this is a concern due to the World Health Organisation’s view that there is “no safe level of air pollution”.

But Public Health England said the breaches have stayed below levels likely to cause serious or short-term health effects.

On the public’s concerns over the air quality, the report went on: “It is important to make a distinction between concerns about odour and any toxicological effect from exposure to airborne chemicals. The human nose is very sensitive to odours, and substances that are perceived as odorous are commonly present at levels below which there is a direct toxicological effect.

“Odours can cause nuisance amongst the population, possibly leading to stress and anxiety. Some people may experience symptoms such as nausea, headaches or dizziness, as a reaction to odours even when the substances that cause those smells are themselves not harmful to health.”

The public health bosses also said the concentration of chemicals has continued to decrease since the treatment of soil for toxins was completed in April 2019.

Council leader Julian Bell wrote a letter to CASH after the report’s publication, saying he hoped that the government’s findings will “provide some reassurance” to local residents.

He added: “While the PHE report does show an improving situation, they do recommend that monitoring and mitigation measures remain in place on site.

“We are absolutely committed to ensuring that this remains the case and have received assurances from Berkeley that they will indeed retain all their existing monitoring in place for the foreseeable future on this stage of the development.

“Given the findings of the PHE report, combined with the substantial reduction in the number of complaints regarding odour received by the council, I am afraid that the professional and legal advice we have received remains that there is not a basis to demand a cessation of works on the site.

“This is given that both council and external assessments of the site have concluded that the operator is using Best Practical Means to prevent nuisance as a result of odours, and are therefore operating within the terms of their licence.

“Nevertheless, we will continue to keep this under review and our officers are conducting visits to the site, both in response to any complaints received and on an ad-hoc basis, to check working practices.”

The council has also confirmed it has commissioned consultant Ricardo-AER to develop a low emissions strategy for Southall Waterside, with work expected to be completed by December 2020.

CASH campaigners have said during the pandemic residents have found it particularly difficult to speak to a council officer to complain over the odours, citing one resident who waited 45 minutes to report their concern on the phone.

“We recommended that the council should make online reporting possible but this hasn’t been addressed,” the campaigners said.

Responding to PHE’s report, the group added: “Public Health England detailed significant limitations of the air quality monitoring methodology used and reviewed the site developer’s data rather than commissioning their own air quality monitoring.

“The CASH Campaign calls for independent air quality monitoring, commissioned by Ealing Council, to provide reassurance to the community. We welcome Ealing Council’s discussions with Berkeley Group on this matter and would view the transfer of the responsibility for air quality monitoring from the site developer to Ealing Council as a progressive step.”

Last week the group announced it has formed a coalition with people living near four other gas work sites in London and Brighton to call for an overhaul of clean air rules to address a “public health ticking time bomb”.

The Berkeley Group was contacted for comment.

To read Public Health England’s full report click here.

Anyone experiencing problems at Southall Waterside can call the council on 02088258111.

Anahita Hossein-Pour - Local Democracy Reporter

February 3, 2021


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