A headteacher has threatened to close his primary school if warnings about the dangers posed by the development of a contaminated former gas works are not heeded.
Russ Green wrote to all parents at Preston Primary School in Paignton to tell them that he would take the drastic action if he had concerns over the health of children and staff in relation to proposed work to build 184 flats at the neighbouring Hollicombe former gas works site.
Developer Linden Homes has said it was “disappointed that incorrect information has been distributed to parents causing unnecessary concern” about the plans. It said work would not begin unless it was satisfied that its methods were the “best possible” to ensure safety.
But the school fears that toxic particles could be inhaled by students, and say it could lead to female students growing up to have deformed babies in the “worst case scenario”.
In his letter, Mr Brown told parents: “If I am not assured that the works are safe, I would have no alternative but to consider closing the school.”
Parent governor Leon Butler, who has two children at the school, said the debate had been raging for several years, and that there was a “very high level of concern” at the school.
He said: “If the development went ahead without conditions that the school was satisfied with, then the school would have to consider closing. In any situation where the board of governors felt that the children’s safety was at risk, it couldn’t open, the same as if there was a blizzard or a hurricane.
“In this case, our young female students could be at particular risk of breathing in the dust which could contain toxins which are still in the soil from the activities there. In the worst case scenario, it could lead to them having deformed babies in later life. What we have been discussing with the developers is how we stop these toxins getting into the air and into our children’s lungs.”
Mr Butler said governors had previously felt ignored, but now felt that the developer and the council were both listening, and a resolution was in sight. “Everyone now seems to be working together to do something about it,” he said.
The Lindem Homes spokesman said: “It is an unavoidable fact that the site is currently contaminated and one of the benefits provided by the proposed development will be to remove this environmental liability from the community permanently.
“Our proposals have been considered in great detail by internationally renowned independent experts as well as the Environmental Agency and Torbay Borough Council’s Environmental Health Department. In every case they have concluded that our proposals are not only safe, but the best approach to carrying out the necessary work.”
The company said it would be happy to meet with the school to explain its proposals more fully.