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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Sammy Gecsoyler

Scientists to examine health fears at west London luxury development

The Southall Waterside development by the Berkeley Group Holdings
Southall residents have reported a ‘petrol-like’ odour in the air surrounding the Berkeley Group’s development site. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

Scientists are to investigate the possible health impact of a luxury redevelopment project in Southall which residents say is causing them breathing problems and mental confusion.

Residents say the redevelopment of a former gasworks has led to a “petrol-like” odour in the area and has caused multiple health problems.

The study, to be conducted by scientists from Imperial College London, will involve about 50 chemical samplers being deployed around the area, in residents’ back gardens and on residents themselves. The scientists are also looking to collect blood and urine samples from people.

The study is funded through the National Institute for Health and Care Research’s unit for chemical and radiation hazards.

The developer, Berkeley Group, touts the former gasworks – now called the Green Quarter – as “one of the most biodiverse developments in the UK”. One- and two-bedroom flats are on sale for between £381,000 and £580,500.

Boris Johnson used his mayoral powers to approve the development in 2010, overruling Ealing council’s decision to block it.

Since work began in 2016 to clean the 36-hectare (88-acre) site of hydrocarbons – including benzene, naphthalene and cyanide – people have reported a “petrol-like” odour in the air that has made them sick.

Angela Fonso
Angela Fonso, the coordinator for the campaign group Clean Air for Southall and Hayes, called the study a ‘positive development’. Photograph: The Guardian/Kyri Evanvgelou

Residents previously told the Guardian they have been suffering from eye problems, headaches, mental confusion and nausea. The parents of a seven-year-old girl said she used an oxygen chamber after she began having fainting fits.

Angela Fonso, the coordinator for the campaign group Clean Air for Southall and Hayes, called the study a “positive development”.

She said: “This research project is a massive step forward for us. At last we might start to uncover why so many residents are facing these health issues.”

Dr Ian Mudway, the scientist leading the study, said: “It is a template for many of the regeneration schemes running out across the country. It’s really important that those of us in public health engage with the communities who have concerns about these types of developments.”

Southall has a large south Asian community and 41% of children in the area are living in poverty. “For these sites to be financially worthwhile for the developers, they generally need to be in urban areas where the land price is sufficiently affordable, but very often these pockets of land are in some of the most deprived communities.

Mudway said: “These communities already have multiple disadvantages with air pollution, overcrowding and poor housing. This is another burden being placed on them.”

Fonso said: “We are the most deprived area in Ealing. It’s easier to disregard us.”

If further funding is secured, Mudway would like to conduct similar studies on other former gasworks sites. He said: “The fact that gas used to be manufactured from coal has been lost to the public consciousness, but the chemical legacy remains.”

St William, a joint venture between the Berkley Group and National Grid, is planning to redevelop at least 30 other gaswork sites across London and the south of England. An alliance of community groups called Gasworks Communities United has been formed to challenge Berkeley Group’s development of disused gasworks sites.

An all-party parliamentary group on gaswork redevelopment was formed in 2021, chaired by the Ealing Southall MP, Virendra Sharma, however the group has now disbanded.

Berkeley Group declined to comment.

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