Call for probe into toxic gas-leak homes

Newbyres Crescent in Gorebridge is set to be demolished. Picture: Julie Bull
Newbyres Crescent in Gorebridge is set to be demolished. Picture: Julie Bull
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CALLS have been made for a public inquiry after a row broke out over who’s responsible for toxic gas seeping in to dozens of homes which are set to be demolished.

The £6 million development in Newbyres Crescent, Gorebridge, faces being pulled down amid fears over dioxide gas leaking into properties from abandoned coal mines.

Six people have been hospitalised since the problem first emerged in September, and five families living in the worst-affected homes have been permanently evacuated.

Midlothian Council has now asked the Scottish Government to investigate why the 64 houses weren’t fitted with protective gas membranes when they were built eight years ago.

Housebuilder Lovell insisted it followed instructions from the council’s design team when the properties were constructed.

Council leader Owen Thompson said: “We as a council don’t have the authority to call for a public inquiry. But we have written to Health Secretary Alex Neil and the chairman of NHS Lothian, Brian Houston, because the first priority has been to make it safe for residents. But now it’s appropriate to look at how did this happen?

“There are some questions about that and we don’t know the answers.

“A public inquiry won’t be cheap, but it is important we get one.”

Midlothian councillors will meet on Tuesday to vote on a report which recommends the demolition of Newbyres Crescent, with final approval for any plan resting with the NHS-led Incident Management Team (IMT).

“We have got the lead, but ultimately public health and the IMT have the authority to remove that, so it has to be done exactly right,” said Councillor Thompson.

The Evening News understands that Midlothian Council will consider commissioning its own investigation into events at Newbyres Crescent, even if the Scottish Government does not approve a public inquiry.

And a government spokesperson said there could be no discussion on a public inquiry until the council has “decided how to resolve the situation”.

Midlothian MSP Christine Grahame said the council’s first priority should be to pursue any contractors involved in building Newbyres Crescent found to be at fault through the courts.

She said: “It seems to me that it is a contractual matter, and that someone, I don’t know who, has been negligent. We know there were no membranes put down. The mystery here is why were no membranes put down? Was a proper evaluation done of any disturbance to the soil beneath the foundations?

“I don’t agree with a public inquiry. That’s up to the councillors if they feel that’s called for, but I think that’s premature. The best thing to do would be to negotiate a settlement. It’s in the interest of the council to get on with it.”

Midlothian Council is considering legal action against Lovell in a bid to recoup the millions lost on the homes. But a spokeswoman for the developer said: “Lovell built these homes as a contractor working to the instructions of the design team appointed by the council. We are therefore not in a position to comment.”

A spokesman for Midlothian council said: “We’re currently taking legal advice in relation to whether any of the consultants or contractors engaged by the council failed to comply with their legal obligations. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage at it may prejudice the council’s legal position.”