Owen Thompson: Newbyres residents health priority

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Scotland has a proud history in mining. Here in Midlothian, we have the National Mining Museum of Scotland, in Newtongrange, honouring the contribution made to the country’s economic prosperity and national survival in two world wars, with coal being the fuel that kept the home fires burning and powered the factories giving our brave service personnel the materials and supplies needed.

Right across Scotland, we have brought what are known as brownfield sites back into productive use, renewing towns and villages.

That’s why it’s so important that we all learn lessons from the current distressing difficulties confronting Midlothian Council in the Newbyres area of Gorebridge.

Our focus is on the public health of the people who live in the 64 homes in Newbyres Crescent and Gore Avenue and on supporting them through a situation which is no fault of their own.

We have fully studied the recommendations of our expert advisers, who have investigated and recommended against options avoiding the demolition of homes the council built from 2007-2009.

We’ve been working with colleagues in Scottish Government and in a number of agencies, including the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, Health Protection Scotland and NHS Lothian through the Incident Management Team process, which ensures the right things are done to protect people’s health.

I can only begin to imagine the distress and torment some residents are feeling at the prospect of having to move out and see their homes demolished. But it is clear that leaving things as they are is not an option.

Our experts tell us there remains a risk that carbon dioxide, which is thought to be seeping up from badly-ventilated old mine workings below the surface, could penetrate into homes and build up to dangerous levels again in the event of the right combination of weather conditions.

We’re protecting people presently through the provision of carbon dioxide detectors and emergency teams available on a 24-hour basis, and we won’t hesitate to rehome people if that is needed.

Over the longer term, though, we need a solution that will relieve the stress and uncertainty permanently for our residents.

As well as protecting residents, we’ve also been looking at why this is happening and have established that these homes were built without gas membranes, which can be installed underground when homes are being built. There are legal discussions ongoing which mean I can’t say much more but it is vital that we establish exactly what happened here and why.

Scotland’s planning processes are there to protect us all and we will need to continue to build on industrial land. A public enquiry here could lead to lessons which ensure future developments – and people – don’t have to go through this terrible experience again

• Owen Thompson is leader of Midlothian Council