Left without safe water for year ‘due to quarry’

Homes have been left without safe drinking water for more than a year because of contamination from a quarry, it has been claimed.

Since August last year, the owners of two properties next to Blaxter Quarry at Elsdon have had to bathe and shower at friends’ houses, use launderettes to wash their clothes and fetch water in bottles for drinking, washing and cleaning.

The problems are said to have occurred because the operators of the quarry, on the A696, were working in an extended section of the site, which was not given permission, and had dug so far down they had disturbed the aquifer that supplies water to Blaxter House and Blaxter Cottage.

Peter Simpson, owner of Blaxter House, said: “We are at the end of our tether.

“We started having problems in August last year and went up to the quarry to investigate.

“We found that they were excavating a huge area without permission and that was causing the problems.”

But Mr Simpson said that Northumberland County Council is not enforcing its action, despite sending out breach of condition notices.

“Four condition notices were sent out,” he said.

“The quarry has filled in one void and done nothing about the rest of the site.”

The original planning permission stated that operators could dig to 300metres, but Mr Simpson said they have excavated and removed stone some 12 metres deeper.

The residents and the council’s own public protection team have had tests carried out which found that the water was ‘unsafe for human consumption’ and contained traces of E.coli and fuel.

He added: “If you pour water from our kitchen tap into a pint glass, it looks like you have poured a cup of coffee and when left, a layer of sand forms.

“Since this time last year, we have had to use public launderettes, or take our washing to friends’ houses. We were buying 50 to 60 litres of bottled water a week and we are having to have a bath or shower at friends’ houses .”

He added that the pipe which supplies water to his property is now coated with fine sand and fuel.

“Until the pipe has been replaced, we are not going to have a useable water supply,” he said. Quotes from contractors to replace it have been up to £70,000.

Mr Simpson is now planning to take legal action against the quarry owners and will be making a corporate complaint to Northumberland County Council.

County councillor for the area, Steven Bridgett, said: “The head of planning has been contacted about this numerous times and her departmed has failed to act. These residents have had no basic water supply for in excess of 13 months.

“The county council has a duty of care and in this instance they are failing to meet that.”

Previously, the quarry operators have said problems have been caused by excessive rainfall, but this has been discredited by residents and rainfall figures.

A county council spokesman said the site was being investigated. He added: “The investigations identified that planning conditions were not being met and parts of the quarry had been excavated below permitted levels. Formal enforcement action was subsequently taken by the council.”

Work has been done to restore the site and this was closely monitored by council officers.

“The residents have been kept informed of progress throughout the process of formal enforcement,” he said.

“Water samples were taken from the spring water holding tank and at a residential property on September 12. The initial results have now been received and residents will be notified of the outcome. Operations at Blaxter Quarry continue to be monitored on a very regular basis by council officers.”

Attempts to contact the quarry operators by the Gazette went unanswered.