Multimillion-pound scheme to tackle pollution on ‘sadly neglected’ stretch of coastline revealed

Northumberland County Council is committing to a multimillion-pound scheme to tackle historic pollution on a ‘sadly neglected’ stretch of coastline.

Lynemouth pollution
Lynemouth pollution

After decades of colliery spoil tipping, the erosion of Lynemouth Bay has accelerated in recent years, revealing sites of waste previously buried within the cliffs.

The site was subject to a land reclamation by the county council in the early 2000s, meaning the local authority is responsible for it.

Having hit the headlines in February 2019, the council announced that expert advice was being sought, while it continued to monitor the site and carry out regular beach cleans.

The authority has been working to investigate the extent and make-up of this waste material, which has included detailed site investigation, sampling and laboratory testing.

Results show in some parts of the site the buried waste contains low levels of potentially harmful materials, although the site poses a very low risk to public health.

The council’s head of local services, Paul Jones, said a full assessment of the site was necessary to see what remediation works would be appropriate, particularly given ‘we knew none of them would be cheap’.

The authority was left with three main options – doing nothing, which was legally permitted but not acceptable to the council; clearing the entire site, which would cost upwards of £20million; or the preferred option, which is to excavate the four areas of contaminated waste material and cover the rest of the material to reform the sand dunes.

Another possibility was to create some sort of revetment to try to slow the erosion.

The project could cost anywhere from £5million to £10million, with the current estimate thought to be around £7.5million.

A total of £2.5million has been earmarked by the council for the scheme so far, with £2.05million included in the proposed capital programme for 2020-21 and another £450,000 the following year.

This will enable the process to get started – for the detailed scheme to be designed, all necessary regulatory approvals and planning permissions sought and specialist contractors procured – to enable works to start in the spring of 2021.

In the meantime, a range of other measures are to be put in place, including air monitoring, the temporary diversion of the England Coast Path and continued clearance.

More signs encouraging people not to go onto the cliffs will be installed, while volunteer groups who are carrying out litter picks and similar activities are advised to leave the clean-ups to the council at this stage.

Coun Glen Sanderson, the cabinet member for the environment, said: “It’s very unfortunate we have this pollution on our beautiful coastline, but this is an historic legacy from our mining past and we can’t allow this material just to wash into the sea as the cliffs are eroded.

“I want to reassure members of the public that we are determined to tackle this issue and we have developed a comprehensive action plan to tackle this pollution for good.”