Cattle carcass pit evidence is being sought
By James Connolly
Foot and mouth disease could be used as an objection to plans for new homes in Biddulph more than 50 years after the epidemic arrived in the UK.
Gillow Heath residents are convinced that a field west of Portland Drive, a site earmarked for development in the local plan, is also the location of a pit used to bury diseased cattle in the late 1960s.
The field, between Essex Drive and Portland Drive, sits within an area that the district council is expected to allocate for new houses in order to meet targets. Originally, the authority had planned to develop 12 acres of greenbelt land near Biddulph Valley Way until an independent inspector called the plans “unsound” last year; the district council was left searching for other areas to develop.
Amendments were subsequently made to the local plan last summer, which proposed removing areas of land near the sewage works from the greenbelt and allocating them for future housing developments.
In response, a petition against the amendment was quickly passed from house to house in areas like Marsh Green Road, Portland Drive and York Close.
Chris Slater, (73), who has lived on Portland Drive since 1975, said that a home buyers report given to him in 2008 states there is an “unspecified pit from 1967” sitting 56 metres west of his property.
Mr Slater and his neighbours hope to find concrete evidence of the existence of a foot and mouth burial pit near their homes to put a halt to any potential developments.
Sue Fielding, (73), who also lives on Portland Drive, said: “There’s a large mound that goes up from Marsh Green Road and neighbours who have lived here all their lives have told us that it was a burial ground. The woman who helps me clean on a Friday said that her dad saw them burying carcasses in a big pit there. She said it was covered with a mound of earth.
“Now all we need is some definite evidence of the pit existing.”
The Biddulph Chronicle reported on the first outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the town shortly after Christmas in 1967. The article said “farmers were showing concern” when they learned that five heifers had been affected on a field at Biddulph Grange Hospital.
Soon after, in February 1968, we reported there had been an outbreak of the disease involving 93 cattle at Marshfield Gate Farm — very near to the site off Marsh Green Road now earmarked for development.
Residents have been looking through the Chronicle archives for any reports back then about a pit being dug for the disposal of carcasses, but have not found any related articles.
In 2015, concerned residents in Lancashire found evidence of a mass grave from an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 1967. They alerted borough councillors to its existence in the hope that a local plan could be amended to keep Blackburn farmland free of new developments, but their efforts did not stop the plans going ahead.
Mr Slater said: “This land is safeguarded, which should mean that it can’t be built on until the end of the plan period in 2035 — but, they renew it every five years. Some developers are saying ‘we’ve got land available now, so let us build on it’. That has been their argument for years.
“They’re pushing for one site in Gillow Heath to be released for development immediately. I was at a planning meeting in Leek recently where it was being discussed; the inspector has gone away to chew things over. He gave us a few of his options and a rough idea of how long it will take for him to make his decision, but it was all very vague.”
In November last year, residents of Marsh Green Road, Portland Drive and York Close organised a petition that amassed 431 signatures before submitting it to the district council as part of a consultation process.
Mrs Fielding said: “We have been fighting this for over a year now, we’re very much up in arms. The field that we are particularly concerned with, and where we think the burial pit is, runs between Essex Drive and Portland Drive — it’s by the Biddulph Valley Way, a thing of beauty, and they want to build 90 houses on it.
“The very fact that it’s called Marsh Green should be enough to tell you that it’s not a good idea — it’s a flood plain, I have seen it in four feet of water.”
At a meeting of Biddulph Town Council after the amendments were made to the local plan last summer, Coun Alistair McLoughlin said: “These sites are on flood plains and wildlife corridors, and the evidence from Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency backing that up has been well documented.
“The district council has ignored all of this evidence, despite the fact that one of the sites has been under water twice in the past year.
“The proposals are crazy, they make me wonder what the district council is playing at. The required housing numbers are always increasing, the sites are totally unsuitable and there is no demand for these houses in Biddulph.”
The district council’s officers have warned previously that even more of the town’s greenbelt could become vulnerable to developers if the local plan is subjected to delays.
According to a housing delivery test, the authority must build more than 800 more homes by 2033 in order to meet Government set targets, with various sanctions being placed on authorities that cannot construct the required number of homes.
A spokesperson for the district council said: “The location of former burial pits is not fully known and is being queried with the Animal and Plant Health Agency (ALPHA).
“The presence of a historic former foot and mouth burial pit, and any other contamination, would not necessarily prohibit the development of the site as a contamination risk assessment would be required prior to development.
“This would seek to address and remediate any identified risks. The risks to human health from animal foot and mouth are considered to be very low as it crosses the species barrier with difficulty and little effect (Reference; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1119772/).”