Dr Ian Thwaites, spokesman for KSG, has written directly to Tony Pidgley, who is the founder and Chairman of Berkeley Group Holdings, making explicit his concerns regarding the risk of anthrax should the field in front of Great House Farm be built on. The text of this letter is reproduced below. Copies were sent to Francis Maude MP, councillors and officers at HDC as well as Environmental Health. To date, there has been no reply.
Dear Mr Pidgley
I have no doubt you are well aware of the concerns that we at Keep Southwater Green have concerning the risks of Anthrax contamination of this site. My own medical experience and that of my son, who is Professor of Clinical Infectious Diseases at Oxford University, have fuelled my personal concerns.
I have read the report you recently commissioned from Professor Nigel Silman. He assessed the surface soil in and around the area where it is thought the burial pit or pits are most likely to have been situated. Nobody can now have precise information about the situation of the burial site or sites because the original veterinary records, which would always have included a precise location, have with very few exceptions – some of which I have seen at the National Archive at Kew – all been destroyed.
I accept that he has shown, with a high statistical reliability, that there are no spores in the surface soil of that field. In reality it was highly unlikely that there would be since no cows have subsequently developed the disease and their sensitivity to spores is very high indeed.
What he has not proved – because it simply cannot be done – is that there are no spores deep down around the pits.
Whatever investigations are performed there is always going to be a very small risk that viable spores are still present.
An outbreak of Anthrax in 1942 in Gloucestershire, when a similar scenario to Great House Farm pertained, produced no further infection of cattle until 1994, illustrating the longevity of the spores and the imperative not to underestimate the risk. I agree with Environmental Health at Horsham that, while the field is undisturbed, the risk to humans is effectively nil because there is no effective pathway for humans to become infected. As soon as any substantive ground works take place then the pathway for transmission to humans is opened and risk is incurred.
I appreciate that Horsham are planning to impose conditions in the event of planning permission being granted, and that those conditions comply with the advice of the most respected Anthrax expert Dr Tim Brooks, with whom I have spoken on more than one occasion. None the less there is nothing that you, Dr Brooks or anyone else can do that allows development on this particular land to go ahead with NO risk at all. If it were imperative that the field was built upon then I can accept that the risk has to be assessed and a judgement made, but in this particular situation it is certainly not imperative. All that you need to do is to remove the field from your plans and the risk is totally avoided. On behalf of the people of Southwater, many of whom feel strongly and dispute your right to accept this risk on their behalf, I urge you to consider this course of action.
In the event that you are not prepared to do such a thing then I remain very concerned about another aspect. Let us imagine that you go ahead and build as per your present plan and no carcase is found.
Once again it will still be impossible to say with 100% certainty that there remains no infection in the deep sub soil. Your houses would in time be sold to people who would become the freeholders of that property and the land upon which it was built.
What would be the situation then – perhaps twenty or thirty years later or even more since the spores are very long lasting indeed – if a householder digs deeply in his garden – perhaps a pond or the foundation for an extension which might not need formal planning permission – and he uncovers the carcase of a cow?
Unless he has specifically been made aware of the risk when he purchases the house from you, he will be unaware that there is anything of above average significance. If further he is unlucky enough to uncover viable spores what then?
Not only is there a risk of truly terrible infection but, as the law stands, the householder may become financially liable for remedial actions which will need to be taken on his property. All three possible remedial strategies for Anthrax are very costly indeed.
Not to make the people to whom you sell the houses aware of the potential hazard and how to manage it is morally wrong. It is also to risk that your company, and perhaps also Horsham District council as the Planning Authority who had granted you permission to build on the land, might be held to be liable, and in the worst scenario be liable for serious and potentially fatal human infection.
If you are explicit and honest at the time of sale it may not be easy to sell houses that come with such a caveat.
I urge you again to consider whether building on this field is in anyone’s interests.