Plans to infill deadly water-filled quarry near Wigan are 'essential to take every necessary step to remove the risk to people'
East Quarry in Appley Bridge has long been a haunt for thrill-seeking youngsters in summer who will “tombstone” off the rocks, but on three occasions this has led to tragedy.
It has claimed the lives of two Wigan schoolboys: first Craig Croston and, more recently, Miracle Godson. Then last year the deep and freezing waters claimed the life of Southport teenager Jamie Lewin who tried swimming there with friends, despite the warning signs, security fencing and the site’s reputation.
The site’s owners, Maybrook Investments, want to drain the nearby deadly lagoon and fill it with imported waste materials before turning it into a shallow lake – effectively filling the huge hole in. This would have involved using one million cubic metres of inert waste to fill the crater.
However, the plans have become bogged down in a complex planning wrangle with the local authority, Lancashire County Council (LCC).
Maybrook boss Peter O’Dowd applied last year to LCC for a “certificate of lawfulness” – essentially a means of obtaining a decision from the planning authority that a proposed use or works can go ahead and do not require planning permission.
Mr O’Dowd said: “There has been an unfathomable delay in the decision-making process, which should take eight weeks. Now after waiting more than 20 weeks, we have taken the necessary steps by appealing (to the Planning Inspectorate) for non-determination.
“I hope that the decision on the application will be made soon, and the necessary measures can be taken to prevent any further tragedies.
“Every life lost is a tragedy, and it is essential to take every necessary step to remove the risk to people in and around the quarry.
“The fact that yet another young life has been lost in the quarry is a stark reminder of the importance of prioritising measures to remove the risk of yet another unfortunate death from cold water shock.”
He added: “The site is secured by various fencing and barbed wire and has good signage highlighting the dangers of the deep water and steep banking. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the site owners and the police, youths continue to enter the site, invariably doing so by scaling the fencing or damaging it to gain access.
“It is crucial to address this issue and implement measures that will permanently deter individuals from wanting to access the site and remove the risk that currently exists.
"The legislation does not limit the scale or extent of works that can be undertaken, as long as the external appearance of the site is not materially affected, and the development does not exceed certain height restrictions.
“In this case, the proposed infilling works are necessary to remove a clear health and safety risk that has unfortunately been demonstrated by three fatalities, one serious injury, numerous incidents of unauthorised access, and near misses at the site.
“In this case, the purpose of the works is to ensure the removal of a clear health and safety risk, and that the proposal ensures that the external appearance of the site is not materially affected.
“The development will still need to comply with all relevant health and safety regulations, environmental regulations, and any other relevant laws and regulations.”
A spokesman for Lancashire County Council said: "The owner of East Quarry has presented a proposal to infill the quarry with imported waste materials to just below the current water level, which they estimate would take around five years at a rate of 60 lorry loads per day.
"They are proposing to do this using permitted development rights which allows certain types of work to be carried out without the need to make a planning application and we would therefore have little control of the impacts caused by the work. They have asked the county council for a Certificate of Lawful Development to authorise this.
"The owner of the quarry has recently appealed to the Planning Inspectorate on the grounds that the county council has not determined their application. We will be outlining the county council's position as part of the appeals process – but we don’t believe the permitted development rights can be used for this proposal, and such a significant proposal should be properly scrutinised by the planning process."
Over the past three calendar years for the period April to September, a total of 170 quarry-related incidents have been reported to Lancashire Police. The majority of the incidents reported fall into the categories of “nuisance and anti-social behaviour” and “concern for safety”, relating to youths swimming or jumping into the quarry.
The proposed works involve raising the level of the quarry floor to reduce the depth of the body of water in the quarry. Maybrook said this was necessary to permanently remove reasons for anti-social behaviour, break-ins, and individuals accessing the quarry to swim and dive off rock promontories, posing a continual risk to life and health.
A number of residents have accused Mr O’Dowd of sidestepping the council by appealing to the Planning Inspectorate to gain the required certificate for work to go ahead. They claim this is “going over the head” of Lancashire County Council and fear the application will not be properly scrutinised.
However Mr O’Dowd has countered that his plans are supported by the Parish Council, and the Doing it for Dylan Water Safety Campaign, set up in memory of Dylan Ramsay, who sadly died in 2011 aged 13 while swimming in a quarry in Chorley.