Our questions to the council

Council leader Owen Thompson outside one of the previously evacuated homes at Newbyres Crescent
Council leader Owen Thompson outside one of the previously evacuated homes at Newbyres Crescent

What exactly caused this outbreak of carbon dioxide?

The exact cause of the higher than normal levels of carbon dioxide found in five homes in the Newbyres Crescent/ Gore Avenue area is still under investigation by the Incident Management Team, which includes representatives from NHS Lothian, Health Protection Scotland and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.

It is thought to be linked to former coal mine workings, which lay relatively close to the surface in the area. The original incident, in September 2013, involved an unusual combination of circumstances. During periods of low pressure, such as rain or unsettled conditions, it is possible for ground gases to seep to the surface and there was a 25 year low in terms of atmospheric pressure at the time when two young people, who were sleeping on the floor in a living room, felt ill and sought hospital treatment.

Further detailed analysis is continuing and it is not possible to say anything more at this time. Our air quality monitoring arrangements do not show any need to vacate any further homes although we are remaining vigilant and will act if required.

Is the original outbreak in September, linked to the nearby grouting by the Borders Railway team that was going on then?

We’re not in a position to comment. The IMT are investigating potential sources. Our first priority has been to keep residents safe and investigate longer term solutions which will minimise the risk of ground gas escapes occurring.

Is it only confined to the one street?

The Newbyres Crescent new build scheme also includes the new build properties on Gore Avenue. Sixty-four homes are on the estate.

Why can’t those that want to leave do so?

Tenants are able to apply for a house transfer if they would like and their application will be considered under our housing allocation policy.

What work needs to be done to get to the bottom of the problem?

The Incident Management Team is continuing its investigation and will have to ratify any decisions made by the council to try and resolve this situation. In coming weeks, the council will consider a number of possible technical solutions for protections in place against future ground gas escapes. Once ratified by the Incident Management Team, the council will act as soon as possible to put the agreed measures in place.

Will residents have to be moved for the work to be carried out?

Yes, all of the options under consideration involve complex engineering work and that can’t be done safely with people still living in their homes. At this stage, it is too early to confirm whether or not all homes on the estate will be affected, and it is also too early to say when people may have to leave their homes. We have told residents that if they have to move temporarily, this will be for at least three months and we’ve set out how a multi-agency group, called the Care for People Group, will work to minimise the disruption to their lives. We’ve had staff visit every resident and provide forms to get the information we will need to be able to plan where people will move to and will continue to work with residents over coming weeks and months to support them during this uncertain and unsettling time.

Is there a risk the street might have to be condemned?

There are a number of complicated options under consideration at present. These include retrofitting the homes with new protections.

The choice of option taken will reflect the need to protect these homes for their full 60 year lifespan, and it is possible that retrofitting will not provide the high levels of certainty that we all require.

It may be that the only way to deliver the level of assurance we want is to demolish some or all of the existing homes and rebuild them completely. We recognise how difficult this situation and regret that it’s not possible to be more specific at this time. We will share more information with residents as soon as decisions have been made and ratified by the Incident Management Team in place. This is expected to be in coming weeks. In the meantime, these homes have detectors in place and we have a special team on 24 hour standby to respond to any calls from residents to the special emergency response line and consequently we have been advised that it is safe for residents to remain in their homes while the longer term solutions are developed and agreed.

Should there have been a membrane placed in the foundations of the homes to stop gas getting through?

We’re not in a position to comment on this question at present as it is possible that legal action will be taken in future, and we would not want to prejudice the outcome of those proceedings by commenting now.

Send us your questions for the council regarding Newbyres Crescent here