Picture the scene. There you are, a happy father with your “life-partner” and two pre-school children. You manage to get a mortgage on a terraced house in NW5, which the estate agents call “Gospel Oak borders” but your neighbours call Kentish Town. It’s not quite Islington, but it’s definitely a move in the right direction.
You have been very worried by the recent media scares surrounding manufactured foods, but you have a nice apple tree in your small but well-formed garden, and a little vegetable patch that produces potatoes and onions. It isn’t 'The Good Life', but you are “doing your bit”.
And then you get a letter from Camden Council informing you that you are quite possibly poisoning your children and that you might have to concrete over your garden, because there is a good chance that it contains toxic doses of chromium, cadmium, nickel, lead, and maybe arsenic. Not because a secret cell of Al-Qaeda has been living next door for three years developing a “dirty bomb”, but because your house is near a recently demolished Victorian metal-plating factory.
You might wonder, is there anything that I can feed my kids? Either you buy stuff quite probably stuffed with enough preservatives to keep Liza Minnelli looking human for another decade, or you feed them home-grown artichokes and watch them die a grizzly death as a result of lead and arsenic poisoning. As a parent, you really can’t win.
It was interesting that the Standard’s take on the story was to go to an estate agent and ask him what effect this was likely to have on house prices, rather than to a doctor to ask what effect it could have on children’s health. Nice to see that people’s priorities remain unsullied by the recent property boom.
Camden Council has said mysteriously that it has “a legal duty to ensure no-one is suffering unacceptable exposure to metals known to be present”. It’s amazing what these councils are obliged to do for us, isn’t it? The question is, though, how did they remain unaware of it for all the years that the Ascham Street Works were still standing?