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Redfern residents kept in the dark over asbestos removal

More asbestos has been unearthed after construction began on the old Redfern Public school in Cope Street. Residents are concerned for their health as contamination levels exceed what was originally reported reports Patrick Billings in City News of 5th October 2008.

“I would prefer living without asbestos removal being carried out across the road, it has been an absolute nightmare,” said local resident Nicola Mansfield. ”I have a 17-month-old son and have had to keep all the windows and doors closed for weeks.

“If I was a Queen’s Council, instead of a stay at home mother, this development would not be going ahead.”

The Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) bought the contaminated land to build the National Indigenous Development Centre – a national centre for Indigenous youth which will house class rooms, accommodation and a sporting field.

The ILC maintains it is common to encounter high levels of asbestos contamination once work begins and relevant safety procedures are being followed to remove the asbestos. According to the ILC, an environmental scientist took 80 core samples on the site and discovered a “hotspot” containing ten cubic metres of asbestos.

But as work progressed larger amounts of the deadly material were found.

“Until you start stripping back the asphalt you cannot be sure about the level of contamination,” said ILC's Eastern Division manager, Ashley Martens.

“We always knew there was asbestos there. We are ending the process of removing it now.”

when asked if more asbestos was likely to be uncovered, Mr Martens replied: “Anything is possible.”

Meanwhile residents find it extraordinary that testing did not uncover the true extent of the contamination.

“The Department of Planning was told that the level of contamination would only take two days to remove,” Ms Mansfield said. “I don’t see how two days can suddenly turn into 30, either they have no idea or somebody is lying.

“I am also surprised the guidelines regarding a development are the same no matter the level of asbestos contamination.”

The Planning Department admitted the removal of the asbestos did not require formal consent. However, they claim they did assess the asbestos removal plan, put forward by the ILC, as part of the major project application in October of last year.

According to Nicola Mansfield she was never informed about the ILC’s development application going on public display and the asbestos contamination has added insult to injury.

“The consultation process was intrinsically floored,” Ms Mansfield said. “The Department of Planning are the final consent authority and they are a law unto themselves – they have not being accountable.

“We have asked for a meeting with the DoP and that has not being granted. We have put to them a series of questions highlighting our concerns and they have not responded.”

Both the ILC and the DoP argue they consulted extensively with the community, including a letter drop and organising meetings with concerned residents.

“The Indigenous Land Corporation and the Redfern-Waterloo Authority notified the wider community of the proposal prior to lodgement of the Major Project and during its assessment,” a spokesperson for the DoP said.

A spokesperson for the NSW Planning Minister said the minister was unable to comment on the issue due to the recentness of her appointment to the portfolio.