CONCERNS have been raised about the council's handling of asbestos in public buildings following revelations over the discovery of the toxic fibre in a school.
The authority is already under investigation by the government's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) over its handling of the problem in Waltham Forest Town Hall, but details have now emerged of how a school relocation has been thrown into disarray due to a similar find.
St Mary's Church of England Primary in The Drive, Walthamstow, was due to move to the former Warwick School site in Brooke Road in September as part of a £3 million scheme to treble its intake to help ease the borough's pupil places shortage.
Ahead of the move, three classes and 18 staff relocated to Brooke Road early in September 2011 but the entire project was put on hold last month when asbestos was found at the site.
The Guardian has learnt that the discovery was made just weeks before the entire school was due to move in.
Executive headteacher Beverley Hall said the situation had caused “distress and upset” to parents, staff and children.
The council has reportedly commissioned an independent report to examine if anyone's health had been put at risk.
Cabinet member for children, Cllr Clare Coghill, told the Guardian in a statement that asbestos is not harmful if left alone and that “no demolition works that could disturb asbestos was permitted during term time while children and staff were on site.”
The news comes just two years after the HSE criticised the council for not properly monitoring or managing asbestos in several other Walthamstow schools.
One source described the aborted relocation as a “shambles” and questioned why the council had not known about the asbestos sooner.
Because St Mary's had already committed to taking on extra classes, 180 children are now being bussed to the former Edinburgh Primary School in Walthamstow.
In the meantime, the school says it does not know when it will be able to move in to Brooke Road.
Ms Hall said: “Relocating 180 children to a temporary site at short notice has been very challenging for the school.
“We have an extremely dedicated and hard working team of staff and governors, many of whom have committed extensive time during holidays and weekends to ensure that the impact on the children has been minimised as much as possible.
“Our parents have been extremely understanding, but are understandably upset and concerned.
"The supportive comments they have made about the hard work put in by staff have been greatly appreciated by everyone at the school.”
Cllr Coghill said the council had held a number of drop-in sessions with parents.
She said: “We are still responding to questions raised and making information available to parents and have a further update planned for early November”.
She added: “Asbestos poses no health risk when it is undisturbed... however it is obviously imperative that safety is given the highest priority and the correct procedures are followed.”
TOWN HALL ASBESTOS 'WORSE THAN ORIGINALLY THOUGHT'
CAMPAIGNERS have discovered that the amount of dangerous asbestos found at Waltham Forest Town Hall is even greater than previously realised.
Community worker Nick Tiratsoo has been given the final version of a council-commissioned report into the issue which reveals the fibre was not just confined to the building's basement – where thousands of important documents are stored.
He said: “At first, we were told that asbestos contamination was confined to the Town Hall basement. Then the draft report showed that it was present in two locations on the ground floor. And now the final report adds a third location on the ground floor. What else will be revealed?
“The council seems to be dripping out bad news bit by bit.”
The council says it cannot comment on the town hall asbestos issue until the HSE investigation is complete.