Southwark Council will not push for a change in the borough’s bomb-detection policy following last week’s discovery of an unexploded WW2 device, despite calls for a rethink from Bermondsey business owners affected by the drama that followed.
Developers and contractors are currently responsible for carrying out their own assessments of the sites on which they work, which in the case of the Grange Walk development was a “detailed desk-based” approach as to whether a bomb may have been dropped on the area during WW2.
This tactic only analysed the theoretical probability and consequences of a bomb being found, but the council has ruled out changing the approach to a more detailed, on-site investigation.
Matt Downie, landlord of the Grange pub in Grange Road, was forced to close his business for two days during the operation, a necessity that cost him “thousands of pounds.”
He said: “With the modern technology available like infra-red, any sensible person can see that there has got to be a better way than a desk-based approach. It’s too risky and chaotic, especially for an area like this that was bombarded with bombs during the war.”
He argued that the “haphazard” evacuations could have been avoided if the bomb had been detected before it was unearthed, which would have allowed a well-planned evacuation timetable that could have been publicised in advance.
Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrats parliamentary candidate for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, urged the council to “never gamble with the safety of our local communities.”
In a letter written to the council he added: “As you will know, Bermondsey and south London suffered heavy bombing during the air raids of World War Two. I am therefore concerned that more findings like the one of Monday 23rd will be unearthed as London and our community continue to undergo extensive redevelopment. Can you assure me that a suitable risk assessment was carried out on the site where the bomb was found, as part of the Construction Management Plan?”
Council Leader Peter John told the News that the discovery was a “very unusual occurrence” and the criticisms directed at the council were “bizarre.”
He said: “Seven bombs have been found in the whole of London over the last five years, so I don’t think we need to start changing our whole approach to planning because of it. Whether the bomb had been discovered last year or this, it would still have demanded the kind of intricate recovery process that the armed forces carried out so skilfully.
“While I fully understand that some local people were frustrated at finding themselves unable to return to their homes or businesses overnight, I think as a council and as a community we responded very well to the situation at hand and within a difficult timeframe.”
Despite the late notice, the council spent £4,500 on hotel, hostel and B&B rooms to ensure that no residents had to spend the night in an emergency relief centre.