Chernobyl-on-Sea building site is still derelict

Ugly hoardings surrounding a derelict building site just a stone’s throw from some of Torbay’s best beaches must go, says the leader of Torbay Council.

Guy Henderson

The site of the old gasworks at Hollicombe – once dubbed “Chernobyl-on-Sea” – has been derelict for decades, and despite planning permission being granted for nearly 200 homes on the site as long ago as 2012, it has not been touched. It is one of the key “brownfield” sites for development in Torbay, where the need for land for housing has reached critical levels.

The large area, three acres in the valley between Tarraway Road and Mead Road, is now overgrown and strewn with battered fence panels and other debris. The wooden hoardings along the main Paignton to Torquay road, opposite the entrance to Hollicombe Park and the path to the beach, are cracked and peeling, with graffiti daubed across them. The graffiti includes an obscene message in spray paint – aimed at former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Cllr Steve Darling, leader of Torbay Council, said the state of the hoardings was “terrible”, and he has written to the owners of the site to urge them to act. He also wants them to move forward with development of the site, which was cleared and cleaned of toxic chemicals including arsenic and cyanide in 2015. The build – when it begins – is likely to take three years.

In a letter to site owners Vistry Partnerships, parent company of developers Linden Homes, Cllr Darling said: “This is a significant arterial route between Torquay and Paignton and residents and visitors alike can only be horrified at the poor state of this boarding. I would reiterate our desire to get them re-painted and smartened up as soon as possible.

“We remain very keen to see the approved development for this site commenced, or if revised, then an acceptable scheme brought forward as soon as possible.”

Hollicombe gasworks building site (Image: Guy Henderson)

The first plans for the site were shown to the public in June 2007, at which point the gasworks itself had been dormant for almost 40 years. Local residents fought an unsuccessful campaign for the area to be turned into a park.

Now-defunct Midas Homes submitted plans for 185 new homes, including a mix of one, two and three-bedroom apartments, 44 of which would be affordable. There were more than 500 objections, mainly on the grounds of increased traffic. A Hollicombe Action Group was set up to fight the plans.

Councillors heard that a “full decontamination” would be needed, and one member of the planning committee branded it Chernobyl-on-Sea. By December 2010 council officers were recommending the go-ahead for 185 homes and a public park, and in February 2011 it was given the green light, as long as a giant “tent” was put over the site during digging to prevent toxic dust going into the air. But the whole project was “called in” by the Government in April 2011 so an environmental impact assessment could be completed.

Hollicombe gasworks building site (Image: Guy Henderson)

A year later it was said to be “back on track” and residents were told they had nothing to fear from the toxic chemicals left behind from the gasworks, which were successfully removed under the giant marquee in 2015.

Since then, however, the site has remained empty and no homes have been built. Maps show a road called Cudd Hill Road running through the site, but the road has never been built. Vistry Partnerships has been approached for a comment but had not responded at the time of publication.