Sewage-soaked field stops creation of new woodland in Greater Manchester

Plans to plant a new woodland have been cancelled after local councillors discovered a field was so saturated with sewage the soil could be too toxic for the trees.

Helena Horton 

The woodland was to have been planted in a council-owned field located by Otterspool Road in Romiley, Greater Manchester. Officials hoped the woodland would improve the environment, provide green space and encourage wildlife habitats.

However, Stockport councillors have learned the land is unsuitable for tree planting because of sewage discharges leaching into the ground. They were told the resulting soil contamination would make it hard to plant the trees, so they had decided to cancel the woodland.

Assessments are being done by United Utilities and council officials to find out the scale of the problem, but the council said it had decided there were too many risks to human health, including workers having to dig into raw sewage to plant trees, and there were worries the contaminants would prevent the trees growing.

This is a fresh blow to attempts by local councils to create green spaces to improve local areas in the face of funding cuts and battles to keep existing spaces open.

Raw sewage contains many problematic elements, including heavy metals that can be toxic to plants, and nutrients that can disturb ecosystems.

According to Environment Agency data, United Utilities discharged sewage at Otterspool Road 135 times last year, which amounted to 40 days of sewage flowing.

The water company was found to be the most polluting in the country last year. One of United Utilities’ pipes spilled sewage into the River Ellen, near the Lake District, for nearly 7,000 hours in 2022. Environment Agency data also showed that 10 of the country’s 20 pipes that spilled the most sewage in 2022 were owned by United Utilities, which provides water to the north-west and the Lake District.

Sewage leaks have also been reported in a nearby field when local waterways flooded. Pictures show sanitary products and other toilet waste strewn across the field.

Local officials have asked ministers to visit the field to see the devastating impact of the pollution.

Lisa Smart, the Liberal Democrat councillor for Bredbury Green and Romiley, said: “This is a devastating blow for the local community in Stockport. The council was working hard to deliver a new woodland for local people and wildlife to enjoy, however this environmental scandal has cancelled the project.

“United Utilities owe local people an apology. Their destruction of our environment cannot go on any longer. We already knew our local rivers were being pumped full of sewage, but now it is our green land.

“I want a minister to visit this field and see first-hand the destruction caused. Rather than a new woodland, we are left with an open sewer.”

The Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron, who is also the Lib Dem’s environment spokesperson, added: “This is a scandal. United Utilities are ruining our region’s environment, from the Lake District to Stockport’s green fields.

“Conservative ministers are sitting on their hands whilst these environmental scandals take place. Meanwhile, United Utilities reward their execs with multimillion-pound bonuses. Frankly, the whole thing stinks.”

A United Utilities spokesperson said: “An issue on our network caused flooding from a manhole, affecting a small section of a field in Stockport which we are cleaning and repair work is being programmed.”

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