Toxic Trade News / 23 August 2006
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Clash over toxic ships
by Frances Earlam, Wirral Globe (UK)
  CHAOTIC: A shipbreaking yard in Asia - a pressure group wants to see an end to these conditions and have the vessels dismantled in Wirral under the highest health and safety standards  
23 August 2006 – Businessmen and councillors are locked on collision course over whether Wirral docklands should be used as a centre for breaking "toxic" ships.

A new pressure group believes setting up a recycling base for old and unused vessels in Birkenhead would bring more jobs to the area and ensure the procedure is carried out to high standards.

But Wirral Council leader Steve Foulkes told the Globe this week: " We won't welcome dirty industries to our shores."

Phil Fleming, a member of the "Wirral Forum for Environmentally Safe Shipbreaking" believes the UK should be responsible for breaking down its ships rather than leaving it up to developing countries, which are unable to do it to the highest health and safety standards.

The group - made up of businessmen, trade unions and environmental organisation Friends of the Earth - was set up following a report by government department Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) which suggested Birkenhead, along with Tyneside and Teeside as possible areas where ageing ships could be dismantled.

Mr Fleming said: "We are interested in the good of Wirral and we want people to have a social conscience. We have two major issues.

"Ships are being broken up on beaches in the Third World, simply beached on the sandbanks where there are no health and safety standards. Kids are told to go out and break up the ships which can be full of asbestos and unused fuels.

"We believe that ships made in Britain or for Britain should be dismantled here and we should take responsibility for them.

"If we have space in Wirral it could bring a lot of skilled jobs to the area. The problem is a lot of people say not in our backyard' but Wirral needs proper jobs."

Frank Kennedy, Friends of the Earth regional campaigns co-ordinator for the Northwest, added: "We have broadly been supportive of the idea of breaking up ships in the UK.

"We want this to happen where the highest standards are in place. We should be responsible for any pollutants we've put into any machinery we have built in this country.

"As with every activity there should be a full risk-assessment of the local environment, water damage, the local community and the air quality. But it is possible to provide an enclosed safe place which does not conflict with the environment, heritage and people's health."

The controversial stance of the forum is, however, battling against strong objection from politicians and councillors who feel that Wirral would not benefit from a dirty industry'.

Council leader Steve Foulkes said: "It is clear in our minds that this type of industry would not be suitable for the Wirral waterfront and would deter investment and regeneration.

"We have made it clear there are no suitable sites for the storage of waste.

"We do not want to have sites for the storage of asbestos and we are not prepared to make sites available. With no sites for storage, waste would have to be transported through residential areas which we won't accept. Wirral will not become a knacker's yard for old ships.

"The forum is a small number of vested interests.

"Their campaign, I hope, is doomed to failure. I was alarmed at some of the comments made by Mr Fleming at a recent meeting.

"Friends of the Earth take the overall view that they like the industry to look after their own waste and if that's the case, maybe a purpose-built facility is the answer. But we won't support jobs at any cost - we are not desperate for crumbs from the master's table.

"We won't welcome dirty industries to Wirral. MPs and local councillors are doing everything in their power to deter this industry from Wirral's shore."

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