Frustrations grow as Barrett St Hospital site cleanup grinds to a halt

A pile of contaminated soil in foreground at the Barrett Street Hospital site in New Plymouth. Building in the background is the Heritage listed Barrett St Nurses Hostel. - Photo: Supplied

The government is being criticised over the failure to remove thousands of cubic metres of asbestos and lead-contaminated soil from a land-banked former hospital site in New Plymouth.

Te Atiawa has first right of refusal on the Barrett St Hospital site which has an estimated redevelopment value of $50 million.

Demolition and remediation of the more than 100-year-old Barrett St Hospital began in 2016, but in recent weeks work has seemingly ground to a halt.

Now New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom has written an open letter to Eugenie Sage, the Minister responsible for Land Information New Zealand, demanding to know what is going on.

Land Information NZ administers Crown land, banked for Treaty settlement purposes.

Mr Holdom said he had heard whispers the site - which he believed had been cleared - was in fact still contaminated.

"I sought a meeting with staff from Land Information New Zealand. It was pretty hard to get but after three or four months we managed to meet on site and I discovered there's 2000 cubic metres of asbestos and lead-contaminated soil spread in multiple piles around the site."

Ariel view of the former Barrett Street Hospital site in New Plymouth with piles of asbestos and lead contaminated soil marked.

Ariel view of the former Barrett Street Hospital site in New Plymouth with piles of asbestos and lead-contaminated soil marked. Photo: Supplied

Mr Holdom said the contaminated soil had been covered with polythene, gravel and a polymer spray to protect nearby residents.

"I don't think the neighbours have to panic but in terms of the commitment government made to clear the site so it could be developed by either iwi if they choose to buy it or someone else this is a huge impediment to the site which is a ruin at the moment."

Mr Holdom said Land Information staff said some contaminated soil may end up being paved over, but he believed the government should honour the commitment former of minister of Treaty Settlements, Chris Finlayson, to fully remediate the site.

The 7.6-hectare hospital grounds are thought to be worth about $5.3 million and have room for about 150 sections.

Te Kotahitanga o Te Atiawa chair Liana Poutu.

Liana Poutu Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Te Kotahitanga o Te Atiawa chair Liana Poutu said the iwi had signalled its interest in the site where a significant pah site was also located.

Ms Poutu said the iwi's understanding of how the site should be presented to them was clear.

"Well, certainly our view of a clear site as we understood the Crown's undertaking was that all contaminants would be removed from the site so clear site in our minds means clear of contamination."

Ms Poutu said the iwi was waiting for Land Information to formally disclose what was left onsite before the parties moved to a valuation process.

She said iwi realised the former hospital was a complicated site but admitted the wait was becoming exasperating.

"Where we're at though is a bit frustrating because there was a whole lot of work being done at the site and then it came to a standstill so that's probably the frustrating thing. If we could see that progress was being made each week or each month we would understand that because of the complexities of the site but it feels like it's come to a standstill."

Eugenie Sage speaking on the steps of Parliament

Eugenie Sage Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Eugenie Sage said remediation of Barrett St was an operational matter and directed RNZ to Land Information.

Its deputy chief executive Crown Property, Jerome Sheppard, said $2 million had been spent at the site so far and 14 substantial structures and several tunnels had been removed.

Mr Sheppard said he understood people were frustrated with progress.

"The site investigation currently underway takes some time and we've got to get it right. We've got a good process now and we'll shortly follow up with Te Atiawa just to make sure that we are being good with our communication, but we do have a planned resource consent application this month so we do consider that progress is being made."

The consents application was for the removal of contaminated material but, Mr Sheppard said it was still possible some contaminates may remain on the site depending on its proposed use.

"If it's to say get put into carparking I mean that gets covered and generally you will only remove that level of contaminate required for that kind of development. It will be safe to be used. There's no way we will be leaving the site in anything but in a safe to use state."

Ms Poutu said if contaminates were to remain Te Atiawa would need to consider what that would mean for a site of cultural significance to the iwi.​

Mr Holdom said since writing his open letter Land Information had been back in touch and ensured him all the offending material would be removed.

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