OFFICIALS who approved a 'cost-cutting' plan not to remove toxic contaminants from land earmarked for social housing at Ravenscraig must explain their decision, a councillor has declared.

Chris McEleny — SNP group leader on Inverclyde Council — wants a meeting with the local authority's contaminated land officer and other bosses over a 'fundamental concern' with the idea of leaving confirmed multiple exceedances of potentially harmful chemicals in the ground.

Developer Link Group Ltd bought the sprawling 83-acre site for a pound and have had a proposal approved to use capping layers - and the 198-home development itself - as barriers between future residents and the pollutants.

But Cllr McEleny said: "Although I accept that it's absolutely possible to decontaminate the site, the report suggests that removing the contamination from the site would be too costly and take too long, therefore a cheaper method of putting a layer on top of the contaminated areas is proposed.

"This is the fundamental concern I still have."

His comments come after contamination expert Professor Andrew Watterson concluded that the plan appeared to be more concerned with cost than people's health.

The professor said: "As the report flags in several places, the mitigation solution [capping] is offered and not the removal of hazards.

"This would de facto reflect a cost rather than public health assessment."

Councillor McEleny called for a 'full review' of Link's planning application last December but this had been 'rejected', he said.

He added: "I have confidence in our officials but having read the assessment's contents I will be requesting to meet officials to discuss some concerns from the report.

"The report highlights exceeded levels of arsenic, cadmium and chemical compounds, as well as highlighting a need for special pipework to protect water supplies.

"It is clear that there is a lack of public confidence in this project and this is something that the developer, to date, hasn't attempted to address to satisfaction."

We revealed last year that the levels of contaminants at Ravenscraig were as much eight times above what the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs considers as 'suitable for use' — a fact that has never been refuted by the council or Link.

Professor Watterson — an advisor to the World Health Organisation — says there is no safe level for carcinogens and that capping materials will ultimately fail.

Greenock man Alan Cumming, who has led a campaign against the development, said: "If Inverclyde Council is now stating the land at Ravenscraig Hospital is not critically harmful and is safe for people to inhabit, the only conclusion that can be drawn is the contamination results that it published on its website were false.

"It now falls to our elected representatives to launch an immediate public inquiry into why 83 acres of publicly owned ground fell into the hands of a private company for £1."

An Inverclyde Council spokesman said: "All the appropriate legal and planning processes have been correctly followed in relation to this site so there are no grounds for a review.

"This site has been fully investigated.

"The issues have been identified.

"Link Housing Association has drawn up a plan to address those issues.

"The measures contained in the remediation plan comply with all the appropriate legislation and industry guidance.

"The council, in its role as enforcement authority, will ensure the plan is properly implemented.

"This is the standard, nationally accepted approach to dealing with sites like this one.

"This site is not unusual in any way compared to any other brownfield site.

"Councillor McEleny was invited to a full briefing, which detailed the council's approach to dealing with contaminated land.

"He didn't attend."