A Leighton quarry operator has pledged to act swiftly to address serious safety concerns after children were spotted playing in a flooded pit.
Councillors, as well as the Southern Residents Group, this week urgently called on Sibelco to take action at the Pratts Quarry site in Sandhills after youngsters got through fencing to wade into the water.
On Friday, the company pumped out a large amount of the water from the ‘lake’ – a balancing pond for surface water from the estate that has filled faster than expected due to the exceptionally wet winter.
Leighton’s mayor, Councillor Amanda Dodwell, raised the safety issues with Central Bedfordshire Council and both herself and deputy mayor Ray Berry have been in talks with Sibelco over the dangers.
Speaking on Thursday she said: “The temporary fencing around the swale and the lake are inadequate and do little to prevent access.
“In some parts the poor condition of the fence has in itself created a further hazard, and there are gates which are unlocked and open into the swale.
“However, my greatest concern is the hazard posed by the lake. A number of residents have reported seeing children playing in the water, and I fear that as we approach the summer months this type of activity will only increase.
“I don’t want to be a killjoy, but playing in a flooded quarry is one of the most dangerous things you can do. Even on a hot day, the water will be extremely cold, and even the strongest of swimmers can very quickly get into difficulty.”
Councillor Dodwell urged parents to make their children aware of the dangers and strongly encourage them to stay away.
She added: “I have made the local police aware of the problem, and I would ask anyone who sees children in the water to call the police on the non-emergency number 101. That said, if you believe that someone is in difficulty you should dial 999 immediately.”
The following day, after speaking to Sibelco, Councillor Dodwell told the LBO: “They are currently pumping 0.4m of water out of the lake. The water needs to be taken out so that the lake /pond can be restored.
“Sibelco will be working on the restoration over the summer and it is intended for the lake to be a lot shallower. The fencing will eventually disappear and it will be an open plan nature reserve.
“Sibelco will be writing to residents to warn them of the dangers of playing in flooded quarries, giving details of the work and asking their opinion on fencing. They are willing to attend a meeting with Councillors and residents to discuss the way forward.”
Councillor Berry said he had been initially “aghast” by what he had seen of the site, but added: “What we see today is by no means the end product. I would not tolerate something like that behind a lower school.
“It will be a relatively shallow balancing pond. They will infill it with the stockpiled sand which is making it so steep sided now.”
Southern Residents Group spokesman Colin Johnson said: “Several residents have reported seeing children playing down in the quarry and swimming in the water.
“The fencing is old and failing and not high enough to deter children. We would like to make the point about how long this ‘temporary fencing’ has been in place in such an obviously dangerous site.”
Sibelco’s UK operations manager, Ian Richards, said: “Sibelco management have spoken to the mayor and are committed to working with all stakeholders in finding a way forward.
“In this regard we intend to work with residents and the local council over the coming weeks and have already taken action to review signage and security. We have also started taking steps to reduce the water levels.”