Groundwork on the stalled Cuerden development in South Ribble has uncovered asbestos sheeting amongst tonnes of waste being cleared from the site.
The material - which is not posing a danger to the public - was discovered during work to construct a new access road over the summer.
READ MORE >>> Work to restart on on Cuerden site
Development was halted after the scheme’s flagship retailer, IKEA, withdrew from the project in May. Lancashire County Council later restarted work to safeguard drains and temporary roads which had already been installed on the site close to the M65/M6 interchange.
It was during this process that the asbestos was found. The council has now advertised a contract for the removal and safe disposal of the material.
READ MORE >>> IKEA pulls out of Cuerden development
A spokesperson for the authority said: "The sheeting is likely to have formed part of a previous farm building and, as it was once such a commonly-used building material, is often found in similar circumstances on brownfield sites.
"The sheeting is broken into small pieces contained within around 500 cubic metres of other waste and soils, and poses no risk to the public or anyone on site as it is in a stable form, with no risk of fibres being released unless it is disturbed.
"We have a responsibility to dispose of this material properly as part of the ongoing work to secure the site while discussions take place with our partners and other companies about its future development."
It is not thought that the discovery of the asbestos will result in any significant delays to work to prepare the area for a new use.
It remains unclear what will happen to the site following the the departure of IKEA, which had been due to take up around 10 percent of the two million square foot plot.
Known as Lancashire Central, the development is a key project in the region’s City Deal and had been expected to deliver retail, industrial and office space, with the potential to create 4,500 jobs. More than a hundred homes were also expected to form part of the site.
After the future of the scheme was thrown into doubt, Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle called for it to be given over to a so-called “super hospital” for Central Lancashire.
Lancashire County Council says it is exploring options for the future of the site.
The authority expects work to begin on the removal of the hazardous material next week and it is due to be completed by the end of the year.
WHAT DOES THE WORK INVOLVE?
Peter Dunion, a director Greenfield Removals, which deals with discoveries of asbestos across the North West, describes the process to remove the substance as “painstaking, but routine”.
Speaking about work on similar projects, he said: “There are two options - you need to get the asbestos out of [the soil] or get rid of it all as contaminated waste. But we’re limited for space in landfill sites as it is.
“If you screen it, you need a lot of excavators and a lot of workers to check the soils for any asbestos that’s in it,” Peter says, adding that remedial work leaves sites safe for future development.
According to the contract offered by Lancashire County Council, the authority has requested “a price per cubic metre for the removal of the hazardous waste to a licensed tip from site.”