Salisbury nerve agent attack decontamination could take months

Decontamination of sites affected by the Salisbury spy poisoning incident is expected to take "weeks or months" as the local authority admits the long-term health effects are still unknown.

Alistair Cunningham, corporate director of Wiltshire Council, told a cabinet meeting the Government had pledged £1 million to help support businesses affected by the cordons which still seal off part of the city centre.

Ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain in hospital following the Novichok poisoning on March 4.

The Zizzi restaurant where they pair ate and The Mill pub as well as an access route through The Maltings shopping area remain cordoned off.

Investigators next to a police tent outside the Mill pub at the Maltings in Salisbury (Steve Parsons/PA)
Investigators next to a police tent outside the Mill pub at the Maltings in Salisbury (Steve Parsons/PA)

Mr Cunningham said all but one of the locations sealed off by police around the city will be handed over by the police for decontamination by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

He said the council had requested that this process not start until after the Easter holiday to limit the impact on the image of the city centre.

He said: "All sites, all bar one, will be back with us before the end of the week. We are talking about weeks or months before these sites open.

"They will go from being cleaned to being redecorated to being open and that will take months."

He said the affected buildings would have hoardings placed around them giving them the appearance of a normal redevelopment.

Mr Cunningham said businesses near the affected sites had seen lost takings of 90% while other firms had suffered drops of 20%.

Council leader Baroness Jane Scott said the full recovery process would begin after the cordons were removed.

The forensic tent at the scene in The Maltings, Salisbury (Ben Birchall/PA)
The forensic tent at the scene in The Maltings, Salisbury (Ben Birchall/PA)

She said: "We can patch up, we can encourage but the true recovery will happen when there are no cordons in this city, so we need to keep pressure on the Government, then it's time for us to begin marketing
again."

Concern was raised by members of the public about the long-term public health impact of the incident which the council said was still being examined.

Tracy Daszkiewicz, responsible for public health and protection at the council, said: "That is a piece of work being looked at, at the moment we are going with the message that it is low risk but we will update as we get more information."

She also apologised for a comment made previously by Public Health England stating the health implications were minimal because it had not affected the rat population.

She said: "It was lighthearted and about dispelling the myths."

The hearing was told that the number of people taken ill following the incident was limited to a total of four people, not the 38 previously reported.

The council also said it was providing free parking to encourage shopping in the city, and setting up a hardship fund of £100,000.

Mr Cunningham said: "There is a real need to provide dedicated one-to-one support."

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