A CLIMATE change officer has denied connecting his home into a disused pipe under an historic Peeblesshire churchyard, amid claims sewage has been discovered in the cemetery.
Gareth Phillips, who lives at Kirkurd House near Blyth Bridge, spoke out after a group of locals said a pipe is leaking discharge and causing a public health issue at Kirkurd Church.
But Scottish Borders Council says it does not know who is responsible for the drainage under the disused church’s graveyard, which it manages, but does not own.
Speaking to TheSouthern this week from Singapore, where he works with energy firm Sindicatum Sustainable Resources, Mr Phillips said: “I can categorically state that neither I nor anyone acting under my instruction has altered in any way the route of the tail drain (not sewage pipe) which runs from our septic tank, or connected into a disused system in 2008 or in any other year.
“The drainage system currently in place is the system purchased with the property in 2007.”
Mr Phillips believes the tail drain has been capped at a site opposite the cemetery and could have caused the sewage problem.
He added a contractor instructed by SBC had fixed a small leak at a pipe joint last year.
He told us: “My wife and I have been actively pursuing this through our solicitors, with Scottish Borders Council and SEPA since I was made aware of the capping of the pipe and will continue to do so until the matter is satisfactorily resolved.
“As I am currently overseas I have not observed the occurrence of sewage on the surface of the cemetery.
“This is clearly a serious matter which must be addressed and I will work with the Scottish Borders Council, SEPA and my solicitors to identify the cause of the problem and take action as appropriate.”
Problems began soon after Mr Phillips bought Kirkurd House from the Lord Lieutenant of Tweeddale, David Younger, in 2007.
Neighbour Celia Pattle claims the septic tank and soakaway for overflow were in place at the house when the Phillips’s moved in, and that alterations Mr Phillips has made have meant sewage has been directed into her septic tank, causing problems at the churchyard.
She is now looking for SBC to step in to fix the situation.
She added: “It has all been very, very slow (from SBC) concerning a very serious matter.
“SEPA told me in April 2009 that it had no jurisdiction with sewage going to land, only to water. That means the responsibility lies with the council.
“Sewage should not be going into the hallowed ground of a graveyard.
“The council say they don’t know how the sewage is getting in or who owns the pipes, yet they previously paid £300 out of council taxpayers money to repair the pipe under the graveyard.
“I see a lot of elderly people visit the graveyard and kids playing there and I just think ‘This land is contaminated, it is dangerous’.”
Mrs Pattle received a letter in December saying no burials would take place within 10 metres of the sewage pipe, however, Louise Hurley’s parents’ graves are already in that zone.
And her plans to scatter her brother’s ashes in the 18th-century cemetery are on hold while the stench and safety fears remain.
She told us: “There were tests in August but nothing was done. With the weather getting worse the rain brought up the sewage to the top of the ground.
“I want to scatter my brother’s ashes there. He lived in the village and was part of the community but I have no intention of doing so while the sewage is present.”
An SBC spokesman said it was yet to decide its next course of action as it awaited confirmation of the presence of sewage from test results completed last month, but he added they were not aware of any pipe leak.
The spokesman told TheSouthern: “The council has previously considered allegations in respect of drainage serving Kirkurd House and has concluded, based on available evidence, that there is no case to pursue. There is no visible evidence of a soakaway having ever been installed.
“It is the view of the council that the pipework passes through the graveyard and remains connected to the originally installed sewage system.”
Peeblesshire councillor Willie Archibald said the council had looked into enforcement orders to resolve the pipe ownership argument.
He added: “If it is a public health issue, the council has to fix it.
“If raw sewage is being discharged in the churchyard that is unacceptable and anyone the council see as responsible can be made to pay for the upkeep.
“The problem is other people have wayleaves and rights across the churchyard which are enshrined in their title. It is a legal minefield.
“We are not going to get anywhere by people trading insults and I would say to anyone who feels aggrieved, they should contact a member of Lamancha, Newlands and Kirkurd Community Council and it can be put on the agenda at the next meeting this month.
“The community council can also ask for officers from Scottish Borders Council to attend.”