In the morning, representatives from many different organisations were able to hear about the history of the site, project progress and plans for the future from East Midlands Development Agency's Assistant Project Director George Kavvouras. emda is responsible for leading the £172.3m clean-up operation, and has been involved in the project since it took over ownership of the land in 1999 via the National Coalfields Programme from the former English Partnerships - now known as the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).
George said: "Our key objective is to remove the environmental blight in the safest and most cost effective way so we can transform this area into a place in which local people can live, work and enjoy. In remediating the site, we are focusing our attention specifically on the toxic lagoons, River Rother, old waste tip, sewers, drains and sumps on site so as to minimise any potential risks of further contamination in the area."
Marcus Foweather, Project Director from contractor VSD Avenue, which is delivering the works on site, then talked in more detail about the innovative technology behind the thermal plant and how it had been designed, constructed and transported to Wingerworth from various European destinations. He said: "Few sites offer challenges such as those posed by The Avenue.
"What you are seeing here today is ground-breaking, and I believe this thermal treatment plant is the largest ever to be built in Europe and will use the most advanced treatment and filtration systems that are currently available on the market."
Partners were then able to go on site to view the plant and hear a more detailed explanation about how the process will work.
"A thermal desorption plant is basically a large rotating kiln that uses extremely high levels of heat to break down the pollutants," continued Marcus.
"At the Avenue, the most hazardous materials are located in both the lagoons and the waste tip. Sediment from these areas will be put through the kiln at temperatures of up to 600°C to remove the toxins, and the vapour which subsequently forms will then be filtered and treated to remove all traces of the chemicals. These types of processes are strictly regulated, and we will be closely monitoring all activity in order to maintain the highest levels of health and safety."
Over the next few weeks, there will be a series of trials to make sure the plant is fully functional, and in October, it will start to operate for 24 hours a day, seven days a week for over two years, stopping only for essential maintenance. During that time, around 500,000 tonnes of materials will be cleaned.
Graham Dobbs, Head of Area for HCA East Midlands, added: "It is exciting to see the thermal plant near full operation after years of work. However this is not just a major milestone in the remediation project but a big step towards the ultimate vision, which is a sustainable housing and business community. We look forward to seeing the day when the Avenue is known principally as a thriving community rather than a former coking works."
During the afternoon, a community drop-in session took place at The Avenue Learning Centre off Mill Lane. Around thirty local residents came along to have a chat with the project experts and to view the latest images from site - many of which are currently available on www.theavenueproject.co.uk in the photo gallery section.
Wingerworth resident Jane Armstrong attended the event with her husband, and said: "I feel very reassured by the information given and came away feeling really positive about the project."
Tom Blyth who also lives near the site, has taken an active interest in a resident's watch committee which was originally formed to monitor the scheme when it began. "The Avenue team has always been active in talking to the local community, listening to our views and being open and honest with us about what's happening on our doorstep," he commented. "Tuesday's event was no exception, and it's been great to hear more about the progress on site and to ask further questions."
Work on the 98 hectare site began last autumn following a series of trials to test the technologies now being used. Aside from the thermal plant, these include many complex and groundbreaking procedures, such as using bugs to break down pollutants in the soil through a process known as bio-remediation. Complex sorting and soil washing will also be carried out to separate less harmful elements from the earth, and water treatment will enable contaminated water to be treated and reused effectively on site.
The planned end date for the project is 2014, at which point the site will house some residential and business accommodation, as well as public open space, sporting facilities, and ecological habitats.