GARDENERS have been told not to dig down more than 12 inches because of safety fears in part of York.

Residents of flats in the Newbury Avenue area have been cultivating a communal garden for years, but now council bosses have set a 30cm (12ins) limit for digging in the flower beds because of concern about asbestos from a local tip which closed in the 1950s. They say any material in the soil is perfectly safe – as long as people do not disturb it by digging or lifting any paving stones or turf.

The warning applies to a number of gardens off Kingsway West, Newbury Avenue and Windsor Garth and near the garage block, off Newbury Avenue.

Resident Susan Crosby, 49, said: “It is a very strange thing to get a letter you can’t dig any deeper than 12 inches. I have lived in council property all my life and never had a letter telling me not to dig anywhere, which is effectively what it means.”

Jack Hart, from The Freedom Association, said: “This is yet another example of local councils being overzealous when it comes to health and safety. There is no need at all to prevent those who wish to work in the garden from doing so.”

City of York Council has secured £57,000 of government funding to investigate an old tip off Foxwood Lane where household waste was last dumped in the 1950s. As waste disposal can sometimes cause land pollution, the grant was used to fund soil, water and ground gas sampling.

Lucie Hankinson, senior contaminated land officer, said in a letter to residents: “The soil was found to contain pockets of ash and occasional fragments of asbestos cement or boarding.

“However, in every location where ash or asbestos was identified, it was found to be covered by a layer of turf, inert soil or tarmac.

“People are therefore unlikely to come into contact with it and so it is not considered to pose a significant risk to health. However, we would advise that residents avoid removing existing areas of turf, tarmac or paving, and avoid digging deeper than 30 centimetres (12 inches) below ground level in existing flowerbeds where possible.”

It has ruled out classing the ground as “contaminated” and says no further action is needed.

Steve Waddington, assistant director for housing and community safety, said: “In common with most cities, land formerly used for domestic waste disposal has been built around. As we advised residents in early April, our rigorous investigation has shown there is very little risk as any builders’ rubble lies under an inert layer of turf, soil or concrete, and we’re advising those entitled to use this small communal garden to avoid digging deeper than 30cm.”