'Hazardous' chemical contaminants found in 122,000 tonnes of unlawful waste
- Credit: Archant
No action is planned against the operators of a disused pit at Whittlesey in which 122,858 tonnes of illegal waste have been dumped.
And that’s despite a study by the Environment Agency (EA) of 50 samples taken in which 43 contain “sufficient chemical contaminants to render them hazardous”.
Instead, the EA has accepted that the “non-conforming” waste at Saxon Pit can stay provided that containment measures are put in place.
This, says the EA, is to ensure leachate (fluids) and landfill gas arising from the imported waste is not allowed to escape.
Planning permission for the site was re-issued by the county council on September 17, 2020, to allow restoration work to continue. This, says the EA, involves the importation of a further 78,000 cubic metres of substrate to be deposited on top of the buried non-conforming waste.
The decision marks a major shift of emphasis by Cambridgeshire County Council and the EA in their handling of the ongoing dispute with the site operators.
The issues first arose in January of 2018 when the EA investigated odour complaints associated with “inadequate waste acceptance procedures” at the pit. Permission to fill the former quarry face had been agreed with the county council but the EA said their investigations revealed “a large-scale problem” of non-conforming waste being deposited covering a wide area of the site and down to a depth of approximately two metres.
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A county council report, published recently and summarising developments at the pit, says at the time work was halted it was to assess what remediation was needed.
Although the EA served an enforcement notice requiring the removal of the non-conforming waste, they later withdrew it whilst at the same time putting together evidence on the medium- and long-term stability of the pit face.
Those inquiries, says the county council, confirmed that non-conforming waste had been put across a further five phases of the development.
However, two years later, in January,2020, the EA told the county council they did not intend to monitor the pit’s stability any further.
And in June, 2020, the EA advised the operator the non-conforming waste could remain provided containment measures were put in place.
The county council report accepts it is difficult to take matters further whilst most objections have either been withdrawn or not taken forward.
The EA suggested that Network Rail might have concerns over the possible effect on the train line which passes along the boundary of the site.
“Network Rail have been formally advised of these concerns but have failed to respond,” says the county council.
Legal advice to the county council confirmed that with the principle of development at the site in place and in the absence of objections, all that remained was for “stabilisation works” to be completed.
An update on Saxon Pit was given to MP Steve Barclay by the EA at the end of November following his inquiry about a fresh planning application for a recycling plant at the pit.
A copy of that letter, obtained by this newspaper, reveals that the company behind it – Johnsons Aggregates and Recycling Ltd – is pressing ahead with works on the site ahead of permission being granted.
“Johnsons have been advised that the successful determination of any application is by no means guaranteed,” says Simon Hawkins, area director of the EA.
However, he told the MP that the company has indicated “they intend to commence installing infrastructure and containment measures in advance of being issued a permit.”
Mr Hawkins says this will be “entirely at their own risk.”
The EA confirmed to Mr Barclay that the 122,858 tonnes of non-confirming waste by the current operator would not be subject to any action.
The waste said Mr Hawkins had been “unlawfully buried within the void between October 2017 and February 2018. This excludes waste unlawfully accepted and buried by previous operators pre-October 2017”.
Going forward Mr Hawkins explained to the MP that10 boreholes were drilled in November, 2020, to monitor water ingress and gas over a minimum four-week period.
Samples will be collected and tested and the information used to determine the level of mitigation works required
A risk assessment will also be completed once gas monitoring date has been collected.
Mr Hawkins says the EA is “continuing to monitor the site and gather evidence for enforcement purposes”.
Meanwhile the county council has refused permission for the demolition of two 85m chimneys at the site to make way for the new recycling plant. They want an ecological study carried out to determine whether bars or peregrine falcons are using them as a habitat.
Whittlesey town councillor Roy Gertsner is one of those calling for more to done to monitor and control the waste.
He has written to district and county councillors calling for them to “exert some robust pressure” on the EA to tackle the issues at Saxon Pit.
“I would like to think we are all on the same page on this – another what appears to be a breach of rules and regulations, and potentially damaging our local environment,” he told them.
“As senior councillors can I ask if you could exert some robust pressure on the EA in getting this stopped asap?
“This issue seems to be historic and not a recent issue, and is of course entirely separate to the 122,000 tons of non-conforming waste having been identified.”