I will describe some of the action that the Environment Agency has taken in the north-east on a number of issues, but I want first to say that I do understand the particular issue that the hon. Lady raised. In my constituency, I have a similar issue with a waste processing centre and waste transfer site located quite close to a residential area. There is a difficult tension, because it is on an industrial site, so on one level that area is designated for industrial use. When the planning went through, it was assumed that that would be okay. While my constituency experience means that I am familiar with the tensions these things can cause, I have to say that, in my personal experience as an MP, the Environment Agency has taken very serious action to try to deal with the problem.
I want to address some of the hon. Lady’s points about enforcement. The Environment Agency has taken clear action in the north-east in recent years. From the start of 2013 until the end of March 2018, it secured 126 prosecutions and 41 formal cautions in relation to waste offences. The agency has also made successful use of confiscation orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. Orders to a value of nearly half a million pounds have been made. Moreover, since the summer of 2012, the agency has closed 372 illegal waste sites in the north-east. This equates to over one illegal waste site per week. It has also investigated 2,226 reports of illegal waste sites, which is over one per day.
There are also number of operations regarding serious and organised crime in the waste sector in the north-east. As Members will understand, I am somewhat limited as to what I can divulge about ongoing investigations, but I will say that these operations target organised criminals who use sophisticated methods to cheat the system and ultimately take money from the taxpayer.