As I said, I have experienced such issues in my constituency, so I understand residents’ concerns. The Environment Agency has the power to issue improvement notices and enforcement notices, or to suspend a permit. It uses those powers and, indeed, has done so in some cases in the north-east, which I will come on to.
To conclude my point about the consultation, we are also tightening the waste exemption regime. That is about looking at some of the sites that currently have a derogation and are exempt from requiring a permit—there is particular concern about those that have tyres and the way in which some are handled. We are raising the bar for those who want to operate a permitted site. That includes the requirement for a demonstration of technical competence, for example, and we have even looked at the idea of sites needing to put a financial bond in place to allow for recovery if there is a problem. I therefore think I have demonstrated that, through the consultation—it was launched in January and we are currently analysing the results—we have taken steps to strengthen the law in the way for which the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West has asked.
I turn now to some of the specific points that the hon. Lady raised about her constituency of Washington and Sunderland West, where there are eight permitted waste sites. Although three have had permit breaches in the last five years due to problems with flies in particular, as she described, all the sites are currently performing well and are rated A or B on the Environment Agency’s performance scale—A is the top performance. When there were permit breaches, the agency took the relevant enforcement action. In one case, as she pointed out, there was a prosecution, following which there was a fine of £16,000 and an award of £10,000 in costs.
The most recent of these problems was the 2015 case at the former Niramax site, which the hon. Lady mentioned. That site is now owned by Veolia and is performing better. I stress that the agency and the waste companies concerned work closely to ensure that operators are kept in compliance with permits and to try to overcome problems. For example, in 2014, the agency initiated a permit variation across all eight of the sites permitted to accept waste that had the potential to give rise to fly infestations, which added a bespoke condition on pest management. Sunderland City Council also became involved with breaches relating to public amenity.
The Environment Agency works with other public bodies locally, such as the police and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, to monitor standards and performance relating to vehicles that transport waste in the local area. That is particularly important, given the hon. Lady’s concerns about waste that is supposed to be netted not being adequately secured to the load. In the most recent checks of over 200 vehicles that were inspected on site or observed on local roads, 12 were found to have minor regulatory issues relating to waste, and the DVSA dealt with two non-waste issues.
In conclusion, I recognise the important issues that the hon. Lady has raised. It is important to highlight that the Government have increased spending on enforcement in this area. I hope that I have reassured her both that we have changed the law recently—in the last two years—to strengthen regulations in this area and that we intend to do more. I have talked about the consultation, but we intend to strengthen the permitting requirements further. I also recognise that she has raised others issues, particularly around transport, and I will ensure that these are taken on board.