The waste industry is one that most people would rather not think about, but that is not an option for people who live close to a landfill site, because of the impact that it can have on their lives. I am sure that other Members here will recognise some of the problems we face from experience in their own constituencies. It may come as a surprise to some that there was in fact a great deal of interest in the debate from other Members hoping to speak, but with it being only a 30-minute debate, unfortunately they will have to do so through interventions. It seems that the people of Newcastle-under-Lyme are not alone in their worries. I will give other Members the chance to put on the record their constituents’ concerns, and I will share a few comments from Members who cannot be here today.
I commend the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for the incredible amount of work going on to reduce waste going to landfill. The Government are working hard to minimise waste and to promote recycling and resource efficiency. We are moving towards a circular economy in England, and I acknowledge that, as we actively encourage individuals and companies to recycle more and produce less waste, in time we will become less reliant on landfill. Nevertheless, for the time being, landfill sites remain an important part of waste management in this country.
In my constituency of Newcastle-under-Lyme, odour is not a new issue. It has been a problem for a number of years and causes a great deal of anxiety and stress for those affected. We have one landfill site in my constituency, the Walley’s Quarry landfill in Silverdale. Problems arising from the site have been reported on and off for many years, but my constituents complain of the odour increasing during the last 12 months.
I will expand on the history of the site in a moment, but there is an important point that I highlight first: we must take into account the character of an area when considering the issue of odour. In the countryside, for example, it is perfectly reasonable to expect a certain amount of odour from farming activities or similar. However, this landfill is not located in the countryside; it is in a built-up area, with residential properties within around 100 metres of the site boundary in multiple directions. True, some of these properties were approved and built in more recent years, and no doubt some will say that the principle of caveat emptor should apply in those circumstances, even if the odour issues have been getting worse. However, a number of longer standing properties belonging to people who have lived in their village and community all their lives are also badly affected, and it is in that context that the debate and the concern of my constituents should be understood.
The landfill has been in operation since 2007 and has planning permission for the tipping of non-hazardous waste until 2026, after which it will be capped with inert material. A number of improvements and technological advancements have been made to the landfill over the past few years, and I recognise that the operator, RED Industries, complies with the law as it stands, which requires it to use the best available technology to minimise emissions and odour. However, despite these best efforts, there remains a persistent odour issue affecting residents in neighbouring communities.
As the name suggests, Walley’s Quarry is a former clay extraction quarry that was converted to landfill use. The local borough and county council objected to the original application in 1997 but were overruled by the then Secretary of State, John Prescott. Local campaigners have since raised this issue over a number of years, including the former county and borough councillor for the area, Alderman Derrick Huckfield, who convened many meetings with affected parties, his residents and the Environment Agency. More recently, local residents Graham Eagles and Steve Meakin established a local “Stop the Stink” group and Facebook page, and in around a fortnight secured 2,400 signatures on a petition that they set up. I have not been able to verify each and every signature, but I believe that this response and the response that I had on the doorsteps during the election campaign and on my own Facebook page are an accurate expression of the strength of feeling in these communities.
There is also a liaison committee for the landfill, which brings together the operator, the local community and the local council, which has been ably chaired by my council leader, Simon Tagg. However, the feeling among residents and many committee members is that it is too often just a talking shop. RED Industries attends the meetings and has supported a number of local projects with its communities fund. However, it has been unwilling to concede that the site does in fact smell, in spite of the Environment Agency’s findings, which I will come to shortly. This has understandably led to an element of mistrust on the part of those affected.