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Landfill Sites: Odour — [Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Part of Special Educational Needs: Isle of Wight – in Westminster Hall at 4:29 pm on 25th February 2020.

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Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:29 pm, 25th February 2020

I get my hon. Friend’s point, but the permit conditions require an Environment Agency officer to make a judgment about whether the odour is offensive. Enforcement action can be taken only when the odour is deemed to be offensive and the operator is not using all appropriate measures to control the odour.

The Environment Agency can make unannounced visits to the site to check what is going on. To date, it has not taken any enforcement action against the operator, as it considers the operator to be compliant with the permit conditions. For the odour to be deemed non-compliant, an Environment Agency officer would need to detect the odour and certify that the site operator had not taken steps to control it. As I said, it is up to the local environmental health practitioner to take action if it is deemed that the odour is a nuisance. If it is not a health issue or an environment issue under the Environment Agency criterion, it goes to the environment health practitioner—somebody based locally at the local council. That is how the issue is handled.

I understand that Newcastle-Under-Lyme Borough Council has undertaken its own investigations in response to its duty to investigate complaints that could constitute a statutory nuisance. It has stepped in, and the council’s environmental health investigations have concluded that while odours have been detected and are likely to cause annoyance, they do not meet the threshold for statutory nuisance abatement action to be taken. However, in response to local concerns—I am sure my hon. Friend has also raised these—the council has decided to establish a scrutiny inquiry to provide a structured and publicly accessible forum to hear residents’ concerns about how the site is managed and the Environment Agency’s monitoring. I welcome that approach and I would be interested to be kept informed as to what is found as a result of that scrutiny.

While the Environment Agency has found Walley’s Quarry landfill to be compliant with its permit conditions based on inspections and air quality monitoring, we must recognise that local residents are raising genuine concerns. The operator of Walley’s Quarry landfill has taken some action already, which I am sure my hon. Friend knows about. In 2019, it installed an additional 19 gas extraction wells to help extract the gas produced from the treatment, which has helped to reduce the odours. I am told that the wells have made a difference. Given my hon. Friend’s constituents’ concerns, the Environment Agency also attends a quarterly local liaison forum with representatives from Newcastle-Under-Lyme Borough Council and Staffordshire County Council, parish councils, the operator of the site and residents. I am sure my hon. Friend is welcome to go to those as well. They discuss all manner of things, including dust, seagulls, noise and traffic, so it sounds very proactive.

The Environment Agency also runs a citizens information page, which is constantly updated. The details of its air quality monitoring are on there and regularly updated for all to see. It also provides a monthly community newsletter. I think there is a great deal going on, although that is not to say that people do not have concerns. All waste management facilities are required to have a written management system designed to minimise the risk of pollution and reduce the impact on local communities and the environment. Those management systems cover all the topics that I have just mentioned—odour, flies, noise and dust management—so it should be pretty inclusive.

Other commitments in our resources and waste strategy, which I mentioned, include work to strengthen the requirement for those operating permitted waste sites to be technically competent, and far-reaching reforms to the ways in which waste is transported and tracked in the UK. That will improve our understanding of how waste is managed and provide better data on the composition and the destination of waste that could be repurposed or recycled, in order to be sure about what is going to landfill. Measures to enable those reforms and others are included in the aforementioned Environment Bill, which is progressing through the House. I urge my hon. Friend to take part in that tomorrow.

I fully sympathise with my hon. Friend’s constituents who have felt the need to raise their concerns about the odour. I am pleased that the Environment Agency and local partners are taking local action, and I hope that the introduction of additional gas wells demonstrates that the operator is trying to be proactive. I trust that Newcastle-Under-Lyme Borough Council’s upcoming scrutiny inquiry will prove useful. I would be pleased to be kept updated about that, if it throws up any interesting areas that have not been considered.

I reiterate that the Government are committed to reducing the impact of waste in the long term across the board, and for less to end up ultimately in landfill. That is our intention through the waste and resources strategy and the Environment Bill. I know that the Environment Agency is committed to working locally with partners and my hon. Friend. The door to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs team is open should further advice be needed. I thank my hon. Friend for bringing the matter to our attention.

Question put and agreed to.