News

***Blasting Update - September 2014***

 

If you were at home in Houghton at around 2pm on Thursday 18 September, you no doubt heard and felt the blast in the quarry. Biffa first planned to blast part of the southern cliff face away in April 2011. Here is an extract from an EA letter to RATS dated 7th April 2011:

 

‘…This work is expected to take place within the next three weeks. Sunderland City Council and ourselves have asked Biffa to liaise with the local residents prior to carrying out this work…’

 

Eventually it was decided that Biffa required planning permission and despite many objections, Sunderland City Council granted the required permission to carry out the ‘Urgent’ Health and Safety blasting at the Planning and Highways Committee on the 7th March 2013. The blasting company who supported Biffa’s application at the planning meeting, pulled out!

 

Eventually the blasting took place at 2pm on Thursday 18th September, without any residents being forewarned, even residents at Over the Hill Farm who have livestock - another example of Biffa’s good neighbour policy. They did however contact the Police, not for road safety, but in case any protesters interrupted their blasting!

 

The section of cliff identified as ‘unstable’ remains in place! We understand Biffa intend to blast again sometime in the future, but as the planning permission is for one blast only, we expect another application will be required, of course time will tell!

 

We will, of course, keep you updated.

***BREAKING NEWS - 21 MARCH 2014***

QUARRY TO CLOSE AND POLLUTION TO BE STOPPED

RATS Chairman, Councillor Colin Wakefield and Secretary, Councillor Sheila Ellis were back in the European Parliament at Brussels yesterday (Thursday 20 March) where they got to address the Petitions Committee for the fourth time.

 

The main difference this time though, is that the Commission representative (The EU Civil Service) informed the Petitions Committee that the pollution to the ground water was spreading and getting worse and clearly is not a one off incident, which both Biffa Waste Services and the Environment Agency had always maintained. Pollution levels in the groundwater are now up to 90 times their permitted level! The Commission also admitted they are very worried about it. They added that RATS would take little comfort in saying “We told you so”

 

The committee instructed the Commission representative to seek an urgent injunction from the European Court of Justice to close the site immediately.

 

They also instructed that remedial action be taken to stop the pollution of the groundwater, which forms an important part of our drinking water supply.

 

RATS are of course delighted that firm action has finally been taken. The Environment Agency (EA) and Sunderland City Council share the blame for this environmental disaster.

 

The EA should never have issued a permit for the site in the first place and have consistently failed to regulate it despite knowing the truth about the pollution. Sunderland City Council should never have passed planning permission. They chose to dump a million tonnes of waste into the centre of Houghton le Spring.

 

As soon as we get more information on what will happen next with regards to the site, we will of course share the news here.

RATS Year end Report 2013

Happy New Year and all the very best for 2014 from the RATS Committee. We are aware that it appears that the RATS campaign has slowed down and there have been few updates from us. On the back of this, we felt a summary of 2013 would be useful.

 

The year started with Biffa finally being brought before Sunderland Magistrates Court to face six charges relating to pollution of the drinking water aquifers, which pass under the landfill site. RATS have always feared the drinking water aquifers would become polluted through the activities of land filling in such a sensitive and unsuitable location.

 

In 2009 it became evident from Environment Agency (EA) data that the site was indeed leaking and RATS immediately applied pressure on the EA to prosecute Biffa Waste Services. Our long term communications with the EU continued and we kept up the pressure onthem about the deteriorating environmental situation.

 

The EA brought 6 charges against Biffa and the case was finally heard on the 20th February 2013. Biffa pleaded guilty to five charges and not guilty to one (which, in our view was the most serious charge) District Judge Earl decided not to take the denied charge forward to Crown Court.

 

He fined Biffa Waste Services £105,000 plus £26,949.27 and £15 victim support charge, a total £131,964.27. A lot of money for the man in the street, but not for a multi-national company.

 

This is the third prosecution Biffa has faced in regard to their management or miss-management of this site.

 

Unfortunately that is not the end of the story. Both Biffa and the EA blamed a one-off incident for the ground water pollution. After four years, this so called one-off incident is still polluting the ground water. The latest figures obtained by RATS from the EA show pollution levels to be 60 times higher than the permitted levels! RATS have always maintained that parts of the site were never properly lined and believe this is the real source of this on-going pollution.

 

The pollution continues to contaminate the drinking water aquifers and Biffa continue to pump 1.5 MILLION litres of our drinking water down the drain every week in a vain attempt to stop the pollution travelling toward Stoneygate pumping station. A total of 350 million litres has been pumped down the drain!

 

Other issues during 2013 were Biffa’s desire to blast a significant part of the south cliff face. Biffa claimed it was unstable after years of insisting the land fill was in a ‘stable’ block of land (land filling is not permitted in unstable land)

 

The need to urgently blast this section was put to Sunderland City Council Planning and Highways Committee, who, despite many protests granted planning permission. That permission was granted on the 8th March 2013, the ‘urgent’ work still has not been carried out, ten months after permission was granted!

 

Biffa have two planning applications lodged with Sunderland City Council, the first is for a 17 year extension to the current planning permission and an alternative scheme, which would last 5 years, with a reduction in both the amount and type of waste going into the site. Obviously the 17 year application was totally unacceptable to RATS and the residents of Houghton-le-Spring. They showed this by registering nearly 3000 objections.

 

Shortly after this, Biffa submitted the alternative 5 year scheme at the request of Sunderland planners. Basically the remaining part of the quarry will be filled level to the current flat area of the site. It will be filled with stone, clay and soil to form a firm base for future development such as a business park. No domestic waste will be land filled. Obviously this proposal is far better than 17 more years of flies and smells like the previous 16 years of misery we have suffered.

 

RATS obviously welcome this alternative, but remain cautious, given the previous 16 years of broken promises and a serious lack of proper management and regulation of this site, which by any sensible standards should never have been allowed in this location.

 

Biffa agreed to withdraw the 17 year application if the 5 year planning application was granted. Despite it being granted, 17 year application has still not been withdrawn.

 

RATS other concerns with this are mainly: Will the 5 years really be 5 years or will this grow to 7 years or more? We feel this is a distinct possibility as materials such as soil and clay are increasingly re-used and the majority of demolition waste is now crushed and re-used, so where is the material to fill to the level base coming from?

 

RATS will continue to monitor the activities on site and continue to present our case to the EA and the European Union and when appropriate take the issue to the European Courts.

Colin Wakefield Chairman Houghton RATS

 

***FURTHER BLASTING UPDATE

4 MARCH 2013***

New final approval of Biffa blowing up 4503 cubic metres of Houghton Hillside will be put to the Planning and Highways Committee on Thursday 7 March at 5.30pm in the Council Chamber at the Civic Centre.

 

Please come to the meeting and show your support.

 

Previous blasting damaged homes and the A690. The damage was so bad in the past that Tyne and Wear councillors stopped it.

 

The area Biffa wants to blast is green belt and a site of nature conservation interest.

 

Blasting in such unstable and fragile rock could make the cracks worse.

 

Planning permission for the Quarry ran out in February 2012, but Biffa are still tipping and the council are letting them.

 

The law says the tip is illegal because it’s in unstable ground and is causing pollution.

 

Biffa were in court on 20 February and fined £132,000, including costs, for five counts of polluting our water supply rocks. Biffa have been doing this every day for the past 12 years. Why only five counts?

 

The blasting company has no experience blasting Magnesian Limestone rocks like we have in Houghton, no experience of blasting so close to houses or to landfill liners.

 

Biffa have said that if homes are damaged in the blasting, home owners will have to have the damage independently assessed at their own expense and will then have to challenge Biffa legally. If they’re so confident that the blasting won’t cause any damage, why not put their money where their mouth is?

***URGENT BLASTING UPDATE 17 FEB 2013***

RATS have received word that Sunderland City Council intends to give Biffa permission to blast Houghton Hillside. There will be a meeting on Wednesday 20 February at 5.30 at the Civic Centre (Committee Room 2) and we need as many people as possible to turn up to protest against the blasting.

 

Please support RATS by coming along to the meeting to voice your opposition to the blasting. Many of us remember the damage it caused to our houses when it happened in the quarry years ago. We don't want this happening again.

 

Also, Biffa's permit to dump waste in the quarry rests on the site being in a "stable" block of land - yet they say they need to blast this rock because it's "unstable" Well, which is is?

***BIFFA SLAMMED FOR COURT DELAY***

 

Biffa were up in court on 7 January accused of polluting the groundwater underneath the quarry. The EA has charged them foir six separate incidents of this (even though we have evidence that the pollution is happening constantly) Biffa asked for another ajournment and the judge was less than happy with the request...

***BLASTING UPDATE 30 OCTOBER 2012***

 

We have received word that the decision to allow Biffa to blast the cliff face will be made by the council on 28 November 2012.

 

The Planning application for the 17 year extension is still under consideration, however, there is no longer any mention of the five year application to level off the bottom of the quarry and build an industrial estate.

 

We have asked several questions of the council and are waiting for a response. We will, of course, share any information we receive with you as soon as we can.

 

 

***RATS PRESS RELEASE***

 

27 July 2012

 

Biffa Waste Services have recently held discussions with Sunderland City Council regarding Houghton Quarry Landfill. Biffa will issue an information leaflet to local residents in the area surrounding Houghton Quarry Landfill on Friday 27th July 2012.

 

In it they propose to cease land filling municipal waste and instead fill the remaining unfilled part of the quarry with hardcore type material to form a level base inside the quarry to allow the site to be developed into an industrial estate.

 

RATS cautiously welcome the news, but after 15 years of fighting this environmental madness will continue to fight until the many issues remaining and potential ones are resolved.

 

We have long looked at how the quarry could be re-modelled, should land filling be halted and will continue to do so, but we must remember that the dangers from pollution from this site will be here for many years to come and will need to be managed for at least the next 50 years; long after the site is closed. Millions of litres of drinking water are pumped from under the site every week; it is likely this will have to continue into the foreseeable future.

 

RATS believe this is at last moving in the right direction for the people of Houghton-le-Spring, we will continue to ensure the final scheme for the site is done in the very best interests of the residents and will continue to put pressure the Environment Agency, Sunderland City Council, the European Commission, the UK government and Biffa Waste Services to ensure we get the best possible outcome from this change of direction on a site, which should never have been allowed in the first place.

 

The RATS Committee would like to thank residents for their support over what has been a very long time. We will continue to do so until we get what’s best for Houghton-le-Spring.

 

RATS are very interested in hearing your thoughts on this, so please email us on info@houghtonrats.org.uk or make a comment in our Guestbook on our Facebook page.

 

 

***Biffa Apply for 17 YEAR Extension to Planning Permission***

We Need YOUR help to stop it.

 

Send an email to: danielle.pearson@sunderland.gov.uk (template below)

or

Leave a comment on the Planning Page of Sunderland City Council’s website by clicking here (template below)

(You may need to register on their site, but this will allow you to leave a comment on the application)

 

So What's Happening?

 

Biffa’s Planning Permission to tip waste in Houghton Quarry expires in February 2012. They have asked Sunderland City Council to extend this permission for a further 17 years!

If this permission is granted, it will bring nothing but misery to the people of Houghton and the surrounding area.

 

We absolutely MUST NOT let this happen!

 

RATS are fighting this with every resource we have, but we fear that no matter how loud we shout, it won’t be enough for the Council to refuse planning permission to Biffa. We need as many people as possible to complain. The future of our town, your quality of life and, possibly your health is at stake here.

 

Please, please, please take the time to send an email to Sunderland City Council or leave a comment on their website and ask them not to extend the planning permission. Tell them how you’ve suffered in the past and ask your friends and neighbours to do the same. Quote Ref: 84/0821/V2

 

You don't have to be a resident of Houghton to complain.Anyone can object to planning permission. So please pass this on to your friends and family, even if they live out of the areaand ask them to object too. Every last objection counts and the more the Council get, the harder it will be for them to grant an extension to the tipping.

 

Please don't just assume someone else will do this. Please take a minute of your time to help save Houghton's future.

 

Here are a couple of templates for emails and comments you can copy and paste – also please add your own experiences with the landfill site too.

 

Email:

 

Dear Head of Planning and Property

 

I’d like to object to the recent planning permission application submitted by Biffa Waste Services to extend the life of the landfill at Houghton Quarry. Ref 84/0821/V2.

 

When the original planning permission was granted, the life of the landfill was limited to 15 years because of: "The detrimental effect on the people of Houghton Le Spring and the surrounding area"

 

I have suffered from [Include anything you’ve noticed such as smell, noise etc. Even if you haven’t been directly affected, just stress your concerns]

 

I therefore ask that you take the above into consideration and do not grant Biffa their permission to extend the life of the site.

 

Kind Regards

 

[Your Name and address]

 

Email for someone living out of the area:

 

Dear Head of Planning and Property

 

I’d like to object to the recent planning permission application submitted by Biffa Waste Services to extend the life of the landfill at Houghton Quarry. Ref 84/0821/V2.

 

I have a son/daughter/family/friends (delete as appropriate) who live near the quarry and I am concerned for their health and their quality of life. An extension to the tipping will have a harmful effect on the environment and the people of the surrounding area.

 

Kind Regards

 

[Your Name and address]

 

Comment:

 

(When you make a comment, you’ll be asked to leave your details)

 

I would like to object to Biffa being granted an extension to their planning permission. The residents of Houghton have suffered long enough with this landfill site and the council should not allow it to continue beyond the current permission.

 

I have suffered from: [Include anything you’ve suffered from here – even if you haven’t, please include your concerns such as pollution to the groundwater and air]

 

Just so you’re aware, all comments are a matter of public record, which means the council may display them on the application page of their website.

***Victory for the Independents at Local Elections***

Congratulations to RATS Secretary Sheila Ellis and RATS member Derrick Smith who were both re-elected as councillors in the recent local elections. Sheila and Derrick were first elected in 2008 and the people of Houghton and Copt Hill have chosen to have Sheila and Derrick represent them for another four years. RATS Chairman Colin Wakefield is also an Independent Councillor in the Copt hill ward and was elected for a third term in 2011.

 

RATS are not a political party. The reason Colin, Sheila and Derrick stood for election is that the authorities always said that RATS don't represent the views of the local area. They stood to prove that we do have the support of the people of Houghton and the surrounding area.

 

Thank you to everyone who voted for Sheila and Derrick. They'll continue to fight, not just for the closure of the landfill, but to make Hoghton a better place to live.

 

***PUBLIC MEETING***

 

Newbottle Church Hall

Thursday 29 March

6:30pm

RATS are holding a public meeting in Newbottle Church Hall on Thursday 29 March at 6.30pm to discuss Biffa's planning application to extend the life of the landfill by another 17 years. We'll be giving an update on progress and will try to answer all your questions. Please come along to show your support.

***PUBLIC MEETING***

 

Saturday 25 February

10am

Houghton Kepier Hall (Behind St Michael's Church)

RATS will be hosting a Public meeting to give an update on the Planning application and also to give information on a new medical waste transfer station that's just been allowed at Sedgeletch. Please come along and show your support.

***Planning Update - Friday 17 Feb***

A Fantastic 500 objections are now logged on to Sunderland City Council's website. A huge thank you to the people of Houghton and further afield who have taken the time and trouble to raise your concerns. Let's keep up the great work and see if we can get to 1000!

 

We understand that Sunderland Council have a backlog of objections that they haven't added to their website yet. So if you've complained but can't see your objection, please give it a few days.

 

If you haven't logged yours yet, there's still time to do it, so follow the instructions below. Your friends and family from out of town can also object citing their concern for you!

***BLASTING UPDATE***

Following on from the public meeting we held at Newbottle Community Centre on 29 October, we now have some official news on the status of the blasting in Houghton Quarry.

 

As soon as RATS initially found out about the blasting back in April 2011, we said that the proposed blasting was outside the planning permission boundary and, as such, requires Biffa to apply for a new planning permission from Sunderland City Council. The former head of planning at the council didn’t agree and told Biffa that blasting was OK "as far as the council was concerned" as it was close to the existing boundary.

 

The good news though is that it has since been decided that Biffa do need to apply for new planning permission if they want to blast. To our knowledge, Biffa haven’t yet put in an application. The "Essential Safety work" that they needed to do to protect their employees can’t be that essential after all! Incidentally, we have photos of Biffa employees working directly underneath this "unstable" cliff face that were taken after Biffa stated what a danger it is.

 

Speaking of which, Biffa have always said that the site is in a stable block of land, yet they now claim that the piece of rock they wish to blast is "unstable." The Landfill Directive forbids tipping waste in unstable ground, so why haven’t they been stopped from tipping?

 

So, to summarise, there won’t be any blasting in the near future and hopefully, ever again!

 

We will, of course, keep you updated on here and on our Facebook page, so please keep visiting.

 

Community Meeting Update

 

RATS would like to say a big thank you to everyone who come along to the public meeting. Around 60 people turned up and we had a good discussion about the proposed blasting in the quarry. Watch this space for further updates.

*****

COMMUNITY MEETING

SATURDAY 29 OCTOBER

NEWBOTTLE COMMUNITY CENTRE

11.00AM

*****

 

RATS are holding a community meeting regarding the proposed blasting (see below) on Saturday 29 October at Newbottle Community Centre. Please come along to show your support and ask anyone else you know who lives in the area to come along too. The more people who turn up, the more of a stand we can make.

***BREAKING NEWS – BIFFA TO COMMENCE BLASTING IN THE QUARRY DESPITE HUGE OPPOSITION FROM RESIDENTS AND COUNCILLORS***

 

Back in April 2011, we held a public meeting which was attended by over 150 local residents along with several local councillors, including the leader of Sunderland City Council. The meeting was a protest against some blasting Biffa wanted to do in the quarry. Those of us who have lived in the area a long time remember the damage blasting used to do to houses, which included cracked walls, fallen tiles and pictures and ornaments falling off walls and shelves.

 

After the meeting, the leader of the council agreed to call a halt to the plans until proper investigation could be completed. We found out on Friday 21 October, that blasting will commence from Monday 24 October and is expected to go on until around 7 November. As far as we know, there has been no reports or investigations, it was just put on the back burner for a while and then quietly allowed when they hoped we’d forgotten about it.

 

Biffa sent a leaflet to local residents (VERY local, they didn’t even leaflet both sides of Cathedral View!) which says that they intend to continue tipping for another 25 years and want to tip up to 20 feet on top of what they’ve already tipped! This means 25 more years of smells, noise, dust and air and water pollution. This also ties in with a new, even laxer permit from the Environment Agency which will mean they no longer have to measure much of the pollution they cause! This is absolutely not good news for Houghton and its residents.

What they failed to mention in their leaflet was that their planning permission expires in February 2012 and they haven’t been granted an extension yet. They seem remarkably confident they’ll get one, despite the huge local opposition to it.

 

As we only got word on this on Friday 21 October, we’re still trying to decide what to do about it. However, coincidentally, there is a community meeting on Monday 24 October at 6.30 at Newbottle Church Hall. Please come along to the meeting where we’ll discuss this further.

 

As soon as we have any more news, we’ll let you know and will post it up here as soon as we can.

***BIFFA FINED £27,000 FOR SMELL***

Updated 19 July 2011

Biffa were recently fined £27,000 for the smell at Houghton Quarry. The convistion is for just two days, one in December 2009 and one in March 2010.

 

Comment:

 

While we’re glad to see the EA finally taking some action and to see Biffa prosecuted, we still don’t feel this is enough.

 

There are a number of reasons for this:

 

Firstly, Biffa were fined £15,000 for the smell on one particular day in December 2009 and £12,000 for the smell on another day in March 2010. What about the hundreds of other days that there’s been a horrible smell from the landfill site and residents have complained? Over that winter period, the EA received 283 complaints from local residents. Bear in mind that only a tiny proportion of people who are affected by the smell actually know the complaints procedure, so the actual number of affected people is much, much greater. (If you’re affected by the smell, call the EA free on 0800 80 70 60)

 

Secondly, the EA took statements from residents in January and February 2010. Why has it taken the EA nearly eighteen months to bring Biffa to court over this?

 

Thirdly, including costs, the total fine is £35,250. This sounds like a lot of money (and of course, to most of us, it is!), but bear in mind that Biffa is a huge national company, who, in 2010, had a turnover of over £573 million and who made a profit of just under £50 million. All of a sudden, a £35,250 fine doesn’t seem like such a lot of money. It’s the equivalent of someone earning £25,000 a year being fined 18p! Hardly a deterrent!

(Source: worksmart.org.uk)

 

Finally, the EA has evidence that Biffa are breaking other laws in their operation of the site at Houghton, including polluting the groundwater, which is not only against their permit to operate, it’s also against UK and European law. It’s the EA’s job to prosecute Biffa for this and yet they do nothing. The evidence couldn’t be clearer. You can see it here.

 

There is the evidence that the groundwater is being polluted. This evidence is collected by Biffa and given to the EA. Why have the EA taken no action?

***NEWS UPDATE 4 MAY 2011***

As you know, RATS chairman, Councillor Colin Wakefield and RATS Secretary, Councillor Sheila Ellis, went to Brussels to appear before the European Petitions Committee about the Landfill.

 

The committee found overwhelmingly in our favour and agreed to take action against the authorities who have allowed the landfill to pollute our environment. This action was in the form of letters to:

 

The UK Ambassador to the EU to ask why the UK Government hasn’t taken any action, despite knowing what’s been going on. Click here to see the letter. (It may take a few moments for the image to appear)

 

The EU Commissioner, who is head of the Civil Service for the EU, to ask why it’s taken so long for the commission to take any action, despite it knowing about the seriousness of the situation for many years. Click here to see the letter.

 

The head of the UK Environment Agency, to ask why they haven’t taken any action against Biffa and why it repeatedly ignores breaches of the Landfill Directive. Click here to see page 1 of the letter.Click here to see page 2 of the letter.

 

We'd like to point out that "The Petitioner" is Councillor Sheila Ellis on behalf of RATS.

 

What does this mean for RATS and the residents of Houghton Le Spring?

 

Well, the letter to the UK Ambassador is a warning that the Government must make sure the Environment Agency is regulating the landfill site properly and is taking the appropriate action against Biffa for every breach of the permit. With more pressure from the UK Government, the EA is more likely to do its job properly.

 

The letter to the EU Comissioner will hopefully speed up the European courts who will treat our case with more urgency, which will hopefully mean a quicker resolution to our problems.

 

Finally, the letter to the EA will hopefully make them realise that they can't keep ignoring what's happening at Houghton. They have failed to regulate the site properly for its entire operation and this letter tells them that they just can't keep doing this.

 

All the letters were sent with a full background as to what's been going on including much of the evidence submitted by RATS to the EU over the last few years.

 

If there are any more updates, we will, of course, keep you posted.

***MEETING UPDATE***

RATS would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who attended Thursday's meeting. We had a fantastic turnout of around 150 people from all around the area. Among the atendees were your local independent councillors and RATS members: Colin Wakefield, Sheila Ellis and Derrick Smith. There were also several Labour councillors from different wards around the city and even the leader of Sunderland City Council, Paul Watson.

 

After listening to Colin, Sheila and Sheila's husband and former senior geologist, John Ellis, Councillor Watson agreed to arrange a meeting at 9am the next morning with the Deputy Chief Executive and the planning department. As a result of this meeting, the council have agreed to comission their own report on the stability of the land and in the meantime, have instructed Biffa to cease work. This is just a short term measure, but it's a big step in the right direction and a sign that Sunderland City Council have finally started to take us seriously after 13 years.

 

Thanks again to all the residents who turned up to voice their concern and to show how important this issue is to local people.

 

***PUBLIC MEETING ABOUT BIFFA'S BLASTING

THURSDAY 7 APRIL

NEWBOTTLE COMMUNITY CENTRE

6PM***

Last week, we received word that Biffa intend to do some blasting in the quarry because one of the rock faces has become “unstable” (It hasn’t become unstable, it’s been unstable for years!) This is the same rock that they’ve always insisted is completely safe! Blasting is strictly forbidden in their planning permission but Sunderland City Council and the Environment Agency are quite happy to let them do it (negating their responsibilities again!)

 

If Biffa are allowed to do this, it will open up a whole new area of the quarry for them to fill with waste, meaning more misery, stench, noise and mess for us residents. Coincidentally, the area they need to blast is just within the fence that they erected round the top corner of the quarry five years ago. How convenient is that?

 

We are calling this meeting because we need your support. We need to show the council that we won’t let them ignore us and we won’t tolerate them letting Biffa do whatever they like and ignore planning laws that are in place to protect us.

 

Please come along to the meeting where we’ll give you more information and we’ll be looking to start a petition against the blasting.

 

We look forward to seeing you there.

Thursday 7 April

6pm

Newbottle Community Centre

***NEWS UPDATE 18 MARCH 2011***

PRESS RELEASE

 

RATS win cross party and cross country support in the European

Parliament.

 

On Tuesday 15th March 2011 RATS Secretary & Independent Councillor Sheila Ellis and RATS Chairman & Independent Councillor Colin Wakefield presented the RATS Petition to the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament.

 

Unanimous support from the Petition was received from across parties and across countries, with MEPs from Italy, Spain Denmark, Germany and the United Kingdom condemning the UK Environment Agencies lack of action and its responses to the legitimate concerns of RATS.

They said:

 

· Why was this landfill allowed so close to houses and in the ground water?

· There are clear breaches of EU Environmental law.

· If we do not enforce simple environmental laws (as is the case here), what is the point of having these laws?

· The information supplied by RATS over many years was true.

 

They asked why the European Commission had not taken enforcement action against the UK Authorities. The spokesman for the Commission described dealing with DEFRA as ‘Challenging’ and that reports received often were not what was happening on the ground. He highlighted the very high cost of groups such as RATS taking court action against landfill companies and the authorities, many none-UK MEPs were appalled that in the UK, residents are denied access to law on the grounds of costs.

The Commission went on the say the original Landfill Directive had been much stronger, however Member States, including the one involved in this (The UK) had managed to dilute its effectiveness. It is likely that the RATS case will be used to introduce a change in the law to allow the European Commission to directly intervene in such cases and inspect the site and take legal action, rather than wait for the Member State to do so.

 

From a RATS view point and as UK citizens, it was very disappointing to see the UK exposed as being unhelpful and being complicit in weakening the Landfill Directive. The role of the UK government is to protect its citizens, not the profits of landfill companies. We are all entitled to ask why?

The Petitions Committee agreed unanimously to send a very strongly worded letter to the UK government seeking answers and asked the Commission to continue to closely observe the actions of the EA with this site.

 

Issued by Residents Against Toxic Site (RATS) Secretary Cllr Sheila Ellis and Cllr Colin Wakefield, Chairman

This story has been features on SUN FM, Sunderland's local radio station. You can hear some comments from Colin and Sheila here.

***NEWS UPDATE 16 FEBRUARY 2011***

You may remember that we last updated you back in November with a press release about the council wanting to waste an insane amount of money on building an incinerator on Teesside and continuing to dump all domestic waste in Houghton Quarry for another four years until the incinerator is ready.

 

Well, after our five year campaign to use Autoclaving as our preferred waste solution, we’re pleased to report that the Council now changed their minds and will use the autoclaving plant in Gateshead to treat Sunderland’s waste for the next 3 to 4 years – hopefully for much longer. Please read our press release below.

 

For those of us in Houghton, this should mean that there will be less traffic, less smell and, most importantly, less chance of the council renewing the quarry’s planning permission which expires in February 2012. We will, of course, be putting as much pressure on the council as possible to make the right decision again when this happens. However we also face Biffa getting waste from an ever increasingly wider area.

Here’s the press release:

Press Release

For immediate release

Residents Against Toxic Site (RATS)

RATS are delighted that after a 13 year struggle to highlight the grave dangers Houghton Quarry Landfill posses to the residents of Houghton-le-Spring at long last waste disposal has moved into the 21st century with Sunderland City Council awarding a contract for Wearside’s waste to be delivered to a sorting facility in Sunderland, where recyclable materials will be recovered and then the remaining waste treated in Gateshead with high temperature, high pressure steam, a process known as Autoclaving. RATS have championed Autoclaving for five years as the most cost effective and environmentally friendly waste disposal solution available today. Autoclaving has long been used to sterilize medical equipment. Many local authorities have selected this process as their long term waste solution.

 

This contract gives Sunderland City Council the opportunity to see the environmental benefits of a modern industrial waste treatment process to treat our waste. The opportunity to continue to use these facilities for the long term treatment of Sunderland’s waste must not be squandered and the planned, very expensive and unnecessary ‘Energy from Waste’ facility at Teesside must be suspended to allow this contract to show the huge financial benefits it will bring to Wearside’s council taxpayers.

 

Unfortunately this contract, however welcome has come too late to prevent 13 years of misery to the residents of Houghton-le-Spring, pollution of the air we breathe and pollution of the underground water supply. Day in day out disgusting smells and vermin, flies, rats and thousands of seagulls who blight our daily lives and the as yet to be properly investigated health effects of this environmental madness in the midst of our once lovely little town.