UK Politics

MPs call for crackdown on odours from landfill sites

Landfill compactor vehicle on top of large pile of landfill

MPs have called for a crackdown on "smelly" landfill sites to improve the quality of life of those living nearby.

Aaron Bell said the "tell-tale rotten egg" odour emanating from a site in his Staffordshire constituency was widely regarded as a blight on the local area.

He used a Westminster debate to press for tougher enforcement rules and limits on where sites could be built.

Minister Rebecca Pow expressed sympathy with his concerns but said planning decisions were a matter for councils.

She insisted the government had ambitious targets to reduce the amount of non-recyclable waste being sent to landfill.

During a debate in Westminster Hall, Parliament's secondary debating chamber, Mr Bell and other Conservative MPs called for the personal experience of local residents to be given greater weight in deciding whether odour levels were acceptable.

Mr Bell, who represents Newcastle-under-Lyme, said the current regulations were "not fit for purpose" and it was not enough for operators of landfill sites to simply meet minimum health standards as set down by the World Health Organisation.

Citing the case of Walleys Quarry landfill in his constituency, he said many of his constituents felt "powerless" after levels of methane gas and hydrogen sulfide emitted were deemed to fall well within legally permissible limits following a review by environmental regulators last year.

'Causing offence'

He claimed unpleasant odours from the Silverdale plant had been a long-standing issue for local residents, with many reluctant to open their windows or use their gardens while the smells were also affecting businesses and night life in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

He said the Environment Agency needed greater powers to deal with "minor and frequent breaches" which did not cause "demonstrably adverse" effects on people's health but which were clearly a nuisance to people's lives.

"An operator can be compliant with their permit and their planning permission but it does not mean they are not causing offence to their neighbours," he said.

"Local communities have few options for remedy against a waste operator where the operator is acting in compliance with its permit. Local communities are the ones who know best how their lives are affected."

While he conceded councils did have the power to issue nuisance abatement notices, he said this process took too long and often did not take into account factors such as changing weather patterns which meant occurrences were "only apparent for a short period of time".

He added: "Odours are not something that can be measured objectively so quantifying and characterising odours can be very challenging because each person's sensitivity to odours can vary."

'Waste hierarchy'

Mr Bell said people living in close proximity to landfill sites were experiencing similar problems "across the country". He called for tighter planning rules to ensure that landfill sites could not, in future, be built "within a certain distance" of any residential housing.

Former Cabinet minister Maria Miller said there was also a problem in her Basingstoke constituency with emissions from biodigester waste plants, which break down material anaerobically.

"The issue here is the threshold at which the Environment Agency can act," she said, insisting statutory health and environmental standards should not be the only consideration. "Why on earth are residents' needs not taken into account?"

In response, Ms Pow said landfill sites could never be odour-free but levels should "not be causing offence".

In the case of Walleys Quarry, she said its operator Red Industries had complied with the terms of the site's permit since 2005 while the site had passed a series of "continuous" air quality monitoring tests carried out by the watchdog in the past three years.

She said the tests found the presence of hydrogen sulfide "above which complaints would be expected" for just 1% of the monitoring period and at a level which Public Health England believed would not expect to cause any long-term health consequences.

More generally, she said legislation due to be debated by MPs for the first time on Wednesday would minimise the amount of waste that "reaches the lower levels of the waste hierarchy", including landfill.

The aim, she added, was for 65% of municipal waste to be recycled by 2033, with no more than 10% going to landfill.

Red Industries, which bought Walleys Quarry Landfill in 2016, has insisted that it complies with all legal and government regulations, operates tight controls and procedures on the site and strives to minimise its impact on the environment.