Just Who Does the Environment Agency Protect?

 

A Report of Environment Agency Board Member Alan Dalton

to

The Minister for the Environment - Michael Meacher MP

 

August 2001.

 

"As the Environment Agency becomes, as we hope it will, a more effective and confident organisation, we fully expect that it will start to say things which the government may not want to hear."

 

The Environment Agency, House of Commons, Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee Report, May 2000.

 

Contents:

 

Summary                                                                       

 

Introduction                                                                 

 

The Board                                                                    

 

Open Board meetings                                                 

 

Waste                                                                           

 

Health and Safety for EA Staff                 

 

The Board member for the NE Region   

 

Conclusion                                              

 

Four Case Studies

 

A. Vibration Disease in the EA           

B. Stress and Bullying in the EA        

C. The Byker Incinerator                     

D. The Welbeck Landfill Site             

 

Notes                                                     

2

 

3

 

4

 

4

 

5

 

7

 

8

 

10

 

 

 

11

13

18

22

 

38

 

 

Summary

 

In January 1999 you appointed me to the Board of the Environment Agency (EA). You said in the press release announcing my appointment, "Alan Dalton's experience in promoting the environmental message to a wider public and the perspective he can bring from his knowledge of health and safety matters, will be of particular value to the Board as the Agency deals with the challenges that which lie ahead."

 

As you can see from the enclosed report, which covers my first two and a half years on the Board, I have tried to make some constructively critical- yet positive - interventions in the areas that I know most about. This has not been easy. Yet, I feel that it is essential that public bodies, and the EA employees some 10,500 full-time people with an annual budget of £655m, are seen to be both transparent and accountable.

 

For asking questions of the EA that are relevant to the growing public interest in their environment - whether it be an incinerator or landfill site and for taking-up serious employee issues, like stress and bullying- I have been sacked by Sir John Harman as the North East England representative of the Board.

 

Clearly I cannot carry on trying to do the job you appointed me to do without your backing. This would have to be in public and in real terms, along the following lines:

·         To be the Board champion for the employees. The right to attend, as an observer, any EA-union negotiating and/or health and safety meetings. The right to independently investigate employee complaints and to make a report to the Board in the public session.

 

·         To be the Board champion for members of the public. The right to investigate complaints against the EA and make a report to the Board in the public session.

 

·         The time and payment to carry out the above and a re-instatement of my EA allocated time from four days to seven days per month.

 

In what follows I would like to emphasise that it is my view that the EA has, in the main, an amazing workforce of hardworking, dedicated, skilled and often underpaid people. However, they do not always get the management support and leadership they deserve.

 

In the spirit of open government, which I know that you support, I have made this report public.

 

Introduction

 

"There shall be a body corporate to be known as the Environment Agency...The Agency shall consist of not less than eight nor more than fifteen members...appointed by the Minister/Secretary of State." - The Environment Act 1995.

 

For those who are not on the 'inner circuit' of the membership Boards, and other bodies, that manage or influence many public bodies in the UK, they are strange animals. What exactly is their role? What powers do they really have? Are they effective? Although I have not carried out a literature search, there does not appear to be much written about in detail about the Environment Agency (EA), its role and functions and successes or otherwise.

 

For myself, it was all very new. Although I had previously some experience of representing the trade unions on similar, but lower level, committees on the Health and Safety Commission; the top health and safety body in the UK. An experience that was not all-together rewarding (1). In addition, as part of a EU-funded print pollution reduction project, I found out that the standards for smaller polluting processes were, effectively, being set by the industries themselves on the, then, secret Department of Environment Committees. A 1995

Parliamentary Ombudsman enquiry (2) on openness, that I initiated, revealed this fact and gained some publicity.

 

One of my first introductions to the EA Board was a Fax of the menu for the meeting I was to attend! Was this the real priority and purpose, I wondered? Two and one half years on, it would be fair to say this is no longer the case and we now have massive agendas and heavy papers. But sometimes, in the many, more boring, parts of Board meetings I wonder if it would make any difference at all if the EA Board did not exist? And I am sure many of the EA Directors present think the same although of course they dare not say so. For what it is worth, I have formed the opinion that the real role of the Board is essentially negative. In that, should the EA step out of line with government policy, too much, then the Board will come into action to reign-in the EA. Thus, the first chair of the EA Board, Lord De Ramsey was a personal friend of John Major, the former Tory Prime Minister. The current chair, Sir John Harman, is a safe Labour- supporting pair of hands on the tiller as is the EA's Chief Executive, Baroness Barbara Young a Labour peer.

 

Maybe this is as it should be, for it would seem silly that a major government non-departmental body (ie a "quango") should be seriously at odds with the government of the day. One of the first lectures I went to, as a Board member was from a senior civil servant telling the Board members that the Labour government did not want any "surprises."

However, the Philips report, over the BSE scandal, showed the vital role of independent scientific advice to government. I personally was forced to get hold of the Phillips' Report after a public meeting (see Welbeck, page 22) over Landfill hazards; when it was quoted to me many times.

 

And yet, during 2000 the EA launched its 'environmental vision' with some ambitious targets for environmental performance. The EA's 1999-2000 Annual Report says, "Our management has a broad freedom to exercise its responsibilities within a clearly defined framework." Some of the problems of the EA stem from its relationship with government, and whether it is 'just' an environmental regulator or a true 'champion of the environment'.

 

The Board

 

We meet about six times a year, for two days, around the eight EA Regions for England and Wales (Scotland has a separate Environment Agency) and at various other times for odd day sessions. In addition, there are various sub-committees of the Board, around a number of key issues; I am on those for industrial pollution and agriculture. Finally, members of the Board act as 'champions' for various issues and/or are regional representatives. I was, until June 2001, the EA Board representative for the North East.

 

As a Board member you get no induction and this is still true to this day, despite promises from the Board secretariat set one up for new Board members. So, depending on your own interests and time, you have to sort out for yourself what, apart from designated attending meetings, your role is in the EA. This is not easy in an organisation the size of the EA, with 11,000 people scattered over 50 or so different offices in England and Wales. As one of eight regional board representatives, it was a bit easier for me as I had more contact with 'real life' EA issues in the region (see below, under North East). Despite this, it took me a good six to 12 months to find my feet and have some idea what the EA was about and how to try and support it's actions to improve the environment.

 

 

Open Board meetings

 

I have long been a believer in all public, and private, organisations being as open as they can possibly be and such openness is essential in a democratic society. I arrived at the EA having fought a long, and ultimately successful (3), battle to ensure that the UK's main health and safety body, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), was as open as possible. This caused me, and three other investigative academics and journalists, to be branded by the HSE as, "persistent enquirers" during 1998. The Observer noted the HSE action was, "more reminiscent of Russia in the 1930s than Britain in the 1990s."

 

So I was very surprised to find that the EA Board met in private and that it's papers were all private. Even more so, when it was a fact that the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) had been meeting in open for several years, with no problems according to their secretary, when I wrote to him.

 

The Board had already come under pressure from you, the Environment Minister, to be more open - to meet in public and allow full access to Board papers - in November 1997; a suggestion the Board rejected. Further, during 1998 Marek Mayer, editor of the influential Environmental Date Services (ENDS) magazine, had been very critical of the EA's secrecy policy.

 

A confidential (as they all were then) paper, from the Board secretariat, to a Board meeting in February 1999, my first Board

meeting, concluded that, "There is no obligation on the Board to move any further towards opening its business to the public in the light of the proposals in the Government White Paper." And, as we debated this issue during 1999, there were many members of the Board who were very anti-more openness for a variety of good and bad reasons.

 

Eventually, they allowed an experiment and then full open meetings and papers. But, and it is a big BUT, there is now a Board pre-meeting in private, lasting as long as the public Board meeting! I, and a few other Board members, have objected to this procedure, with little effect. In fact I say very little, if anything, in it reserving my comments for the open meeting where I feel they should be. This has been a bone of contention between the EA chair, Sir John Harman, and me at times.

 

In addition, the agenda of the Board meetings are usually full of items that do not seem to bear much on the environment and we rarely, it seems to me, to take any decisions of significance.

 

Waste

 

As you well know, the growth of waste is a major problem for the UK and worldwide. Municipal waste, alone is growing at 3 per cent per annum. Implying a doubling of the amount in 25 years. Waste minimisation, reuse and recycling efforts are minimal and a new EU Directive will reduce the amount that can go to landfill. This has led to a great pressure to build new incinerators; maybe 100 or more in the next 20 years in the UK alone.

 

This issue is of major concern to the EA, and it is really the UK's key player. The EA's Annual Report for 2000/01 (page 4) states quite strongly that, “A major strategic issue for the Agency and for society as a whole over the next decade will be how to deliver the Government's National Waste Strategy. We (the Board) discussed this contentious issue in July, noting that the production of waste by society was increasing at an average rate of three percent per year and that landfill options would be progressively restricted as a result of the EU Landfill Directive. We endorsed a strategic approach to the incineration of waste within the context of other waste management and reduction options." Further on in the report, a reader would gain the impression that the EA is very tough on waste and achieving much. As my in-depth case studies of the Welbeck Landfill Site (page 22) and the Byker Incinerator (page 18) clearly show, I feel that the reality is so different.

 

In my work on waste, I have always felt that waste minimisation and reduction does not receive the priority that it deserves. It should be top of everyone's agenda. In this respect, sometime during the middle of 1999, I was sitting on a coach, next to the previous EA chair Lord De Ramsey, on a Board visit, when a regional EA Officer produced a local report (4) on company waste minimisation projects that neither of us had seen. This led me to ask about other such EA-sponsored projects, and, after some discussion at various committees, to the realisation that the EA effort in this area was being reduced because it was, "non statutory".

 

I raised my concerns at the December 2000 Board meeting. After which the, then, chief executive, Ed Gallagher, wrote to me soon after (5) to, "clarify the situation on waste minimisation, something you and I are both keen to succeed." But he then admitted that, "In the shorter term, resource constraints may mean that the effort applied to promoting waste minimisation may have to be reduced to take account of other pressures...Doing more pilot projects to demonstrate over and over again that waste minimisation works may not be the best way forward." However, he did not suggest any other ways to advance the cause of waste minimisation.

 

In February 2000 I wrote to Sir Harman, to protest about the cutting of 37 EA Full Time Equivalent positions on, 'pollution prevention and waste minimisation.' I said to him that I considered this to be, "a retrograde step and totally wrong! I know it is so-called short-term, but this shapes the culture of the EA as an ‘end-of-pipe’ reactive agency and not a proactive organisation. We do little enough to help industry, and now we are cutting what we do! This sends out all the wrong messages to industry, our partners, government and the NGOs."

 

In March 2000 Sir John Harman asked me to stand in for him at a major conference (6) on Producer Responsibility. It was clear to me, from the papers presented at this conference, that Producer Responsibility was going to be one of the major drivers for pollution reduction at source. In a letter (7) to Sir John Harman, I urged him to take this issue up with the lead agency on this issue, the Department of Trade and Industry. Further, I asked, "Can this be an item for discussion, with a review and action paper, at a future Board meeting." Nothing happened, despite my prompting at Board meetings over the next year or so. Then, in late 2001, Sir John Harman announced that he was asking for a paper and some Board discussion on the End-of-Life Vehicle Directive that is due to become law in April 2002. Better late than never, I suppose.

 

There is still some waste minimisation activity occurring within the EA. The 2000/01 EA Annual Report notes that, "We are actively involved with over 50 waste minimisation 'clubs' to help reduce water use, production of solid waste and energy consumption." And locally, in the NE region of the EA, where I was the Board's representative until June 2001, 'Project Clever’ helped (8) 10 local Small and Medium Sized enterprises potentially save £275,000 per annum. But these are insignificant examples, in comparison with the amount of actual waste minimisation required within the UK.

 

With no real effort on waste minimisation, the very real problems with the costs of collection and sorting of recycled goods (not to mention the lack of markets for final products), the reduction required by the EU on landfill operations it is no wonder that the UK waste strategy is seen by the public, and others, as: build more incinerators. And the Byker incident shows (page 18), in my view, that the EA cannot be trusted to police incinerators safely.

 

Therefore I fully agree with conclusion 182, of the House of Commons Select Committee report (9) on Delivering Sustainable Waste Management:

 

"From the content of the Waste Strategy 2000, it is clear that the Environment Agency is still failing to take a convincing and persuasive approach to influencing environmental strategy. Although we note some recent improvement in the Agency's performance, it is vital that it becomes a champion for the environment and sustainable development. It must aim to persuade Government of the merits of adopting amore ambitious waste strategy which is based around the pursuit of sustainable waste management."

 

Health and Safety Issues for EA staff

 

The EA Annual Report and Accounts for 2000/01 records that:  "Responsibility for employee health and safety rests with the Board. We reviewed in detail the overall health and safety performance of the Agency at the mid-point and end of year. There were a number of areas for attention, particularly over "near-misses" and wide regional variations in accident rates. We encouraged the development of a stress management policy to help recognise, address and reduce workplace stress."

 

This is some understatement! For over two years I have been raising the issue of the large regional variations, among the EA's eight regions, in accident rates to the manual workforce; sometimes the variation is as high as four-fold. Various excuses have been given over the years: a new accident reporting scheme different 'management styles' and so on. Now, at last, there are some signs that the EA may be 'benchmarking' the best region to find out why their accident rates are so much lower; but it has been some struggle.

 

Elsewhere, I have detailed the issues of vibration (page 11) and stress (page 13) as case studies to indicate why I feel the EA still does not take the health and safety of it's employees - manual or white collar - seriously.

 

The, then, Department of Environment Transport and the Regions (DETR) and the Health and Safety Commission (HSC), in their joint statement of June 2000, Revitalising Health and Safety, said that (10), "Government must lead by example. All public bodies must demonstrate best practice in health and safety management... All public bodies will summarise their health and safety performance and plans in the Annual reports, starting no later than the report for 2000/01."

 

By no stretch of the imagination has the EA been a leader in the area of health and safety, and the few words quoted above from the EA's Annual Report for 2000/01, hardly constitute the report required by government. The Health and Safety executive (HSE) have recently (11) admitted that the EA, somehow, slipped through their net when it was first formed in 1995, But it now the HSE says that, "there will be two officers in Bristol monitoring them nationally." For the sake of EA employees' health, I can only hope that this new interest by the HSE will prompt some serious action by EA senior management on these important issues.

 

 

 

The Board member for the North East region

 

The EA is divided up into eight regions, of which one is the North East, which spreads from Hull and North East Derby in the South to Berwick on Tweed and Carlisle in the North. The western edge is marked by Eden and Pendle, which boarder on the NW EA region.

 

Soon after my appointment, in January 1999, I was appointed by Lord De Ramsey to be the board member for the NE EA region. I then met with the Regional Director, Roger Hyde, to find out what this entailed. There were no written guide notes and, it appeared, that the Board member could do as little, or as much, as s/he wanted. One of the main requirements seemed to be to attend the monthly Regional Advisory Panel (RAP) meetings in Leeds. The RAP advised the EA Regional Director and consisted of him, Roger Hyde, myself and the chairs of the four EA regional committees that were composed of senior lay people in the

Region, who advised the EA on flood defence, polluting industries and installations, fisheries, navigation and recreation etc. I was given the impression, by Roger Hyde, that this RAP committee had become a bit moribund due to non-attendance of the former Board member responsible for the North East.

 

When I first met Roger and wrote to him, in March 1999, I set out my agenda for my future action in the NE Region, which included the following points:

 

·         To ensure that, "issues of local environmental concern are discussed and critically analysed at each RAP meeting."

·         "I would like RAP to discuss how there could be some independent assessment of the NE, EA Region's activities and effectiveness, the terms of reference of such an assessment, and who might do such an assessment."

·         "And that, as an additional safeguard, members of the public, companies, environmental groups, local councils etc. can complain to me if they have exhausted your complaints procedure (ie if they are not satisfied with your response to them!)."(emphasis in the original letter).

 

These proposals were discussed at a RAP meeting, with Roger Hyde present, and all agreed it was an appropriate approach for myself.

 

To get to know the area I asked Roger Hyde to organise a three-day, in depth, visit to the Region, it's EA offices and workforce and to see some of the typical problems facing the EA in the region. This took place in April 1999. I made a five-page report and recommendations, from this visit, which I gave to the RAP members and also asked for it to be circulated and discussed by the EA Board. Which eventually took place.

 

Thereafter followed a series of interesting, monthly, RAP meetings, and many other EA events in the North East throughout 1999 and 2000.

 

In June 2000 the Regional Director, Roger Hyde, assessed my contribution this way, in my formal EA assessment:

 

"During his time as the 'North East' Board Member, Mr Dalton, has been a regular attendee at Regional Advisory Panel Meetings and has fulfilled his role as an effective link between the Region and the Board. He has also spent time and effort to improve his knowledge of the Region by attending briefings and visits organised by Regional and Area Managers. He has supported the Region at events such as the Regional Annual General Meeting. On several occasions, he has taken up issues of concern to the Region and been very persistent in ensuring that these are rigorously followed through to ensure that lessons are learned for the future."

 

However, during the second half of 2000, I was asked by Sir John Harman to look into the Welbeck Landfill site (see page 22) and, in addition, the issue of stress in the EA Leeds Laboratory (see page 16) and the Byker incinerator (see page18) were causing me some concern. I expressed these concerns both to Roger Hyde, and at RAP meetings.  In fact I showed Roger Hyde a copy of my Welbeck Report to Sir John Harman, for comment/correction, before I showed it to Sir John Harman. Despite these issues, relations between Roger Hyde and myself seemed to me friendly enough, until his shock formal assessment of myself in May 2001.

 

Mr Hyde's Assessment of Me, May 2001.

 

I was sent Roger Hyde's second, two-page, formal assessment of my Regional Board Member's performance in May 2001. To say I was shocked would be an understatement! In almost 40 years of my working life I have never received such a devastating assessment; I had hardly done anything right according to his new assessment.

 

Why had he not raised any of these issues -either verbally, in writing or at RAP meetings - in the previous two years, was my first question? The main allegations he made against myself were as follows:

 

·         "I have not felt supported, rather the subject of a critical observer.

 

·         Alan has created work for me that has been unhelpful and disruptive. E.g.:

 

·         Alan's involvement in the Byker incinerator issues and discussions with local residents when the case is sub-judice.

 

·         Involvement with RATS at Welbeck Landfill site that undermines the EA staff and the formal consultative machinery organised by the landfill operator and Wakefield Metropolitan District Council.

 

·         Enquiries into National Laboratory Services staff complaints (stress and bullying).

 

·         The regional Board member role is quite unsuited to someone who sees his/her role as an independent watchdog, calling the Region's management and employees to account for their actions."

 

Of course, I defended myself against these serious allegations. But I refused to apologise for my actions, because, in my view, I was only doing the job I was appointed to do by the Minister, Mr Michael Meacher.

 

The upshot was that Mr Hyde took early retirement because he recognised, "it is time for a new person with fresh ideas and energy to lead the next stage of the Agency's development in the North East Region." And I was sacked as the EA Board NE representative, by the chair of the EA, Sir John Harman. I made it clear in my letter to Sir John Harman, commenting on my sacking, that I felt he had sacked the wrong man.

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

Although I have had to miss quite a bit out, this has still been a fairly long report. I feel that it is a vital issue and the public and EA employees should know why I have been sacked as the NE representative. For trying to raise justified issues of concern by both EA employees and the general public, in my view.

 

Clearly I cannot carry on trying to do the job you appointed me to do without your backing. This would have to be in real terms, along the following lines:

 

·         To be the Board champion for the employees. The right to attend, as an observer, any EA-union negotiating and / or health and safety meetings. The right to independently investigate employee complaints and report to the EA Board in the public session.

 

·         To be the Board champion for members of the public. The right to investigate complaints against the EA and make a report to the Board in the public session.

 

·         The time and payment to carry out the above and a re-instatement of my allocated time from the current four days per month to seven days per month.

 

Some months ago, at a family event in South London, I was asked by members of my family who live around a proposed incinerator, why, as a member of the Board of the Environment Agency, that waste incinerators were always sited in working class areas nearby where much of my family lived. I could not answer that question, nor can I say they are safe. As an Environment Agency Board member, I feel I should be able to answer at least the second of these questions. In all honesty I cannot.

 

Four Case Studies:

 

A. Vibration Disease in the Environment Agency (EA)

 

"My fingers and hands are painful, numb and clumsy; especially in cold weather.  I used to like painting wildlife art; I cannot do that any more. No amount of compensation will pay for what I have lost health wise." - 32 -year-old road driller Stephen Bard who was medically retired with 'vibration white finger' (note: he did not work for the Environment Agency).

 

The health effects of vibration are still underestimated. The second (12) of my occupational health publications, in 1977, was on the health effects of vibration and what workers' could do to prevent them. When I wrote this booklet, some 24 years ago, the hazards of vibration had been known since 1911and the preventative measures for tools such as chain saw, road drills, grinders and the like were readily available. There is, of course, massive amounts of guidance now available (13) from the Health and Safety Executive on this important issue. Since hat first booklet I have always kept an eye on the literature, written the occasional review article and I have summarised the latest information in a section in my 1998 book (2). The landmark 1995 judgement of Armstrong and others v. British Coal Corporation established that employers should have known about vibration white finger from 1975. In this case seven coal miners with Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) shared £124,735; with individual awards ranging from £5,000 to £41,085. As the awards indicate, HAVS can be very disabling to the sufferer causing both pain and loss of mobility that leads to a reduction in employment prospects.

 

The EA employs around 12,000 people, most of whom are technical and office staff. However, there are a significant number, of EA employees, 1-2,000, who are classed as 'manual workers'. They are responsible for flood defences and maintenance, emergency flood evacuation, pollution prevention, the Thames Barrier and so on. It is often heavy and hard work and is, in my view, under appreciated by the EA top management and Board. The EA's manual workforce are represented, in the main, by the

Transport and General Workers' Union (T&G). As I was the national health and safety co-ordinator for the T&G before I joined the EA board, I naturally took a special interest in this somewhat neglected group of workers.

 

Indeed, in late 1999, shortly after joining the EA board I had written-up (14) an environmental case study of the Thames Barrier, as part of a DETR-funded project. This study showed a clear 'them and us' culture, in the words of one EA manual employees, "the management don't listen to a blind word we say." When I first started at the EA I gave this publication to all EA Board members.

 

In February 2001 I went to an informal, annual meeting I have with the lay T&G representatives of the manual workforce. This meeting is arranged by their T&G National Officer, Chris Kaufman. At this meetings some representatives raised the issue that quite a lot of their members suffered from vibration white finger, that some were banned from using any type of vibrating tool and that they were worried that they might lose their jobs (in one case it was claimed this had happened).

 

 

 

I was very shocked at this revelation and raised this at open Board meeting the very next week and this caused some consternation. On the 3rd April, Sir John Harman wrote to me saying that, "The Chief Executive has also examined the data relating to vibration 'white finger', and I think we can confirm that staff who have been identified as having stage one of 'white finger' are placed on alternative duties. If this has not been the case, staff and their representatives should be taking this up through the local grievance procedure. If neither of these is the case, I would be grateful for details of the cases." At the May 2001 open Board meeting there was a fuller report on the incidence of Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) in the EA. During the winter of 2000/1, an assessment of 918 members of the EA's Emergency Workforce showed that:

 

·         Two out of three (68%) were symptom free;

·         Over 1 in 10 (13%) have earlier (stage 1) signs of HAVS;

·         Almost 1 in 5 (19%) have significant HAVS (stages 2 and 3symptoms);

·         "It would appear that (in comparison with former years) we have identified a significant increase in the number of stage 2 and 3 cases", and that,

·         "We see this as the most significant occupational health issues for the Agency."

 

After admitting to almost 1 in 3 of the manual staff suffering from vibration diseases, the report also commented, "This will impact on the capability of the Emergency Workforce to carry out a full range of work, as we are obliged to remove people with advanced symptoms from the risk of continued use of vibrating tools." Again, I was shocked, and ashamed, that an organisation that I was responsible for could injure so many of it's workers and care so little about them! No other Board members seemed to care. I asked at the Board meeting if we were using tools  (e.g. chain saws, strimmers) with lowest vibration levels and I got a vague, "we are looking into it" type answer. Whether the workers were receiving the best treatment, I received no answer on this issue.  And, whether having injured them we were giving them safe alternative work and not sacking them. Giles Duncan, Director of Personal, said, "I think all but one have been re- deployed, where appropriate. Of course, in view of the numbers involved I cannot say that this will be the case in the future".

 

None of this discussion was recorded in the draft Board minutes, as presented to the Board in July 2001. After complaining of this fact, I am currently trying to get them amended (compare the three –month 'struggle for truth' on stress in the December Board minutes, page 00), to include at least some of this discussion. I am ashamed that the EA has injured these workers, from preventable vibration white finger, and now can even think of sacking them. In May 2001, at the time of my formal assessment, I told Sir John Harman bluntly that I thought the EA's inaction over the well-known hazards of vibration was criminally negligent, under the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act.

 

B. Stress and bullying in the Environment Agency

 

Workplace stress and bullying can ruin a persons life. Although I do not take-up individual complaints or grievances by Environment Agency (EA) employees, I have seen documented, and sometimes listened to on the telephone, to half a dozen or more accounts of people who claim their stress was caused by the EA. I have always passed these on to the chair, Sir John Harman, or the Regional Director, Roger Hyde, as appropriate. I have also advised the stressed people to use the EA confidential stress counselling service and to contact their trade union representative.  Whatever the cause of these cases of stress I have no doubt that they have had a deep effect on their health and the health of their families and friends. I also have little doubt that, in some cases, the stress has led to serious thoughts of suicide.

 

Anything that can be done by the EA to eliminate, reduce and treat such stress / bullying should be done; both as a good employer and also because it is required by law. Like many other public and private organisations the EA is undergoing fairly rapid change and increasing pressures. This, inevitably, puts stress on the management and staff, from top to bottom. It is therefore essential that there are polices and procedures in place to deal with stress. This was not the case in the EA until very recently and has largely come about by employee action, enforcement officers from both the local council and the HSE and myself pushing at the Board level. But, it has been very hard and I feel that I have been victimised for my justified concern.

 

Stress has become the leading workplace health issue of concern for employees in the late 20th and early 21st century. 13 years ago, when I wrote my first report (15) on stress I was concerned to do three things: dismiss the, then common, myth of workplace stress just being an 'executive issue'; ensure that workplace stress was prevented, and not just treated (however good that lunch time massage felt!) and, most importantly, ensure that the trade unions took the issue seriously. At that time it was felt to be a "soft" issue and, indeed some of my colleagues thought I'd gone a bit soft in the head after writing about "hard" issues like asbestos! Now, I am pleased to say that, most trade unions take the issue seriously and I hope to have played my small part in this change.

 

Now, of course, stress is on everyone's agenda; even the Health and Safety Executive's - so it must be a real workplace hazard. However, the HSE admit (2) that they have found it difficult to enforce the law on their own stress guidance and very few Improvement Notices have been served on this important issue; and no criminal prosecutions have ever taken place. In contrast there have been many high profile common law claims, where stress victims have sued their employer -usually with the help of their trade union - and, sometimes, gained £100,000's compensation. For example, in late 2000, schoolteacher Janice Howell received £254,362 compensation for the stress of teaching.  I first became aware that stress might be a problem in the EA in December1999. Michael Ryan, a former EA employee in the Midlands Region, had been advised to contact myself by Owen Tudor, Senior Policy Officer responsible for health and safety at the TUC. Although, as a Board member, I do not take up individual complaints, Mr Ryan said that, in addition to himself, there were quite a few sufferers from stress in the EA and that a local council Environmental Health Officer (EHO), in one of our eight regions, had actually taken some stress enforcement action against the EA. I thought that there was enough in what he said to look into the issue further.  In any case there is a legal requirement for the EA to have a stress policy. So I raised the issue of stress at an EA Board meeting on the 15th December 2000. The minutes record, "Stress appears to be a growing factor in society and its incidence in the Agency should be monitored." The minute was actioned for the EA Director of Personnel, Giles Duncan. What the minutes do not record was that there was quite a bit of hostility form some Board members on this issue, along the lines, "the health effects of stress is overrated, good for you and part of the job" type arguments.

 

I followed this Board discussion, up with a more detailed letter in January2000, asking for more information on stress within the EA. Mr Duncan replied in February, with some general information about stress in the EA.

 

In March 2000 I was invited to speak to the West Midlands branch of UNISON, the largest trade union within the EA, on the role of the EA Board and on stress in general; as I had written a lot on the subject from a trade union perspective. At that meeting I was given a four-page letter from a Mr A T Goldsmith, Principal Environmental Health Officer (EHO) for Shrewsbury and Atcham Borough Council, to Ms Stewart the Regional Personnel Manager of the EA in Solihull. The letter clearly stated that the EA was in breach of the law on stress. By September 1999 Mr Goldsmith had concluded his investigations, "and notified the Environment Agency (Midlands office) of what I considered to be three breaches of health and safety in respect of psycho social health from workplace stress:

Regulation 3 - Risk Assessment

Regulation 4 - Health and Safety Arrangements

Regulation 8 - Information to Employees

 

Of the Management of Health and Safety at Work regulations 1992."

 I was shocked to see a letter from a Health and Safety law enforcement officer to the EA! At that Unison branch meeting I promised to take the issue of stress in the EA up at the national level. I also suggested to the Unison branch members that they invite their Regional EA Board representative, Councillor Colin Beardmore, to a future branch meeting (he had been invited to this one, but had been unable to attend), to discuss some of the local issues they had raised, to which they fully agreed.

 

Yet earlier, on the 17th February 2000, Giles Duncan, the EA's Personnel Director, had written to me that with regard to enforcement action, "There has only been one such case, in the Midland region, which I am told is on a 'minded to' basis and looks unlikely to go any further." I had also asked for any "letters of guidance" from health and safety at work enforcement officers, but he sent me none.  Clearly he knew of this letter, as he had contacted that region and the letter was dated four months before. Why didn't he mention the Goldsmith letter?

 

The EHO, Mr Goldsmith, had been working on stress and the EA (Midlands) region since July 1998, when he received a complaint from Michael Ryan. Upon investigation, although he felt that the EA had acted "reasonably" in Mr Ryan's case -"although a lack of documentary evidence of discussions held and decisions made was a significant weakness" – he still felt that the EA was, "in breach of its duty of care" in relation to stress at work. In March 2000 I wrote to Mr Goldsmith, to find out the current situation, as he saw it, on stress in the EA. In a detailed reply, in April 2000, he was able to tell me that whilst all his requirements, in the letter of September 1999, had not been met he was, "satisfied that reasonable progress on this matter is being made, I will review the situation in July 2000."

 

In May 2000 the Board discussed a paper on stress in the EA and what to do about it.

 

In September 2000, through an article in the New Civil Engineer, I became aware that the December meeting of the EA Board were to discuss a proposed stress policy. I met with Giles Duncan, Director of Personnel and Tony Harmsworth, EA National H&S Manager, to discuss this stress policy on the 25th September. At this meeting Giles Duncan presented me with the results of the EA’s Focus Group research on stress. In a letter, dated the26th September, I expressed my concern about this research to him. One was the size: five groups of around 10 - 12 staff, or a sample size of only 60 people, from 11,000 employees. The other issue of concern was the selection of the 60 or some members of these focus groups. Specifically, that they included only one trade union member. Mr Duncan replied to me on the 27th September and I to him, again, on the 17th October. In this letter I said that I had run his proposals past Professor Cary Cooper, one of the UK's leading occupational stress experts, and he suggested that there should be a baseline sample survey to check on the value future stress reduction/actions. He had completed such audit for several large government organisations and they not only reduced stress but also showed, 'value for money'. As far as I can tell, my suggestion was rejected.

 

In December 2000 the EA Board discussed the EA national stress policy. This time, at least, there were no Board members who did not think that the EA needed one. I made some points in discussion, that were lost in the subsequent minutes, and eventually appeared - after some arguments with Sir John Harman - in the May 2001 minutes, item 8, as:

 

 "Mr Dalton tabled some comments on item 8 of the minutes (that referred to the minutes of 14th February) relating to the levels of stress in the Agency, the adequacy of the Agency's stress focus groups and the difficulties implicit in identifying workplace stress. He also emphasised the need to provide for independent monitoring of the effectiveness of the Agency's stress policy in reducing stress."

 

Nationally, the EA now has a paper policy on stress and, from the middle of 2001, someone at head office with a specific remit on stress. We can but hope that this will reduce the amount of stress within the EA.

 

Stress in the EA's Leeds Laboratory

 

Several of the people who wrote to me with allegation of stress/bullying in the EA, worked at the Leeds laboratory of the EA. This was in the EA Region I was responsible for, the North East. It should be noted that, in general, I never get involved in individual cases. But, the fact that I received four letters, with allegations of stress and/or bullying, did seem to suggest to me there might be something wrong at the NE Lab. Therefore, on the 1st August 2000 I wrote to the Regional Director, Roger Hyde, asking for a report on the issue at the next meeting of the NE's 'Regional Advisory Panel’ (RAP). The RAP is a meeting of the EA's area director, the EA board representative (myself in this case) and the chair's of the local advisory panels to the EA (four in this case). There is one for each EA Region and they meet about once a month, in the region.

 

On the 7th August Roger Hyde wrote back in some detail to me thanking me, "for your continued interest in the welfare of our staff" and assuring me that, "appropriate action is being taken to deal with matters. We currently have a formal investigation taking place which is led by a trained investigator from another region." He included data that suggested there really was no problem among the 55 staff adding that, "We do not have any claims for ill health or stress related compensation", apart from two formal complaints, "which have been or are being fully investigated." I responded both to the people that had contacted me and the press with the comment that I was very satisfied with this reply. I requested that the report from the 'trained investigator' be made public and this was noted in the 4th September RAP minutes which also noted that, "The report from the 'trained investigator' was not yet complete." It was my understanding that this report would be ready in early September.

 

September 2000 came and went, and the press and some of the people affected were asking me where the report from the 'trained investigator' was to be made public. On October the 4th I wrote to Roger Hyde asking for a copy of the report. On the 25thOctober 200 I wrote in confidence to Sir John Harman, putting the facts before him and asking for his, "help/guidance in sorting out - one way or the other- these serious allegations of stress/bullying in the Leeds Lab." I added, "the possibility of an HSE investigation/prosecution hanging over our heads on this one should have focused EA minds and action more than it has done, in my opinion."

 

In a letter dated 25th October Roger Hyde replied to me on this issue in a most strange way. He ignored my request for a copy of the report of the 'trained investigator' on the Leeds Lab. Instead he referred to the Board's national stress policy; a subject I had hardly ever discussed with him. Therefore, I wrote again to Sir John Harman in confidence, on the4th November, saying how "astounded" I was to receive such a reply. I added that, "Frankly I do not know what to make of this comment from Roger Hyde. I now think that there is most probably a cover-up at the Leeds laboratory, and perhaps some of the allegations current and ex-employees make are true. Further, as the responsible manager, I now feel that he is part of it."

 

On the 21st November I received a substantial reply from Sir John Harman. On the question of the report by the "trained investigator" I found Sir John Harman's reply confusing. He stated that Roger Hyde's intention was to give me, "a general update" and that he interpreted my request in such away, "in which he probably should not have done", whatever that means! The simple truth is that I was promised the report of the "trained investigator” and I was never given it. He then went onto detail the background to the Leeds Lab problems. Firstly, he mentioned a 'culture study' of about one year ago, which he offered to let me see, "if you wish." Even he had to admit that, "It is clearly however, not the report which you refer to in your request minuted on the RAP of 4 September." He said that a new manager had now been appointed and that we should now give him the, " time and space to provide the leadership which is clearly required."

 

Although I remained unhappy about Roger Hyde's behaviour, I thought it better to let this pass and look to the future. I replied along these lines to Sir John Harman on the 8thDecember. However, I did request a full copy of the 'culture report' and a progress report on the implementation of its recommendations, if any.

 

On the 15th December Malcolm Cooper, National Laboratory Services Manager, sent me a full copy of the, "late 1999"'Leeds Laboratory Culture Study Report' by Angel Production Training, and full details of actions carried out since that report. He told me that the report had been confidential but that they were, "actively consulting" staff to make it more widely available, "in order to move forward in a spirit of openness and conciliation." The culture study report detailed a quite horrific working environment for both staff and management and it concluded that there is/are, "a history of, and continuing evidence of bullying and inappropriate behaviour in the management and working culture and styles at Leeds Laboratory=E2=80=A6" It made ten recommendations for action, many of which Malcolm Cooper was then implementing.

 

This, I thought, would be the end of a rather nasty, and stressful, period for all concerned. How wrong I was to be!

 

In the early months of 2001 I continued to receive some e-mails and phone calls about alleged stress and bullying problems at the Leeds Lab, which, hoping the above procedure would be implemented, I largely ignored. However, I did take the opportunity of meeting the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector who was investigating the allegations of stress and bullying at the Leeds Lab, in April 2001. I was very impressed, both with his experience and background and with his Knowledge of the occupational stress issue. On the 5th April he had issued a detailed, 3-page letter on the issue of workplace stress to Malcolm Cooper, Manager of the Leeds Lab. He said, in part, "In my opinion there still appear to be remaining residual problems relating to relationships between certain employees and some middle managers=E2=80=A6I advise that a stress survey be carried out in the Leeds Labs=E2=80=A6." This letter gained headlines in the press, such as, "Lab chiefs accused of a hostile culture" (Yorkshire Evening Post, 2nd May) and, "Hostile managers blamed for Environment Agency stress record"(New Civil Engineer, 26th April).

 

Yet again I wrote, with these details, to Sir John Harman on the 15th May 2001 concluding, "As I have said many times before, at the Board and in letters to yourself, as a large government-sponsored organised, with enforcement powers of our own, I feel we should be setting higher standards and not be the subject of such letters from a fellow enforcement agency."

 

On the 5th June 2001 Sir John Harman sacked me as the EA representative for the North East Region of the Environment Agency.

 

 

C. The Byker Incinerator, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

 

"No consideration of the health risks if incineration would be complete without reference to the Byker incinerator in Newcastle. The story is a sobering one: poor operating practices went on for many years and this culminated in the spreading of mixed bottom and fly ash on allotments, footpaths and play areas. This ash was untested but now appears to have had elevated levels of many heavy metals and very high dioxin concentrations. Beyond the direct impact on the local community, this experience has scarred the public's perception of incineration." - paragraph 95, Delivering Sustainable Waste Management, House of Common

Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee, March2001.

 

In May 1999 with the then chair of the Environment Agency (EA), Lord De Ramsey, I raised in writing the issue of the 50 - 177 new incinerators that the Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, had recently announced may be necessary to be built by 2010. I commented, "This is a massive building programme and likely to result in many community actions where such incinerators are planned, with the EA in the middle! There was great concern at the NE Regional Advisory Panel meeting that the EA had not fully considered the implications of this announcement...I was requested to ask you...to request a review paper and discussion at the Board as soon as possible."

 

We discussed the issue of the Byker incinerator at the NE Regional Advisory Panel (RAP) meeting in March 2000, and the issue of the hazards of incinerators in general. I tried to get this issue onto the public part of the Board agenda for their March 15thmeeting, which just happened to be in Durham. I even suggested to Sir John Harman that, "my inclination would be to give the Byker protect group five minutes to present their case to the Board." Sir John Harman informed me that it was too late to alter the arrangements and that, "I appreciate that talking about the specific example of Byker - which is a long running saga - would be of interest to a North Eastern audience, but frankly the Board could not say anything about it in public which would compromise the Agency's authorisation."

 

Instead, he suggested that I bring it up as a general issue, "and we can take it from there" and that the Board discuss "incineration as a whole" later. This the Board did, at it's July 2000 meeting.

 

In May 2000 the leading environmental magazine, ENDS, published (16) an article headed, "Regulatory foul-ups contributed to Byker ash affair. "In essence, the article revealed that the ash from the Byker incinerator, in Newcastle, had been spread over local allotments and paths for a six-year period; 2,000 tonnes over 44sites during 1994 and 1999. This incinerator ash had recently been shown to contain high levels of dioxins and some heavy metals. By May 2000, all the ash had been removed by the company, Cityworks, at a cost of £350-£370,000.

 

It has long been known that the ash left behind from incinerating household waste can be dangerous. For example, in a very significant decision and as long ago as 1994, the US Supreme Court (17) ruled that the ash which remains when household waste is burnt should be considered hazardous and ordered that it by dumped in special landfill sites.  Worryingly, the Byker incinerator ash hazards were only revealed by chance. Local Byker allotment holder, Val Barton, found out by accident, during 1999, that the ash was being spread on the allotments and elsewhere. She informed the EA in August 1999. According to Cityworks' 1993 Integrated Pollution Control (IPC) declaration the incinerator ash was going to landfill. But it wasn't. Further, it was supposed to analyse the ash each year and send the results to the EA. It didn't and the EA never requested the analysis. The ENDS article concluded, "the regulators' own contribution - including their failure to unearth anything amiss during routine inspections of the incinerator - is a significant embarrassment."

 

As the Board's NE representative, covering the Newcastle area, I was very concerned at the EA’s role and I raised this issue at the NE Regional Advisory Panel (RAP) meeting for September 2000. The RAP minutes record that, "Alan Dalton referred to the critical report in ENDS and asked if the Agency intended to carry out an internal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the Byker ash disposal issues. He felt that a person from another Region or independent third party should carry this out. Ian Bonus asked if the Agency had received any legal advice on its obligations towards anyone who may have been harmed by coming into contact with the incinerator ash. Roger Hyde (the EA’s NE Regional Director) said that he was generally satisfied with the Agency's handling of the matter, but he would give further consideration to the issues raised by Alan Dalton and Ian Bonus." In September 2000, in London, I met up with Val Barton and her husband in confidence, to hear the Byker residents story direct. They showed me, and subsequently sent me, a lot of information on the issue: including letters of complaint to the EA and an independent consultants report. I was very impressed with their reasonableness, knowledge and concerns.  One issue they raised that did concern me, because it was not being addressed, was the issue of the hazards to the workers inside the incinerator. It appeared to me that their exposures to dust, dioxins and heavy metals may be much greater. On the 18th September2000 I therefore wrote to the three key national trade unions health and safety officers (Unison, AEEU and GMB) who might have members there, the local Health and Safety Executive and a local Newcastle trade union health and safety unit, the Trade Union Studies Information Unit (TUSIU) with my concerns about worker health at the Byker incinerator.

 

On the 29th September Roger Hyde wrote to me saying that he had heard from the HSE that I had been investigating into Byker and had been speaking to potential witnesses. He outlined the problems this could potentially cause for the EA prosecution and concluded, "At this stage, prior to legal action your involvement in Byker is unhelpful. After the conclusion of the prosecution there will be a post event review on lessons learned. If policy issues are involved it may be appropriate for your views to be sought."

 

On the 4th October I replied to Roger Hyde that my only concern had been that of the potential hazards to the Byker employees and that, "At no time have I expressed any view about the environmental exposures and indeed I have refused to talk to the press on this issues...I take your point about any further contact with the residents, who may be witnesses in the legal action, and I will ensure that I have no further contact with them...until after the results of the EA legal action if any) are known."

 

But I did add, "However, this does not affect a possible internal enquiry into the EA’s own performance. The Residents Association also said...their view of the EA is that we have failed for six years to give the public adequate protection. I am inclined to agree! ...Again, I would ask you to consider an assessment of the EA’s actions (or non actions) by an external agency. There will almost certainly be a Parliamentary Ombudsman enquiry, in any case, on this important issue."

 

On the 25th October Roger Hyde gave me a detailed, and largely technical, reply which concluded, "In effect, therefore, the Duty of Care is intended to be self -regulatory...there is no legislation requiring the Agency to productively ensure that all waste stream from all waste producers are properly and legally dealt with. This would require a huge resource commitment, which is simply not available. With regard to the assessment of the Agency's actions by an external agency, it is my belief that the relevant Ombudsman is the most suitable body to o this. I am confident that the Agency has acted appropriately in this case."

 

I was very unhappy with this legalistic reply, which sought to justify a massive pollution incident, in my view. But, in view of the impending EA prosecution, which I did not want to jeopardise, I felt my hands were tied and my voice muzzled.

 

In December 2000 the EA announced that it was to prosecute Newcastle City Council, with 15 charges, and Contract Heat and Power (who were contracted to run the Byker incinerator), with four charges, under waste regulations.

 

The Byker incinerator continued to gain both local (18) and national headlines, such as The Guardian in February2001, "Dioxins in city may be worst case in UK." The latter was after the release, by Newcastle City Council, of the results of analyses on soil and eggs by Newcastle University, Ergo Research Laboratory in Hamburg and of an independent report, for the local residents association, by environmental scientist Mr Alan Watson. The Council's press release quoted assessments of the data by both the Foods Standards Agency (FSA) and the Environment Agency (EA):

 

FSA: "...the concentrations of dioxins in hen and duck eggs from these allotments are unlikely to have posed a risk to health."

 

EA: "it is unlikely that there are any significant actual health effects arising from the deposit of the ash."

 

However, the full EA report in fact was less definite with regard to the risks (what do the EA know about health in any case?) and actually recommended "further work" to demonstrate the possible hazards and that, "Every effort should be made to continue to reduce exposure from contaminated soil at sites where any contamination remains."

 

In May 2001 there was a fire at the Byker Incinerator plant. According to the local press (19) eye -witnesses reported seeing flames pouring from one of the plant's chimneys. The EA described the incident as, "relatively minor." Members of the local community chained themselves to the plant's gates on the day the HSE visited. In the words of one chained member of the local community, Liz Crocker, "We want them to shut the plant down, to investigate the working practices and carry out toxicity testing...they've been several fires over the years."

 

In May 2001 it was revealed (20) that the EA had checked the records of the original Byker operator, Energy Supplies, who also ran a similar facility of the Isle of Wight. They found two lorry loads of ash, or 18 tonnes, had been used as a sub-base for the car park of the Sunnycrest nursery in Newport.

 

Also in May, Greenpeace released (21) their analysis of EA enforcement data of the 10 municipal waste incinerators operating in England. In the past two years the ten had breached their licence conditions 553 times. None had a clean record and Sheffield’s had a massive 156 breaches. When this report was published the EA Board was meeting in Wales and it was mentioned in passing by Chief Executive, Barbara Young, with precious little comment. But it did cause Greenpeace to occupy, and close for three days, the Sheffield incinerator chimney, as they did with the Edmonton incinerator in October 2000, to draw attention to this 'toxic crime.'

 

In June 2001, I was contacted by union officers, representing the workers at Byker. They claimed that, "It has now come to light that there have been frequent fires in some of the plant machinery that were not reported...Staff who have raised these issues are obviously not just worried about their health but also their jobs if the company finds out who has raised this problem." The information contained a report with a number of serious health and safety and environmental offences claimed. I advised them to contact both the EA and HSE with this information.

 

On the 3rd July 2001, BBC Two's Newsnight programme revealed (22) that 50,000 tones of ash from the Edmonton incinerator in London, had been used to build homes; as well as scattered on allotments, build roads and car parks. The ash was said to contain 343 nanograms of dioxin per kilogram, 60 times the amount found in soil and ten times the amount that should be allowed in construction projects. It was said that ash use had been approved by the Environment Agency. Mr Meacher had asked the EA for an urgent, but confidential, report on where the ash had been used and whether a reply, drafted for him by the EA, had actually deceived Parliament. As a direct result of the Paxman interview the EA stepped up their efforts to locate the toxic incinerator ash.

 

The EA prosecution of both Newcastle City Council and Contract Heat and Power is now scheduled for the 7th August 2001. There is no doubt that the slowness of this EA prosecution has been seen as an obstruction to justice by the local Byker community.

 

In May 2001 Roger Hyde, the EA’s NE Regional Director, wrote, in his annual review of my performance as the EA NE Board Representative, "Alan has created work for me that has been unhelpful and disruptive. E.g., Alan's involvement in the Byker incinerator issues and discussions with local residents when the case is sub-judice." I have dealt more fully with Mr Hyde's allegations elsewhere (see page 00).

 

 Wth regard to the Byker incident I would conclude that, based in my experience of the EA’s lack of concern about their own inactions at Byker, and elsewhere, I have no faith in the EA’s ability to regulate the current domestic and toxic waste incinerators in England and Wales. Let alone the 50 -177 proposed by the Environment Minister, Michael Meacher in 1999.

 

D. The Welbeck Landfill Tip near Wakefield

 

"Rats are seen at the end of the street and squashed in the main road...Seagulls now flock onto the site only yards away, just waiting for he washing to go out...Family Bar-B-Cues are a rarity due to having to swat flies...Walking near or around the Welbeck site is a definite NO NO!! The stench that comes from there is sometimes so disgusting it upsets your stomach for days...This is not to mention the rubbish that escapes the tip on a windy day, TOO MUCH TOOMENTION!!" - letter from a resident near the Welbeck Landfill site to Alan Dalton, December 2000.

 

Since early 1999, when I had first became the EA Board representative for the North East, I had asked the local EA press office for the environmental press cuttings for that region. This was one way to keep in touch with the major environmental issues of concern to the North East. It soon became apparent that there was a lot of hostile press about the EA. Much of this concerned its actions, or more often alleged inactions, around both official waste sites ('landfill') and fly-tipping, incinerators (mainly proposed ones, except for Byker, page 00) and, of course, when there was serious house flooding. The issue of poor EA press was raised several times, by myself and others, at monthly Regional Advisory Panel (RAP) meetings. But the general reply from the EA Regional Director, Roger Hyde, was that the press were only interested in bad news and conflict and that it was very hard to get any praise for the EA’s good work.

 

Then, in August 2000, I received a note from Sir John Harman, attached to a file of correspondence and memos from Mr Paul Dainton, President of the Residents Against Toxic Scheme (RATS) group. These notes mainly concerned complaints about the Welbeck Landfill site that is situated near Wakefield. Sir John's note said, "Would you be able to look into this correspondence on my behalf, please." Although being the EA Board Representative for the North East, up until this time I had not heard of the Welbeck Landfill site, nor RATS.

 

A brief background to the Welbeck Landfill Site

 

The history of the Welbeck Landfill scheme goes back some twenty years, and there has been considerable local council (Wakefield) involvement and problems, that still bedevil the project up until this date. The site covers approximately 300 Hectares and it lies between the River Calder and the Aire and Calder Canal. It was formerly an area of extraction of gravel and sands for many years. The local communities around the site are those of: Altofts, Normanton, Warmfield, Kirkthorpe, Eastmoor, StanleyFerry and Stanley.

 

The landfill site is said to be one of the largest in Europe, with a final capacity of 14 million cubic metres. The site is authorised to take up to I million tones of waste per annum. Currently it receives 400, 000 tonnes per annum, of which around 60% is waste from household collections in and around the Wakefield District. More specifically, figures from the current operator - Waste Recycling Group PLC (WRG) - give the following breakdown of waste from July to September 2000:

 

Type of waste                       tonnes         %

 

Inert                                       10,746            7.8

Household                            86,466          62.5

Industrial/Commercial         40,918          29.6

Special*                                     106            0.07

 

Total:                                  138.26

 

* Of the special waste, 72 tonnes was cement-bonded asbestos and the remaining 34 tonnes was soil contaminated with cable laying oil. It should be noted that the local residents and RATs have challenged these figures saying, in effect, that almost anything could be dumped at the tip and covered over in minutes (see below).

 

The EA involvement

 

"It is this continued denial of any wrong doings at the tip, not by the toxic tip management, but by the Agency that is causing such dismay to the local population." - letter from a Welbeck resident to Alan Dalton, December 2000.

 

It appears that EA involvement started in April 1996, when the Provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 were implemented with the granting of a Waste Management Licence 1647. This was surrendered six months after January 17th 1997, when the site was granted a Waste Management Licence 1558, in accordance with EA policy. This scheme is one of the largest in the country, and the day-to-day regulation of the site takes the time of one full-time equivalent member of EA staff. The site is said to be visited by a member of EA staff, on average, about once a week and many of these visits are said to be unannounced.

 

However, in an undated briefing note for Sir John Harman (written by Mark West, EPO Ridings Area, around 11th September, according to memo from Roger Hyde to SJH, 11th September 2000), it is stated that: "Complaints and unsubstantiated claims made by Mr Dainton / RATS consume a large amount of officer time, the majority of this time is spent repeating statements previously made and constantly going over old ground. To continue the level of service provided to Dainton / RATS especially under the current situation is untenable for the filed team concerned." I am not sure of the exact amount of money the EA receives for the landfill licence, but according to recent figures given to the EA Board it would be around   £25, 500 per annum.

 

On the 27th October 2000 I met with the EA NE Regional Director Roger Hyde and the main EA Officer responsible for this site, EPO Jean-Paul Camus, to discuss the EA’s view on the Welbeck site and RATS allegations. The overall view I was given was that the site was "state of the art". And that there were many worse landfill sites than this one.  There had, of course, been a few minor problems - but it was emphasised that none of these had put the environment at risk. All in all, the EA view was that it was a pretty well run and managed site and one the responded to complaints and issues raised.

 

In addition, Mr Camus sent me the minutes of the Welbeck Community Liaison Committee meetings. I was told that these meetings are required under the planning consent for the site and are not a requirement of the EA’s waste management licence. He told me that these meetings worked pretty well and that he, and other EA officers, always attended them. However, he was not so complimentary about the group Residents Against Toxic Waste Scheme (RATS) and especially Mr Paul Dainton, President of RATS. The EA certainly seem to have done their homework on Mr Dainton, in a briefing note to Sir John Harman, the EA says: "RATS are principally Paul Dainton and a small number of other people who make up the committee... Mr Dainton is retired due to ill health, ie impaired vision following a car accident and he no longer drives a motor vehicle. Mr Dainton is an active member of his community, campaigning on a range of local interest issues and providing grant and benefit to local residents. Mr Dainton has a keen interest in Local History and has at least one local history article published in a local newspaper, the Wakefield Express. During his working life Mr Dainton has worked for Wakefield MDC and was reasonable well known in trade union circles including the NUM..." However, I am not exactly sure of the value, or relevance, of this type of information in an EA report on Welbeck. The main sequence of events and correspondence, both with the EA and RATS is as follows. On the 6th September 2000, at an EA Regional Advisory Panel (RAP) meeting in Leeds, I raised the request of Sir John Harman's memo tome of the 22nd August 2000 to look into the RATS allegation. I said that I would like to meet with members of the RATS organisation (if they agreed). The EA Regional Director, Roger Hyde, indicated to me that he and his members of staff would not like to meet with RATS members, and especially Mr Dainton, as he had abused and intimidated them in the past.

He also suggested that, perhaps, it would not be appropriate for me to meet them either. When I asked for examples of the abuse, apart from    some rather rude letters, none was produced. Mr Hyde did add that his    officers had been phoned up with complaints at the weekend.    Despite these comments, I could not see how I could give Mr Dainton and    RATS a fair hearing without meeting them, nor judge whether he was a    "one man band", as the NE EA briefing had suggested. Or whether he was, in fact, representative of wider community concern.    Therefore, on the 6th September I wrote to NE EA Regional Manager, Roger    Hyde, informing him that I intended to meet RATS and outlining a series    of the main questions / complaints that RATS had complained of, and    asking for an EA response. On the same day I also wrote to Mr Dainton, of RATS, asking to meet him, members of his committee and concerned    residents and whether I had summarised the main complaints against the EA fairly and accurately. On the 9th September I received a reply from    Mr Dainton and RATS, containing a substantial amount of extra    information and accepting my offer of a meeting.    I received a reply on the 21st September from Roger Hyde that suggested    that I did not meet with RATS, "until after you have examined the file    in this office and you and I have met and discussed the RATS concerns."    He added, "Perhaps we can also discuss the wider policy review role you    wish to undertake as a Board Member and we can identify how I can    support you in that." He also enclosed a letter, dated 21st September, presumably drafted by his staff and approved by himself, to Mr Dainton    of RATS that dealt with some of the allegations, but essentially claimed    that all was well with the EA’s actions with regard to this site. On the    4th October I responded in detail to Roger Hyde's letter, but added that    I still intend to meet with RATS members and asking for more    information; in particular the briefing note on this issue he sent to    Sir John Harman on the 11th September; which I had not seen.

 

The RATS meeting of the 6th November 2000

 

At sometime between the 4th October and the 11th September I received a    phone call from Roger Hyde saying that he had been instructed by Sir    John Harman to attend a meeting with myself and some of the local    residents, organised by RATS, on the6th November 2000. This was an    evening meeting of about 40 RATS supporters and local people in the Lee    Brigg Club, near the Welbeck Site.      The meeting, which was mainly of the RATS committee - but semi-public in    the sense that there was a small announcement in the local paper - appeared to be representative of the community. About forty people    attended. Given their concerns and fears it was a very well ordered    meeting. I cannot imagine how EA officers formed the opinion that RATS    is not representative of the community.    There were several members of the official Community Liaison Committee    present. They informed the meeting that this official committee was    weighted heavily towards officials, some of whom councillors with    'vested interests' (ie Wakefield Council has got to get rid of it's    waste somewhere). In addition, it was said that it had no power to act    upon any complaints. The EA view, as I have said, is that this committee    works well.

 

The following text briefly summarises the main issues that were    discussed at the meeting, and in later correspondence with myself from    13 local residents. The meeting was pretty lively at times and it is    therefore possible that I missed one or two of the smaller points made.    The meeting started off with a summary of the main issues of worry to    the community by Mr Paul Dainton, President of RATS: water in whisky    beck; litter from travellers; fly infestations; the illegal tipping of    meat waste on site; the inadequate covering of the tip at night; the    injunction the company had won to keep him (and all RATS members?) off    the site; the unfair attack on him by Sir John Harman for his quoting of    the Yorkshire Post article critical of the EA; standing water on the    site (accompanied by photos); litter off the site that pollutes the    river; the problems of seagulls, rats and foxes; the noise from    fireworks to frighten off the seagulls; the fact that the site wheel    washer was inoperative for two months recently and finally, the problems    of 'gas flare off' that may continue until 2003.    In the following discussions, the conclusions of the Philips committee    on BSE were quoted several times. In particular the role of government    'protectors' and officials (especially MAFF, and the EA sponsorship by    MAFF was noted!) and the weakness of scientific opinion and uncertainty.    The comments at this meeting made me go off and purchase a copy of the    Phillips report (All 16 volumes! Fortunately, 14of these are on CD) and    start to read it.    Several speakers referred to the study by Dr Helen Dolk, and many    others, of the risk of congenital abnormalities near hazardous-waste    landfill sites (The Lancet, August 1998). Several people at the meeting    considered strongly that the Dolk study re-enforced the 'precautionary    principle'. "Should the EA be allowing the co-disposal of hazardous and    domestic wastes at landfill sites near homes?” they asked.    There was a lot of anger about what was considered deceit in that the    local council had promised that domestic waste only would go into the    site, and now special and toxic waste was allowed. Indeed, the very week    of the meeting a local homeowner had been given £1,000 compensation by    Wakefield Council, as the result of the Local Ombudsman investigation.    This was awarded to him because a council leaflet, when he first bought    his house, had assured him that, "nothing the public views as toxic    waste will be dumped on this site." This person spoke at the meeting, and the award made front page news in the local paper, The Normanton    Express.

 

There was also concern and confusion over the proposed use of methane    from the tip for power generation. Until this was ready, the proposal to    'burn-off' of the methane was causing some concern and fear. And the    issue of greenhouse gases was raised.        "Exactly how much recycling goes on at the tip?” was asked. It was    claimed to be very little and that, sometimes, gypsies stole the little    that was recycled, as the security on the site was weak.

 

There were allegations that you can practically dump what you like and    it will be covered over in minutes. And great anger that the company    apparently monitor themselves. "Just how many chemists do check the    loads?", was one question. I was not sure how we monitored just what    does (or doesn't) go into this tip; and nor did Roger Hyde seem know at    the meeting. There were allegations of dust (over one mile away), noise    - from fireworks used to frighten the seagulls - (a failure, in any    case, it was claimed) and reversing vehicles and allegations of bad    odours from the site. Also, anger that the sampling for dust is done by    the company and, "only at the site fences."        

 

There was great concern about the seagulls and other scavengers (e.g.    rats and foxes). It was claimed that they are feeding on the waste and    their droppings go all over the local area, onto people and children and their homes, and are they 'toxic'? The possible effects and distortion    on the local wildlife and ecology, by the flocks of gulls, was also    raised by the keen bird-watchers present.  There were many claims of    rubbish from the site (sometimes going into and blocking the local    river). It was claimed that the council have put pressure on the site to    keep open, even when windy, because their domestic waste trucks have to    go somewhere. The sheer volume of the number of large, and often    dirty (it was claimed), trucks was an issue.      It was also alleged that the washer that cleaned the trucks had been    recently inoperative for two months. Some trucks were said uncovered    and others going through the centre of Wakefield (as a short cut) were    leaving a dirt ("that smells like raw sewage at times") and mess trail.    The issue of flies was raised. It was admitted not to be such a problem    this year as in the summer of 1999 - when even the EA admitted there was    a problem. There was anger at the changing of the covering layer    (Carfraginstead of colliery waste?), without information, consultation    or discussion, and some people thought they were being experimented    with. There are most probably good reasons to change the cover, especially in view of the above complaints, but these should have been    explained publicly, and approved by the EA, first.    I often thought, when listening to this meeting of residents, how useful    it would be to have a break-down of how often an EA inspector visits    this site; the breakdown of announced / unannounced visits and what s/he    actually does during a visit.    After the meeting, to try and ensure that I gained as wide a view as    possible, I wrote to the local paper, The Normanton Express, to ask    whether there were any more local views from people - good or bad- who    could not attend the meeting. By the 15th December 2000 I had received    13 letters, many with detailed comments, but all worried about various    aspects of the site, that are included in the discussion below. I also    received a reply from the Managing Director of the Northern Region of    Waste Recycling Group plc, who are responsible for running the site.

 

The EA’s response- part 1

 

In December 2000 I outlined most of the above and sent this, together    with the following recommendations, for comment to the EA Regional    Director, Roger Hyde; before I made my report to Sir John Harman. My recommendations were:

 

1.        The Environment Agency, from the top down, needs to encourage more public accountability among its staff. There are a growing number of groups, like RATS, around landfills, incinerators, chemical plants and soon. The BSE scandal, involving bland reassurances to the public, has, and continues to have, a big impact. The public are less and less likely to be accept reassurances from EA staff by phone and letter and will require a human presence at meetings who can give firm answers. This has become even more apparent after the recent floods, where the EA, in the North East, has been heavily criticised for refusing to attend public meetings. There was some evidence that, in this case, EA staff found dealing with angry and concerned residents who live around the site very stressful. At the Industry Board Advisory Group a few weeks ago, we heard how two EA officers were "stressed out of their heads" by one complainant around a contentious site (not Welbeck). Clearly EA staff need help, training and support to carryout effective community liaison.

 

                Such an approach has big implications for training and resources of EA staff.

 

2.        There needs to be a simple general guidance as to who does what in the control of landfill sites. What can be expected (just what do EA Officers do?), what monitoring should be carried out, what complaints are acceptable, how should be organised and so on. Some of the issues discussed above need further research. I was shown some correspondence, from the City of Wakefield, that advised some letters between the 'Welbeck: Whiskey Beck" operator and the EA were "copyright", but that they could be inspected at the EA's public file. Surely such documents can be made available to the public, even if a reasonable copying fee has to be charged?

 

3.        The right of an EA Board member and regional representative to investigate such issues, whether or not asked to by the EA chair, needs to be clarified.

 

4.        I would like answers to the above questions, as far as is possible, that the community have posed. I will meet the company (they have contacted me). Roger Hyde and I promised to return to the community hall; to 'face the music'. Hopefully, with company representatives, local council officers / elected representatives and the EA Officers responsible for the site.

 

5.        I feel very strongly that this report should be made public. It should also be sent to EA Board members, members of the Urban Environmental Advisory Group and NE Regional RAP members. Because of the EA culture change required and the resource implications, the general approach I recommend will require debate at a future EA Board meeting."

 

I concluded by saying that, "If we cannot regulate a massive 'state of the art' landfill site, like Welbeck- effectively, transparently, with public and government confidence and operator co-operation- then I fear for the safety and health of all communities around all the other landfill sites. "

 

In January 2001 Roger Hyde replied that, "the report appears to be factually correct." He agreed that we should return to meet the residents sometime, but he felt that, "We should be supporting (the official liaison group) and encouraging RATS to do the same." He added that, "RATS objective, I believe, is to close the site. So I question whether the Agency will ever be able to satisfy their concerns." However, at the meeting we both went to - and somewhat to my surprise - there was no demand to close the site, nor have I seen it in any RATS correspondence.

 

He repeated his view that the EA regards the site as, "well managed" but added that,  "because of the history of the development of the site, that is now much larger than ever intended, accepts toxic waste which was never originally intended and, given that it is in the centre of a major housing development and has many years of life left, then perhaps Waste Recycling Group should ensure they improve the site from 'well managed' to 'excellently managed'."

 

I also suggested to him that EA should be more open and accountable, but I also recognised that this would involve more EA resources. He replied that, "The theory of a more open and collaborative approach is fine and in accord with the spirit of the EA’s Vision for the Environment. However, as you know I have major concerns about lack of resources to do the existing job...You will appreciate that there are in the region of two thousand five hundred active landfill sites throughout England and Wales, many of which are less well managed than Welbeck. The regulatory work we undertake cover not only waste intake, but also leachate, gas, surface water and groundwater. We need to encourage more self-regulation to be carried out by the company." In late January 2001 I sent a copy of my report, and Roger Hyde's comments, to Sir John Harman. He replied in some detail in March. He said, at first, "I am grateful for the trouble you have taken in producing it. It highlights a number of important generic points which need to be addresses at Board level; a couple of these, perhaps unsurprisingly given their topical importance are already in preparation...but let us start with the specific local issues and complaints which you had a look at for me." "I am sorry to say that I was disappointed with this part of the response.... I needed an objective evaluation of how the Agency was dealing with Mr Dainton's complaints, couched as they are in an aggressive and rhetorical style, a point which you will know I have made directly to Mr Dainton in correspondence."

 

He then dealt with the site specific issues where he said, "The conclusions are clear." These were:

 

·         Meat waste, flies, litter, odour, dead fish in the canal basin, monitoring of site leachate, and the Whiskey Beck; "the evidence demonstrates that the Agency officers have responded effectively to complaints raised."

·         "The Agency's regulation of the site is good and given the amount of resources available, and our staff are well trained and motivated."

·         "I am satisfied that the officers have been diligent in communicating their conclusions to RATS via MrDainton."

·         "I am certain you are right when you observe that those who attended the meeting at the Lee Brigg Club had genuine and deeply felt concerns, but whether they are well informed or not is a completely different matter. You will I sure be aware that one of my concerns when I first sent you this correspondence was to know how much reliance to place upon the claims made by Mr Dainton on behalf of the RATS group."

·         "The monitoring results for all these areas (groundwater, surface water, leachate, leachate sumps, leachate holding lagoons and landfill gas as well as settlement and void space) are a matter of public record.... our auditing has not provided any evidence to suggest non-compliance."

·         "Monitoring for dust and noise is the responsibility of the Local Authority covered by the planning consent for the site."

·         "The site inspections not discovered any 'contrary' waste being accepted on site, it looks as if the allegations that you can 'dump what you like' on the site are incorrect."

·         "Your report suggests the Council has put pressure on the site to keep it open when it might not have been appropriate. The Agency officers are unaware of any such pressure...I am told that the operators have close the site on 11 occasions in the last quarter and complied with the requirements of the licence."

·         Although there have been litter problems in the past, and there have been notices served by the Agency," the Agency is satisfied with the infrastructure employed by the site to mitigate waste."

·         "Site visits are (mostly) unannounced...they seem to be at least weekly", with additional visits made as a result of meetings, engineering compliance or complaint investigation.

·         "In the light of all of this I have concluded that the site is in fact well regulated in the context of large UK co-disposal sites and the site is reasonable well run. We need to support the judgement of the Executive and the site inspector."

 

He then went on to consider the 'generic issues’, which were:

 

·         "Identifying "contrary" waste is part of the task of the inspector when observing operations at the working face of the tip...Is there a better way of checking on the process?"

·         "The claims that the Agency refused to provide copies of correspondence between the operator and the Agency, which were otherwise available for public inspection, on the grounds that copyright could have been breached, have worried me for sometime..."

·         "I agree that the Agency needs to give more thought to the general question of local accountability, consultation and of information around contentious sites..."

·         "I think that there is reasonable clarity about who does what on landfill sites...Perhaps the Board (needs) to spend some time, perhaps in the context of a visit, to explore and fully understand what 'well regulated' means in these circumstances."

·         "The role of Regional Board Members (RMBs) had been addressed by the National Meeting of RBMs."

·         "There is a further point which I think the Board needs to consider, and that is whether current research will be able to establish any correlation between the location of hazards waste landfills and the risk of congenital abnormalities. This research is part-sponsored by the Agency and we await its outcome..."

·         "You say that you feel that your report should be made public. I hardly think that is possible, or indeed appropriate...because it does not present an evaluation of the effectiveness of the Agency's regulation of the site. It was intended to be internal advice to me; I think it should remain as such."

·         "I think the Agency needs to produce a update document on Welbeck based on the complaints received, your comments, and the various responses which have been made to me over the last couple of weeks."

 

Frankly, I was very dissatisfied with this answer. Sir John Harman then told me that I could meet with him, and the EA’s chief executive, Barbara Young, within the next few weeks to discuss the issue. So I left it at that for the time being. But I did send a letter to RATS, and the 13 additional people who had written to me, apologising for the long time taken in investigating their complaints.

 

In the meantime, I took the opportunity to meet the other two key players in the Welbeck Landfill site: the operators, WRG and the local council, The City of Wakefield Metropolitan District Council.

 

Waste Recycling Group PLC (WRG).

 

WRG claims to be Britain's biggest landfill operator, with some 64 sites. It disposes of 10m tonnes of waste each year. In the year2000 they made pre-tax profits of £37.5m on sales of £175.2m; up from £28.6m and £139.3m respectively in 1999.

 

I must say that WRG have been very open with me and tried to answer my questions as best as they can. From their first contact with me, in December 2000, they have been aware that, "It is vital that WRG not only operates the site in accordance with its regulatory approvals, but is seen to be doing so in the wider, public area."

 

In early February 2001, WRG arranged for me a detailed visit to the Welbeck Landfill site. They answered my questions about the site and raised one or two of their own (e.g. consistency of EA inspections on Landfill sites, delay time in WRG site managers getting EA inspection reports, pressure from councils to tip on windy days, delays in processing licence applications and the need for a 'non-confrontational EA/company forum' to raise these issues) which I immediately sent to Roger Hyde, the EA Regional Director, and he dealt with by meeting senior representatives of all the waste industry in the North East.

 

To return to the Welbeck site. After the site visit, I put in writing to WRG, in February 2001, some of the major complaints from the residents living around the site and RATS had made to me. They replied promptly in early March. Below are a summary of the key questions I asked and WRGs replies:

 

·         There were complaints that the Community Liaison Committee was too dominated by councillors (whose agenda was to get the council rubbish tipped) and nothing was done as a result of complaints made at these meetings.

·         WRG replied., "In out view the liaison committee is very representative of the local community...it is untrue to say that nothing gets done at these meetings, we always try to deal with people's concerns, but sometimes we cannot deal with issues beyond our control."

·         It was claimed that it was possible to dump anything at Welbeck; all the monitoring is a paperwork exercise.

·         WRG replied, ""It is true the correct paperwork has to be in place, but we also conduct on site checks every tenth load by inspecting the load on the tipping face to ensure that it is in accordance with the paperwork (the number of non-compliance that occur is less than 1 in 100)...The Agency can of course at any time inspect loads of waste to ensure they comply to the licence."

·         The sampling for dust, noise, water pollution etc. is distrusted because the company do it themselves.

·         WRG replied, "All monitoring of water, noise and dust is regularly taken by independent consultants. Some of the samples are off site and all results are on the public register...All results are within the statutory parameters prescribed within the statutory consents applicable to the site."

·         People asked why 'toxic waste' and not just household waste was dumped at the site.

·         WRG replied, "The site is licensed to take small quantities of Special and Difficult waste...we will continue our right to accept this waste."

·         Why do waste wagons go through the town of Normanton?

·         WRG replied, "There is no weight or other vehicle restriction in the town or any constraint in the planning consent or waste management licence. However, as good practice, we do ask our customers to use the by-pass..."

·         Why was a new form of covering (Car 'frag') used without discussion with the residents?

·         WRG replied, "This has been used for some time and has been approved by the Agency...we cannot consult on every issue..."

·         There were many complaints about the Seagulls and their droppings.

·         WRG replied, "There are from time to time seagulls as well as other birds on the site and we do deploy a number of measures to control them. I am not aware that their droppings are 'toxic' but as with all bird droppings (not necessarily from the Welbeck site) they may be considered a nuisance. I am not aware that seagulls have any effect on the local bird population."

·         There were complaints of growth in foxes and rats scavenging on the site.

·         WRG replied, "We have a number of vermin control measures in place, ie fly and rodent management contracts with specialist companies as well as our own fly control equipment. I am not aware nor have we been made aware of any increase in the rat and fox population."

·         There were complaints about flies, especially last summer.

·         WRG replied, "it is true to say we did receive a number of complaints relating to odour and flies. We increased the frequency of fly spraying and used an odour control material to reduce any escape of odours off site."

·         What are the hazards of gas flare off?

·         WRG replied, Currently no gas is being flared off at the site...we expect that towards the end of this year a gas collection and flaring scheme will be introduced...in consultation with the Agency.. to generate electricity... The gas produced from site such as Welbeck is typically half carbon dioxide and half methane. When it is either flared or burnt in an engine it is contained within the combustion chamber and does not escape to the local environment."

·         How much recycling takes place on the tip?

·         WRG replied, "The site currently accepts approximately 10, 000 tones a year (of green garden waste) of which 90% is recycled for use in restoration projects...we can do more, but this is up to Wakefield Council..."

·         It was claimed that security was lax on the site.

·         WRG replied, "The site is as secure as we can make it and to reinforce this issue we have recently obtained planning consent to erect a larger fence around the site. The site does however have some rights of way across it so total security is impossible..."

·         It was asked why Mr Paul Dainton was banned from the site by a Court order.

·         WRG replied, "Mr Dainton has an open invitation to visit the site at anytime by appointment with the company. We do have an injunction against him for trespassing...without consent and unaccompanied...for health and safety reasons as well as being in contravention of our site licence."

 

 

I also asked WRG whether they would agree to attending a public meeting to discuss an EA report on the Welbeck Site. They replied that, "In principle however, we would be prepared to attend a (public) meeting providing it was both constructive and not just another opportunity to raise issues that have already been adequately addressed on other occasions."

 

 

Wakefield Council

 

In April 2001 I met with the officers responsible for the Welbeck Landfill site, at the City of Wakefield Metropolitan Districts Council (Wakefield Council, WC). I followed this meting up in writing to confirm some of the issues raised. Their reply to my questions were as follows:

 

·         I asked about the 'toxic waste' problem at the site.

·         WC replied, "It is not possible to talk about the site accepting or not accepting 'toxic' waste, as there is no general agreement as to what constitutes such waste...(but)...if the company decide (under the EU Landfill Directive) that the site is to become a non-hazardous site, then some of the local residents may not be so concerned."

·         I asked whether it was possible to control the waste wagons travelling through Normanton.

·         WC replied, "At the meeting it was stated that there are no planning powers to constrain vehicles to use certain routes to the Welbeck landfill site. Traffic Regulation Orders could be used to restrict vehicle using certain roads but this affects all vehicles, not just those using Welbeck, and due consideration has to be given to vehicle delivering food, supplies, collecting waste etc. in Normanton."(there emphasis)

·         I asked whether the council put pressure on the site to accept domestic waste on windy days.

·         WC replied, "WRG entered into a contract with the Council for the provision of a waste disposal service. If the company has a question about the interpretation of contract requirements they should raise the matter with the Council's Authorised Officer for the contract."

·         I asked whether the Council's recycling policy was going to change?

·         WC replied, "The Councils' current recycling rate is about 4%. To meet the Government's new targets, like all local authorities, we will have reach 10% by 2003/4 and 18% of all waste by2005/6. The Council is hoping to introduce garden waste recycling trials later this year as its first step in working towards increased recycling rates."

 

I also asked them whether they would be prepared to attend a public meeting to discuss an EA report on the Welbeck site. They replied, "It has been determined that a draft of the report should be seen before the Council decides whether to be represented at the meeting and who the representatives(s) should be."

 

The Environment Agency response - part 2

As I mentioned above, Sir John Harman and Baroness Barbara Young agreed to meet me to discuss the Welbeck issue. This meeting took place just before the Board meeting in Blackpool, in early March 2001. After some discussion I was told that an EA report on the Welbeck site would be prepared and sent to the local MP Bill O' Brien, "in about six weeks".

It would also be made public at that time, to, in the words of Baroness Young, "draw a line" under the issue. Sir John Harman said that he felt I should see a copy of the report before publication.

 

In May I wrote to Sir John Harman to find out what had happened to the report. He told me that Roger Hyde and Archie Robertson had now completed the report for Bill O'Brien and he asked Mr Robertson to send me a copy. In the middle of May I received an undated and unsigned, 9-page report entitled, Welbeck Landfill Site-position statement.

This report, more or less, just repeated the same EA points outlined above, with the aided claim that, "It is the Agency's view that the local pressure group's overall aim is to force the Agency to close the site permanently, I had never seen this raised in any RATS correspondence, nor was it - somewhat to my surprise, I might add – ever raised at the public meeting I attended. Not surprisingly, part of RATS response in July 2001 (when they were officially given the report!) was to say, "It is NOT our overall aim, nor ever has been, to close this site."(their emphasis). Again I must agree with them, and wonder again just how the EA can get it so wrong?

 

Seagull Shit!

I do not think the EA has addressed the concerns of the residents, nor treated them with the respect they deserve. To give just one final example: the issue of Seagull shit. This was of great concern to many of the local residents that I spoke to, especially in view of the fact that it may even be 'toxic'; from the toxic waste allowed to be dumped on the site. As I have said above, they claimed their houses, cars, gardens and sometimes them and their children were covered in seagull shit!

Even the company admitted in person, but not in writing I note, that there was a major problem from seagulls over many of their sites. And this is no secret! The EA produces leaflets on landfill sites and waste management, and over many of them fly, like flags, flocks of gulls. This, of course, was true for the Welbeck Site.

 

Gulls live 20 years, can have wing spans of over one metre and can be very aggressive; especially during the breeding season, from late March to early August. There have been several reports of people being attacked (23) and even driven from their homes (24) by aggressive gulls. Whilst the overall gull population is in rapid decline, the urban population of herring gulls and black-backed gulls is rising (23) by as much as 20 per cent per year; due mainly to easy pickings from landfill sites and waste from fast food outlets.

 

So, I was intrigued by an EA Site Inspection Report for the Welbeck site, dated December 2000 which said, "Sea gulls were being controlled - 2 flares were used whilst I was on site." I wanted to speak to the EA Officer, but they had moved on, they are clearly not in overall control on this site (as even management admit), and there have even been complaints about the noise of explosions used to scare the gulls. Could it have been just co-incidence that two flares were let off when the EA Officer was present?

 

Getting no response from the EA, I sought advice from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), who replied in July 2001. They, understandably, were worried about the decline of herring gulls by 40% during the past 25 years. They were concerned about the status of five species of gulls, two of who are regular visitors to landfill sites. In general, they felt, "there is a reasonable amount of information available for landfill managers to assess the risk and take appropriate action...There is minimal evidence that gulls are causing significant and wide spread problems as a result of their scavenging...The RSPB is open to discussing idea about future management strategies if there is a strong view that gulls are becoming an increasing problem and that the techniques advocated are not proving effective. However, for the moment, it is not a priority for the Society."

The residents living around the Welbeck landfill site- and I suspect many others, if asked - would disagree I am sure! The EA are not taking this issue seriously, locally or nationally.

 

Conclusions

 

"Every promise given to local residents has been broken, at consultation meetings the Environment Agency promised us the world, now we are told that you cannot eliminate all litter around a tip, you have to expect some dust, we don't need to consult on changes to the licence and as for the Seagulls - that seem determined to paint the area white with their toxic dropping - the Agency refuses to even discuss the issue." – letter from a local resident to Alan Dalton, December 2000.

 

I clearly cannot deal with all the issues raised by the residents living around the Welbeck landfill site, many of which seem justified to me and some, perhaps, not. But there are some general and specific lessons to be learned from this case study.

 

1. General:

 

·         Why will the EA not accept that Paul Dainton, and RATs, are fully representative of many of the community concerns?

·         Why does the EA insist that RATS, and the community, want the site shutdown; when there is no evidence for such a statement?

·         Whilst the Community Liaison Committee (not required by the EA licence, it should be noted) may be effective in the long term, it is currently not working as expected and is in need of re-constitution and ensuring effectiveness. In the words on one long standing member, "The liaison group is made up of more councillors and officers that have vested interests than it is by the public. I feel that it is more of a public relations exercise.."

·         What have the EA not made more effort to get the other key players - the company running Welbeck, WRG, and Wakefield Council- together to discuss the common problems in public?

·         The EA should produce a simple guide,, that is update as required, for each landfill (and other) contentious site of: what they are responsible for, what the do / measure / monitor (compared to the standard); how often they do it and what the results are.

 

All the above questions are examples of the EA not communicating properly and trying to address the fully justified concerns of local people living around the Welbeck landfill site. And, I would add, not fully communicating with either the company running the site, WRG, nor Wakefield Council. The government (25) has fully supported the European Council's 'Aarhus Convention of 1998.

The Aarhus Convention gives the public three rights:

 

·         The right to obtain information on the environment,

·         The right to justice in environmental matters, and

·         The right to participate in decisions that affect the environment.

 

You, the Environment Minister, has said (25), "The Aarhus Convention is a subject in which I take a great personal interest...We all believe that by being more open, we can make decisions that improve the quality of life for everyone."

 

2. Specific:

·         What exactly does go into the site? I am not satisfied that the company, nor the EA, really do monitor the loads and their contents effectively.

·         Why is 'special' or 'toxic waste' still being dumped at the site? It causes a lot of worry and fear and at only 0.07% of the total it cannot contribute too much to the landfill's profits.

·         What actually come off the site, who measures it, who audits the company (or their consultants) measurements and how often, where are the samples taken, what are the standards and all this information should be presented in a readily readable form. I saw four large boxes of highly technical reports about the Welbeck landfill site, presented as 'the public record' at a local EA office. There was no EA summary of this information - and it's significance - available, to my knowledge. This may fulfil the letter of 'public information' but not the spirit.

·         Why cannot the EA, Wakefield Council and WRG get together and deal with the issue of dirty/large lorries going through the local towns? (especially Normanton)?

·         Why doesn't the EA recognise Seagulls as a problem (this is a national issue)?

 

In May 2001, as part of my annual assessment as the EA Board NE representative, Roger Hyde, the EA’s Regional Director, wrote, "Alan has created work for me that has been unhelpful and disruptive e.g. Involvement with RATS at Welbeck Landfill site that undermines the EA staff and the formal consultative machinery organised by the landfill operator and Wakefield Metropolitan District Council." I have dealt more fully with Mr Hyde's allegations elsewhere (page 00). But it should be remembered that it was Sir John Harman, chair of the EA, who first asked me to look into the RATS allegations.

 

This has been a very long and time-consuming investigation, almost a year now. But, as one of the largest landfill sites in Europe, I felt it was worth the time and effort. And still I do not feel satisfied that the EA has listened to the people, who live around the Welbeck Landfill site, and taken their views seriously. Nor do I do not feel that I can say that this site is 'well regulated' - whatever that means – it may or may not be on the evidence that I have seen. And, accepting the EA’s views that this is one of the better regulated of some 2,500 active landfill sites in England and Wales, what does that say for the rest?

 

As the Phillips report (26) on BSE concluded:

 

·         To establish credibility, it is necessary to generate trust.

·         Trust can only be based on openness.

·         The importance of precautionary measures should not be played down on the grounds that the risk is unproved.

·         The public should be trusted to respond rationally to openness.

·         Scientific investigation of risk should be open and transparent.

 

A recent (27) survey of risk regulators in government departments (especially health) concluded, that, "Where people are involved in the decision-making process, they are also more inclined to take responsibility for the outcome. These benefits translate into greater public trust of government and risk regulators."  

 

Notes:

 

1. Consensus Kills, 2000.

2. Report A9/1995; see also my book, Safety, Health and Environmental Hazards at the Workplace, Cassell (1998), page 64.

3. Ref 1, especially appendix 1; Parliamentary Ombudsman, A.32/95; The Observer, May 1998, "Civil Servants are Told to turn 'spy.'"

4. Dee Catchment - waste minimisation project; a case study of 14 companies who saved between them £4.55 million per annum; with the promise of another £1.2 million per annum identified.

5. 20th December 2000.

6. Producer Responsibility, The Environmental Forum, 21stMarch 2000.

7. 22nd March 2000.

8. www.projectclever.com

9. Delivering Sustainable Waste Management, Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee, HC 36-I, 14thMarch 201.

10. Revitalising Health and Safety, DETR/HSC, June 2000;viii, page 18 and Action Point 18, page 27.

11. Agency fell through HSE net, Damian Arnold, New Civil Engineer, page 8, 26th April 2001.

12. Vibration- a workers' guide to the health hazards and their prevention, AJP Dalton, British Society for Social Responsibility in Science, (1977).

13. HSE Campaigns to Reduce Vibration from Tools, Press Release, 10th April 2001 and many other publication from: www.hse.gov.uk.

14. Workplace Pollution Prevention, TGWU, 1999.

15. Stress at Work, Labour Research Department (1988).

16. "Regulatory foul-ups contributed to Byker ash affair. "ENDS Report 304, pages 17-18, May 2000.

17. Incinerator Ash, Fact Pack P008, Centre for Health, Environment and Justice, PO Box 6806, Falls Church, VA 22040, USA.

18. Local residents remain fearful of dumped Byker ash, ENDS Report 313, page 18, February 2001.

19. Plant Protest, Newcastle and Evening Chronicle, 14th May2001.

20. Byker firm used fly/bottom ash beneath Isle of Wight car park, ENDS Report 316, page 19, May 2001.

21. Incinerator breaches go unpublished, Paul Brown, The Guardian, 22nd May 2001.

22. Meacher orders inquiry into Agency over Edmonton ash affair, ENDS Report 318, page 14, July 2001.

23. Seagull army invades inland towns, The Observer, 25th June 2000.

24. Widow dive-bombed by seagulls has to move out, Daily Mail, page 39, 4th July 2001.

25. Public Participation in Making Local Environmental Decisions – the Aarhus Convention Newcastle Workshop, DETR, July2000.

26. The BSE Enquiry (the Phillips report), Volume 1,Findings and Conclusions, page 266, The Stationery Office, October2000.

27. Risk Communication and Public Health, edited by Peter Bennett and Kenneth Calman, page 203, Oxford University Press, 2001.

 

 

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Ralph Ryder

Communities Against Toxics

PO Box 29

Ellesmere Port

Cheshire UK

CH66 3TX

Email   ralph.ryder@communities-against-toxics.org.uk

            ralph.ryder@tcpublications.freeserve.co.uk

Tel/Fax 0151 339 5473

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