Appearing before Woking magistrates on 22 April, WRG pleaded guilty to breaching the waste management licence at its Thorpe composting facility in Chertsey, Surrey, contrary to section 33(6) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. It was fined £3,000, with £2,612 costs.
On 17 May last year, the Environment Agency received two complaints from nearby residents, saying the smell from the site was so bad that they had been forced to close their doors and windows. The residents lived around 100 metres from the site.
An Agency officer visited the site and decided that the smell was indeed "offensive". The facility's odour suppression system - involving a mist of odour controlling chemicals - was not working properly.
Paul Tomes, WRG's managing director, says the smell was caused by the windrows being a "little bit dry", but added that employees who were turning the windrows at the time did not deem it unpleasant. "Odour is very subjective," he said. "It's difficult to judge at what point odour slips from being not offensive to offensive. But, obviously, we regret what happened. "
On 11 December, the Agency received a repeat complaint from one of the residents. An officer visited the site and decided that the smell was again "offensive and persistent". WRG asked for this complaint to be taken into consideration by the magistrates.
The site, which drew complaints from five nearby villages during the three years WRG ran it, closed on 30 April. Mr Tomes says this was due to it being "a very difficult operation to manage" so close to housing. The planning consent expires next year, and WRG did not expect it to be renewed.
Mr Tomes believes that the problem will not recur at any of WRG's other open composting sites. The Thorpe facility is exceptionally close to housing, and other sites have improved moisture controls.