Agency applies 'fit and proper' rules in revocation

The Environment Agency is beginning to make greater use of its powers to revoke waste management licences. The Agency has revoked fewer than 20 licences since 1996 in relation to compliance or pollution problems, but six have been revoked so far this year - including the first where the stated grounds were that the holder was not "fit and proper".

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the Agency can revoke a licence where the holder has ceased to be a "fit and proper person" or where continuation of activities would cause pollution or harm which could not be avoided through licence conditions.

In December, data supplied to ENDS by the Agency revealed that only one licence was revoked in the Agency's first five years (see table). However, some 37 licences have since been revoked at 34 sites.

The data - which took the Agency three weeks to provide - may not be robust. But it appears that no licences have been revoked in Wales and possibly none in the Midlands.

Ten licences were revoked because the holder died or the company was dissolved. In a further six cases the licence fees were unpaid and in one case the firm abandoned the site.

In 13 cases, licences were revoked because the holder failed to comply with licence conditions. In another three , they were revoked "following compliance notices where the required steps were not taken", and in one case for "continued pollution".

The first ever revocation on the grounds that the holder was not a "fit and proper person" came in November. The operator of a Merseyside waste transfer station was convicted at Liverpool Crown Court in October of a string of waste burning offences. He went on to appeal unsuccessfully against the Agency's decision to revoke the licence.

The site was closed after the Agency removed 100 tonnes of illegally dumped waste, including wood, tyres and commercial waste. The operator, John McCaffrey, was given a three-year conditional discharge and ordered to pay costs of over £30,000.

Two-thirds of revoked licences were held by transfer station operators, scrapyards or vehicle dismantlers. The rest were held by landfill operators, physico-chemical treatment plants and a biological treatment plant dealing with waste oil.

The only well known name on the list is chemical waste treatment firm Premiere Environmental. In 1997, the Agency prohibited the solidification of solvent waste at its Westbury works in Wiltshire and banned all waste materials from being brought onto the site. The following year, Premiere was prosecuted by the Agency and the Health and Safety Executive (ENDS Report 281, p 54 ). The company subsequently went bust - leaving the Westbury site's landowner a £2.4 million clean-up bill.

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