‘Rancid’ landfill’s odour management plan revised ten times in nine years

A landfill site close to Belfast, subject to an enforcement action and at the centre of a legal dispute over its regulation, has had its odour management plan revised repeatedly, according to reports.

Alpha Waste Management’s Mullaghglass site, one of only six landfills across Northern Ireland, has a number of parallels with the notorious Walleys Quarry landfill in Newcastle-under-Lyme. Close to housing, locals describe being “trapped indoors with the windows shut due to the rancid stench”, which “fouls the air for miles around”. A protest group has been formed in response.

The facility, formerly a basalt quarry, lies five kilometres north of Lisburn. It covers 22 hectares and has a capacity of 2m cubic metres, being licensed to accept just under 300,000 tonnes of non-hazardous waste per year.

“By working in close step with the regulatory authorities and adhering to the highest industry standards, residents and local businesses can rest assured that their waste is managed in the correct way,” says the firm’s website.

Belfast City Council disagrees, having imposed an abatement notice in May, following prolonged complaints over the smell. Made under section 65 of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, it instructed Alpha to stop the nuisance odour, though the firm said it would appeal, stating that it complied with all conditions in its permit, investigated any complaints and was committed to being a good neighbour.

In a statement to ENDS, the firm said it will be pursuing the appeal "in the coming months", and that it is working its way through the courts.

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and Public Health Agency (PHA) made a joint inspection of the site the same month. It was found to be operating lawfully, though the environmental regulator committed to carrying out daily odour checks in the surrounding area. The PHA said that the landfill did not present a threat to physical health.

Councillors approved a plan to take legal action against the Northern Ireland Environment Agency the month before. The motion to do so was brought by Sinn Féin councillor Daniel Baker, who lives in and represents one of the areas affected by the odour.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid for my own health and that of my children. Christmas really brought it home for me, it was one of the clearest days we had in ages and the kids went out to play with their toys — but I had to bring them in because of the smell,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

In a story published on Monday, the newspaper revealed that Mullaghglass’s odour management plan has been revised ten times over the past nine years. The first was in  March 2012, the most recent one agreed by the NIEA in March.

SDLP Belfast councillor Brian Heading said it “beggars belief” that the issue had been going on for so long.

“I have asked the NIEA to provide me with full details of these odour management plans but have been informed it is not possible at this time due to staffing issues. I would call on them to provide the information as soon as possible so we can establish exactly what action was taken to try and address this long-standing issue and why it has consistently failed to tackle the problem,” he added, calling for the site to be closed if it cannot be operated without blighting the lives of local residents.

Belfast City Council and NEIA were asked to comment.

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