Last year, the operators of the landfill, Walleys Quarry Ltd. which is part of waste management services company RED Industries RM, objected to compliance breaches found by the EA in January 2022. The EA has now withdrawn two breaches related to blockages in the gas management infrastructure.
The EA concluded in January 2023, after reconsidering the circumstances around the blockages and the adequacy of its operator’s response, that it had taken “necessary remedial action in a reasonable time”.
A further Category 1 breach that was made at the same time was downgraded to a Category 3 breach, according to the regulator. The EA said that it still concludes that management systems “failed to minimise risks from odour pollution” when surface water flooding prevented the earlier completion of the first phase of the landfill’s capping and phasing plan. This should have seen an area of up to 28,000 square metres having a permanent capping system installed.
However, the EA conceded that as phase two of the plan was brought forward and completed, which involved capping in the north west corner of the site, the impact was minor rather than major– hence the downgrading of the breach level.
The EA also noted that after receiving the original Compliance Assessment Reports, the operator of the landfill provided an updated Surface Water Management Plan which addresses winter weather and high rainfall events. The plan, agreed on 19 August 2022, was seen to have identified “the right controls” to prevent similar issues.
In a separate Compliance Assessment Report relating to an inspection in April 2022, two separate category one breaches relating to waste acceptance, pre-acceptance procedures, and management systems were recorded. These have been maintained by the EA.
The EA gave the landfill a revised Compliance Classification Scheme score of 160 for last year, which means the site remains in band F, the category for sites that require the highest levels of improvement. Voluntary improvement plans cannot be used for sites in compliance bands E and F, with enforcement notices often used to formalise the type of improvements needed to make these sites compliant.
The landfill was found to be responsible for the highest number of pollution incidents in the waste sector in 2021 and its operator has been subject of a criminal investigation by the Environment Agency over alleged criminal waste activities. Then health secretary Matt Hancock wrote to the EA in May calling for it to use "the full range" of its powers to "urgently" resolve the problems at the landfill.
It has also been at the centre of a long-running dispute with Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council over the impacts of the hydrogen sulphide levels emitted from the site on local residents, and involved in multiple legal disputes.
Most famously, the mother of a five-year-old boy with chronic lung disease living half a mile away from the landfill who saw his symptoms worsened by the smell took the EA to court and won. However, the ruling in her favour was later overturned in the Court of Appeal.
In May 2022, the EA served a Regulation 36 Enforcement Notice requiring Walleys Quarry Ltd to improve its waste acceptance procedures and part of its written management system by 10 June 2022. But this was withdrawn in July 2022, as revealed in exclusive coverage by the ENDS Report. The site remains under scrutiny, both regulatory and from the media.