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The Pinkham Way Alliance

Message from the Chair of a group of N. London residents fighting a Waste Transfer Station proposed for a site near their homes.

The Pinkham Way Alliance is a community campaign group which came together in early 2011 when a small number of people living in the vicinity of an ecologically valuable green space at a site just south of the A406 and to the north of Muswell Hill, known as Pinkham Way, began to realise the scale of the NLWA's proposals to build a 300,000 tones per annum MBT waste plant on that land, and decided to oppose these plans.

I'm the Chair of Pinkham Way Alliance - a very large residents' group in North London, which for the last 4 yrs has been seeing off plans from the North London Waste Authority and 7 North London councils on a large local site.

They have now come back out of the blue with a new plan for a 170,000 tonnes per annum WTS. By the way, the site is a Grade 1 Nature Conservation site.

I've been reading about the horrible problems you've had locally, but can't really tell how far these problems extend.

I'd be most interested to know how far away odour has been detected, and whether things are any better now that the EA finally seems to have got off its backside.

My reply

[writing as a Round Hill resident living near Hollingdean Depot]:

Good luck with your campaign to fend off what sounds like another unsuitable proposal for a Waste Transfer Station.

Our neighbour (both a WTS and MRF) at Hollingdean Depot was approved by Brighton and Hove City Council in 2006 and came into operation in 2009. We have had the noise every day and smell all too frequently since.

In the run-up to planning approval, Veolia acknowledged that there were transport implications, but were not pressed enough about the significant addition to daily noise, odour escapes and landscaping - they crammed too much onto a small site, not leaving themselves adequate space for landscaping to the south of the installations which are an eyesore for many residents in my neighbourhood.

Part of the problem was the LA’s interest in seeing the application succeed. It has been hopeless trying to get The Council’s Environmental Health Officer to act over unreasonable noise nuisance. He treats complaints as “allegations” and does not seem to want to be proactive in preventing them - simply because he is unable to do so!

When you site noisy & smelly facilities much too near to residential areas there will always be an unreconcilable conflict of interests between people who want to get on with unpleasant work and residents hoping for a reasonable level of amenity to enjoy their homes and gardens.

Any home or garden within 400 metres from these facilities gets the noise and odour. The latter depends on wind direction (the sheds are not built to a standard that could prevent odour escaping through the single sets of doors) so odour escapes are continual. The unpleasantness of the odour depends on how hot the weather has been, the particular black bag waste, and the volume of it being processed. The main source of the odour is food waste mixed in with the rest - the Council does not do dedicated food waste collections for Brighton and Hove’s domestic rubbish.

To pursue a complaint, residents have to keep diaries over 2 weeks and be willing ultimately to give evidence in a court of law. Even with The Environment Agency, the system of monitoring is complaint-led, but they at least talk to Veolia and try to see if there are ways of minimising the problem. They conclude that the only effective solution RE odour would be for the food waste to be collected separately and taken elsewhere, but they will not compel a cash-strapped Council to do that.

The other unnecessary source of nuisance we have is glass-tipping, which is responsible for a high volume of noise. They in fact tip the glass within the Waste Transfer Station (and not the Materials Recovery Facility as you would expect).

Given that they can separate the glass from other recyclables to this degree, why do they have to tip it in such close proximity to residents’ homes? Of course, it is about reducing costs - it is cheaper to bring it all to one site.

At planning application stage, they will promise and make conditions - limits on operating hours allowing nearby residents Sundays without some of the tipping or specifying how loud vehicles can beep while reversing. Last year, they removed the planning conditions RE operating hours made in 2006 to protect residents. It can now operate 363 days per year for up to 15 hours per day. They ignore the planning condition about reversing sirens and the Council’s Enforcement Officer tells residents that this has been removed too, though there has never been a planning application to the latter effect!

Where you have a Local Authority which has passed what is effectively its own planning application (since they are Veolia’s main customer on this site) it is absolutely essential that The Environment Agency exists to lay a more proactive role, but of course the EA is aware of the pressures on Councils and what it can reasonably demand.

My wife and I are temporarily living in my late dad’s home in Crawley while our Brighton house is being refurbished (extra soundproofing, better windows etc). We will return to Brighton in spring 2015. On our site visits, we still smell the odour and wonder whether it would not have been better to move.

The dilemma is that Round Hill is such a great community and, as you can see from the website, I am fairly fully involved in the residents’ association. There are periods we can enjoy in our home and garden, though there is always a possibility that the noise and odour nuisances will reach unreasonable levels which will drive us indoors to phone the Environment Agency.

The problem is that I don’t see what they can really do, short of ordering the food waste and glass-tipping operations to be taken elsewhere. The whole collection system in Brighton is not set up to do this. The Green Council say that even if food waste collection was offered, not every resident would use the service, though I notice that several other LAs do run food waste collections and I cannot believe that measures cannot be taken to ensure that they work.

So the Environment Agency has not come up with a solution, but they have at least been honest about the problem - which gives encouragement. The Council (the client mainly responsible for the pollution) has preferred to look the other way. I do hope you are not faced with such an unsatisfactory chain of relationships in fighting your application.

Our Council has tried to separate out complaints by telling us to take those about noise to them and those about odour to the Environment Agency. Veolia’s operating licence comes from the Environment Agency and covers both noise and odour nuisances. We’ve yet to experience any sustained improvement on either count, but we have got the message that we clearly cannot look to the Council to instigate change. It is galling that they have been both judge and jury of a very unsuitable planning application (effectively their own!) and have no intention of acting to undo the damage. I wonder how you could prevent this with your 7 N London Councils?

Response from Pinkham Way Alliance Chair:

Thanks very much for your comprehensive reply. The attitude of the Environmental Health Officer sounds depressingly familiar.

We're pretty inured to this, having been fighting a multi-level campaign for 4 years, which has dealt with not only Haringey planning, but the North London Waste Plan (7 councils) and a £4.5bn procurement conducted by the NL Waste Authority.

This they abandoned in Sept 2013 at huge cost to local tax payers, having spent £12m on a site they found out they didn't need, around £22m on consultants, plus a further £5.5m to keep themselves out of court! We've also made detailed complaints to the District Auditor asking for a public interest report. The DA is thus being asked to scrutinise his own actions for the last 5 years. Some hope!

For the original MBT project, the usual bromides were trotted out about enclosed buildings, negative air pressure, filters etc. Did you have the same assurances given?

Our research showed how lamentably these often fell short around the world. We went to Faringdon, near Preston, where people had been more or less unable to use their gardens, hang out washing, open windows etc during periods of the 2 years that the plant there had been open. The EA has finally acted, after 4 or so years, but the residents there found it in general utterly feeble.

In addition there had been fly infestations up to a mile away. Has that been a problem at Roundhill at all?

The dismal thing is that they never listen and never learn. We're mainly retired, and have better things to do than grapple with this mixture of deviousness and incompetence. I think that this time they think we'll just go away - unfortunately, when the local community find out about this, there will almost certainly be an explosion even greater than before.

All good wishes to you and your fellow campaigners, and thank you once again for your reply.

Let's keep in touch.

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This page was last updated by Ted on 02-Jun-2016
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