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Veolia Fire-Safety Concerns

Reports from the public meeting on 26 February 2020

Notes by Miriam

Notes by Davy

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Notes by Miriam

I went to the community meeting about Veolia meeting last night; here are some headlines of the things that came up from their presentation:

    • Veolia have a contract with East Sussex Fire Services to proactively review fire safety practices across all 3 WTSs in East Sussex. This was in place pre-fire, but the review was brought forward after the fire.
    • An improved fire detection system has already been installed in the WTS, which they will be testing to see if it picks up different types of fires more quickly than the previous system.
    • By June 2020 full fire suppression systems (including sprinklers) will be in place across all WTSs in East Sussex.
    • The cost of the improvements sits with Veolia, not the council.
    • They have reviewed their approach to comms following the fire, and the changes they made were put into place for the Pankhurst fire. They acknowledged they haven't been good enough on this front.
    • They have also made changes inside the WTS to prevent fire spreading, such as putting in ‘fire break walls’ to segregate waste.
    • They will be reviewing food collection and disposal anyway in the next couple of years, but this may be brought forward if the environmental bill is agreed by the government. Any changes are likely to take a number of years to fully implement.
    • They will be reviewing the WTS as a whole this calendar year, and said that this will include residents’ consultation. They were quick to say they didn’t want to raise expectations that this would mean moving the WTS to a different site.

There was a strength of feeling in the room was that, fundamentally, the WTS is not fit for purpose, people did not get what was promised when it was built, and the that it’s a totally unsuitable location for the WTS. The issue of the smell was also raised several times, as was the fact that it’s taken too long to communicate to residents, and that the council are too complacent in proactively dealing with issues before they arise. It was also raised that the smoke was leaving the building through lots of different places, so clearly it’s not a suitable building to contain smelly – and potentially toxic – waste. Pete West made a fantastic speech at the end which got a round of applause from the room. I’ve attached a couple of screenshots from the presentation in the next post.

There were three other Round Hill residents that I know who were there, and may have been others who I don’t know, and quite a few people from Hollingdean, including the resident association secretary and chair, and a number of councillors, plus someone from Caroline Lucas’ office.

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Notes by Davy

Platform speakers included Allan Key (General Manager of Veolia) & Steve Usher (Veolia), an East Sussex Fire & Rescue officer, the fire safety and head of operations leads at City Clean, Nick Hibberd (Executive Director of Brighton & Hove City Council) and two other Council officers from Emergency Services and Public Health.

In the audience were 5 councillors and around 30 local residents including reps from the Hollingdean Residents Association and Roundhill Community Society.

Allan Key explained the chronology of the fire itself, the ESFRS guy outlined what they had done, and the Public Health lead from the Council outlined the public health view of the incident. All of them were at pains to point out that everything had been done according to the appropriate regulations – “we were fully compliant”.

The only admissions were:

  • 1) that due to an administrative error, the location of the keys for the fire service to get access to the plant were incorrect, but they firefighters had simply cut through the locks anyway; and
  • 2) that there was a half hour delay from the fire starting to it activating the fire alarm; and
  • 3) the Council admitted that their reliance on using social media to warn residents of the fire was inadequate.

There were lots of questions and suggestions – notably that the plant install a siren to warn of a fire which would warn residents (apparently this is an EU regulation though Veolia claimed no knowledge of it).

Allan Key outlined the changes Veolia and the Council were making for the future:

  • 1) improved communication to residents;
  • 2) an improved fire detection system to reduce the delay between the fire starting and the alarm going off;
  • 3) a greatly improved fire suppression system including sprinklers (by June 2020); 4) reviewing food waste collection and disposal.

In response to questions, Nick Hibberd confirmed that the Council would be reviewing the location of the whole plant “this calendar year” but warned he didn’t want to raise expectations about it being moved. He confirmed residents would be consulted about it. Allan Key confirmed they had capacity to deal with food waste separately at the existing site but added it might not be the best location.

There were a lot of angry comments about the initial location of the plant in Hollingdean against the views of residents (17,000+ people had signed a petition against it) and the broken promises – it would be a world class facility, there would be no smells or increased traffic, and state of the art fire prevention equipment – all of which had palpably proved to be false.

Councillor West also complained that the report on the fire (which most of us present had not seen or ben notified about in advance of the meeting so we could read it !) was very thin - remarkably so given that 6 months had elapsed between the fire and the meeting. He also pointed out that smoke had been seen coming out of the building in various places during the fire, which showed exactly why the smell from the plant so regularly escaped too! Davy suggested that the panel and all the agencies seemed complacent in the face of residents concerns about the smell and the fires (there was a previous one in September 2018). Nick Hibberd and the lead councillor for environment both responded to say they were not complacent.

On reflection, the most disappointing aspect of the meeting was that one word was missing – “sorry”. Veolia, the Council, the fire service – none of them once said sorry. They could have said they were sorry about the constant smell and the fires, for their failures to ensure the fire prevention & suppression systems were good enough, that the communication with residents was so poor, or that they were sorry that the plant had been put there in the first place. But no one did – leaving most of the residents at the meeting all feeling that nothing really had changed.

This page was last updated by Ted on 09-Mar-2020
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