Wiltshire Publications

More questions over waste plant smell

Story posted on

LOCAL councillors believe that maintenance work to fix a faulty biofilter at Hills Waste’s Northacre plant could have been completed earlier, saying that the inconvenience caused to Westbury citizens in the summer months could – and should – have been avoided. 

They also say there appears to be a discrepancy, with the Environment Agency stating that the biofilters have now been repaired before a deadline, but Hills saying that work is continuing. 

During the summer, a ‘rancid smell’ prevailed over the town due to the faulty biofilter which needed changing and residents were unable to sit in their gardens. 

The Environment Agency (EA) said the company’s actions had breached its permit and as a result, they were issued with an enforcement notice. Local MP, Andrew Murrison, said he was ‘appalled’ by the ‘laid back’ attitude of the waste company who plan to build a waste incinerator in Westbury.  

On behalf of the town council, the mayor, cllr Sheila Kimmins, wrote to the chief executive of the Environment Agency, James Bevan. In reply, the EA said that under their notice, Hills had now completed the replacement of the biofilters before the deadline of 30th August.

But Hills have told the mayor in a letter dated 2nd September that the site wouldn’t return to normal until 20th September.  

In their letter to the mayor, the EA said, “We hope that as a result, local residents should notice a significant improvement and a decline in odour nuisance in and around Westbury over the coming days and weeks.  

“We have issued a number of briefing notes to the community about what we have been doing as part of our response to the complaints we have received. You will note that in our last briefing note, we discussed suspending part or all of the site permit with Wiltshire Council. However, following discussions with the Council we were made aware that stopping waste entering the site could have had serious implications for waste collection across Wiltshire and may have led to rubbish accumulating in the streets. 

“This does not mean we would not reconsider this as an action going forward should the odour experienced by residents not improve.  

“We have declared the odour from NRRC [Northacre Resource Recovery Centre] as an environmental incident. This incident is still ongoing and our priority is to stop the odour from the site as quickly as possible. When the incident and our investigation is over, we will then consider what enforcement action we might take against the company as well as discuss lessons learnt for any future filter replacements.  

“I note your comments about the response of the company to the local community but this is not something the Environment Agency can comment on and should be taken up with them direct.”  

In response to this, cllr Sheila Kimmins, sent a further letter on 3rd September saying, “This statement is somewhat surprising as it would be expected that Hills Waste Solutions and Wiltshire Council would have contingency plans for any disruption to service and this would have been part of the conditions of Hills’ licence from the Environment Agency.” 

In her letter, cllr Kimmins also said that following the EA’s previous letter, stating that the work on the biofilters had been completed, the town council had since received a statement from Hills dated 2nd September which said, “Whilst undertaking this maintenance work, waste deliveries to the site and inputs to the plant will be temporarily suspended from Monday, 6 September, but will continue to operate and treat waste received up to this date. The temporary suspension of inputs will enable us to complete this maintenance work as quickly as possible. During this period Hills Waste Solutions will continue to liaise closely with the Environment Agency and Wiltshire Council on operations at the site and anticipate the plant will return to normal activities by 20 September.” 

 In her letter to the Environment Agency, cllr Sheila Kimmins said, “Thus it appears that the work on the biofilters has not yet been completed and breaches your enforcement notice of August 4th 2021. 

“This statement from Hills begs the question, if Hills can close the site for roughly the same period as it took to replace the biofilter why did this not happen in July, thereby avoiding all the disturbance to the local residents and Westbury?” 

Town cllr Mike Sutton added, “Why did Hills not schedule this maintenance during cooler periods and keep residents and council briefed and certainly in the loop? Presumably because they did not and don’t care. There will never be any incentive for Hills to improve or be mindful of the community if every time, Wiltshire Council support Hills rather than the community. You can tell where their loyalties and priority lie and it is not with those who pay their outrageous allowances. There is no point in having rules and conditions if there is no sanction when they are infringed.”