Landfill operations get the go ahead

Two landfill operations stopped because of fears they might pollute Norfolk rivers have been given the go-ahead. At the heart of the test case, which has implications for waste disposal businesses nationwide, were plans to 'piggyback' almost two million cubic metres of waste on top of landfill sites near Beccles and Kings Lynn.

Two landfill operations stopped because of fears they might pollute Norfolk rivers got the go-ahead today.

At the heart of the test case, which has implications for waste disposal businesses nationwide, were plans to 'piggyback' almost two million cubic metres of waste on top of landfill sites in Aldeby, near Beccles, and Blackborough End, near Kings Lynn, which were blocked by the Environment Agency over fears about groundwater pollution.

The row ended up in the High Court after the agency refused to issue permits for the two schemes, saying there was a risk that waste already on the sites may be unstable and that could lead to pollution of local water reserves. However, the company behind the schemes, Anti-Waste, claimed that the Agency “is opposed as a matter of principle” to piggybacking schemes, and argued that position is “contrary to law”.

Mr Justice Collins came down on the side of the company, ruling that the Environment Agency's stance was unlawful. The judge's ruling is of vital importance to more than 20 landfill applications nationwide which were awaiting the outcome of the test case.

Jon Turner QC, for the agency, argued last month that 'piggybacking' thousands of tons of waste on top of pre-existing landfills can lead to pollution and that the old waste at Aldeby is not secure and that there is “a strong likelihood of ongoing discharges from those cells into the ground water”.

However Jeremy Cahill QC, for Anti-Waste, insisted the agency was wrong to refuse permission on the basis of a pre-existing pollution problem that is not the company's fault and will exist whether or not the proposed piggybacking schemes go ahead.

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Mr Justice Collins ruled that the agency's opposition in principle to piggybacking was “not correct in law”. However, he also found that waste companies who undertake such schemes must also be held responsible for containing pollution from pre-existing waste.

Giving his judgment today, he said: “I have no doubt that a permit cannot be granted for piggybacking if there is any serious risk that, as a result of the new deposits, pollution may occur from the old cell, for example because of compression. Equally there must be no interference with the ability to control any pollution from the old cell such that there is a risk of serious pollution of the environment.

“We have ruled that it is lawful to piggyback and that any leaching which existed at the time could be deemed to be a breach of regulations.

“What it has boiled down to is that one side has won on one point and one has won on the other, but the claimants (Anti-Waste) have succeeded in showing that the approach of the agency was not correct in law.”

Villagers in Aldeby were already braced for more rubbish lorries whatever the outcome of the High Court decision. Waste Recycling Group, the parent company of Anti-Waste, has a planning application in to extend its landfill activities on the site in case that piggyback application was refused. The decision will be made by Norfolk County Council.