Agenda item



The Leader introduced the update report on Walleys Quarry expressing his sympathy for residents along with the dread and disappointment he shared with them in relation to the toxic smells coming from the site. The report was a comprehensive document that could be used for future public enquiry.


The abatement notice had been pursued by officers within the legal framework thanks to the funds allocated through Council decisions and everything within the Council’s powers was being done to address the problem. It was felt that other institutions could do more. The Labour Party had brought forward a motion to request the suspension of activities on the site. An amendment was proposed to go further and ask for the full closure of the site by the Environment Agency – a simple suspension not appearing sufficient enough given the three years already allocated to tackle the problem.


A letter had been addressed to both the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister calling for a public enquiry. The proposals put forward by the Labour group would be discussed and amended during the meeting.


The Leader’s recommendation for a closure of the site was supported by the Portfolio Holder for Strategic Planning Cllr Fear.


Members commented as follows:


-       Cllr Stubbs wished the Council to show solidarity for residents and for the regulatory agencies to be held responsible for environmental justice, environmental protection being not an aspiration but a legal imperative.


-       Cllr Brown warned against the perception of leniency of the Environment Agency if not enforcing regulations and not imposing penalties in case of non-compliance. Other operators may as a result choose to take risks and prioritise short term savings over compliance to regulations, driving compliant operators out of the market and leading to a normalisation of non-compliance. Cllr Brown wished to know if the Council had reached out to the Environment Agency to warn against the national consequences.


-       Cllr Jones thanked officers for the reports and wished for the raw figures to be reviewed and notably those pertaining to the odours as recorded on 25th and 26th November as well as 13th, 14th and 16th December 2023. The health consequences were dramatic meeting the definitions of environmental harm.


-       Cllr Bettley-Smith agreed with Cllr Jones and reiterated the risks of long term consequences on health of low level exposure to a poisonous gas such as hydrogen sulphide. Cllr Bettley-Smith wished to support a public inquiry into the failure of the Environment Agency. 


-       Cllr G White commented that his ward was also impacted although not right next to the quarry and wished to support all punitive measures including the closure of the site.


-       Cllr Brockie enquired about the removal of one of the monitoring stations from Silverdale pumping station and when the construction works would be complete so that it could go back to its initial location.


-       Cllr Richards raised the issue of education providers such as schools and universities not being able to provide an adequate environment to pupils and students. Two primary schools had to be evacuated as a result of the odours which impact on learning and education was to be added to the health hazard. Cllr Richards asked if contact had been made with the County Council or education providers to mitigate the impact of lost days of learning.


-       Cllr Lawley asked about the suitability of restoration plans to ensure the gases would be contained once the site would be closed.


-       Cllr Reese warned against reporting fatigue detrimental to organisations and leading to feeling of overwhelm and burnout which may be experienced by residents when reporting complaints and not hearing back from the Environment Agency.


-       Cllr Holland expressed his support to the various ways suggested for people to be held accountable, the first step being to close the site and cap it off.


-       Cllr G Williams wondered if the Council acceptance of the settlement agreement hadn’t been a mistake given that no progress had been made in preventing the unacceptable levels of gas emission.


-       Cllr Wright asked if the Council had been in contact with the Health Protection Agency in relation to the increase of mental health issues arising from the odours and the strain it put on already overburdened mental health services.


-       The Deputy Leader re-iterated the imperative reminded by Cllr Holland to close the site as a first step.


-       Cllr Grocott also supported the need to close the site to start with and asked if workplace monitoring and health assessments had been carried out for employees of the Council working in immediate vicinity of the site.


-       Cllr Moss questioned the efficiency of posi-shell in tackling odours and wondered why the Environment Agency had not requested that odour shells be used instead.


-       Cllr Whieldon underlined that the only one in a position to take action now was the Environment Agency who was hiding behind false readings.


-       Cllr J Williams commented on the compliance classification schemes used by regulatory agencies and based on which Walleys Quarry should be closed.


-       Cllr Adcock said the situation was deteriorating rapidly and the regulator seemed to have lost control over the odour emissions which were devastating for both physical and mental health as well as education. Support was expressed for both the closure of the site and a public enquiry into the failings of the Environment Agency.


-       Cllr Grocott asked when the independent peer review sourced out by the Environment Agency and that was expected by the end of January would be available to the public.


-       Cllr Panter expressed his support to Cllrs Jones, Adcock and Bettley-Smith comments on the medical consequences of the gas emissions.


The Leader welcomed the comments raised by members and said that he was disheartened by how the situation had evolved since November.


Responding to members’ questions the Leader stated the following:


-       About the posi-shell, this seemed to have failed miserably and the capping plans were to put a membrane across the site and add soil on top. The gas emissions would then need to be managed for the next 40 years after closure.


-       The third monitoring station removed at Silverdale, this had been discussed at Cabinet meeting and officers were chasing the Environment Agency for it to be re-installed so that there would be again three monitoring stations switched on and calibrated.


-       About the effect on schools, this had been raised in the letter to the Secretary of State by Newcastle’s MP.


-       About calls to the Environment Agency and make sure they were connected, this was also taken up by officers.


Members would be asked to vote on the motion put forward by the Labour Group to request the suspension of activity and amendment suggested to go further and ask for a full closure of the site along with a public enquiry on how things had been handled by the Environment Agency.


Resolved:     That the content of the update report be noted and the amended motion be subject to a vote.


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