6 May 2021 by James Langley

Health secretary wades into Walley’s Quarry row

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, wrote to the Environment Agency this week (4 May) expressing “grave concerns” about the “current situation” at the Walley’s Quarry landfill site near Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Run by waste management company Red Industries, the controversial site in the Staffordshire village of Silverdale has been the subject of protests by residents due to its smell.

The Walley’s Quarry landfill site, pictured in November 2016 (picture: Red Industries)

An Agency inspection of the site and surrounding areas on 23 March found two breaches of the company’s permit, with waste odours were perceived to be at levels likely to cause pollution outside the site.

Red Industries vowed to address the problems by 30 April, including by capping part of the site (see letsrecycle.com story).

Today (6 May) the Agency said its initial visual assessments appeared to show Red Industries had completed the works. Before the Agency can formally confirm the conditions of the enforcement notice have been fully met, Red Industries must verify their work through an independent Construction Quality Assurance assessment.

The Agency also required the company to employ specialist contractors to repeat a landfill gas emissions survey on the surface of the landfill, to be completed by tomorrow.

In a statement issued on 30 April the Environment Agency said: “We are sorry that the community are continuing to live with the distress that odour causes. We are challenging Red Industries every step of the way to account for the odour levels and the impact these are having, and to successfully manage odour from their operations.”

‘Distress and disruption’

Mr Hancock wrote to Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, on Tuesday to express concerns about air quality management data shared with Public Health England (PHE). Hydrogen sulphide levels are said to have exceeded World Health Organisation guidelines on 7 and 8 March.

Matt Hancock has been health secretary since 2018 (picture: Shutterstock)

In his letter, Mr Hancock said: “I wish to raise my grave concerns about the current situation at Walleys Quarry Landfill site, in Newcsatle under Lyme. The current management of the site, as I am sure you are aware, in light of the Environment Agency’s enforcement action, in preventing offsite emissions of landfill gases and associated odours that are blighting the surrounding communities.”

Mr Hancock asked Mr Bevan to give his assessment of the situation as it was on 30 April, by which time the capping of the site should have been completed. He said he was “sympathetic” to the “distress and disruption” caused to local communities, particularly with regard to their overall health and wellbeing.

His letter continues: “I understand that the Environment Agency is working with its multi-agency partners, including significant support from PHE, to respond to this issue, however it is imperative that the Environment Agency both exercise the full range of their regulatory and enforcement powers over the company and, with Local Authority partners, engage effectively with the affected community to urgently resolve the problems at the site, for the benefit of the community’s health and wellbeing.”

‘Huge public health campaign’

Aaron Bell, Conservative MP for Newcastle-Under-Lyme, said he was “grateful” to Mr Hancock for adding his weight to the campaign against the site and writing to the Environment Agency on behalf of his constituents.

Mr Bell said: “Matt recognises that Walley’s Quarry is not just an environmental catastrophe but it is also rapidly becoming a huge public health concern as the saga drags on.”

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