The former owner of the fire-plagued site of a plastics recycling centre who ‘rode roughshod’ over environmental regulations has been given a suspended prison sentence.
Preston Crown Court heard how the actions of David Holt, 50, had created the ‘perfect environment for arsonists’ at Rockliffe Works on Paterson Street, Blackburn.
Mr Holt, who is a preacher at a church in the Ribble Valley, was told he will have to pay £10,000 of the £18,000 costs incurred by the Environment Agency in bringing the case against him — but none of the £20,000 spent from the public purse in making the site safe.
The Recorder of Preston, Judge Mark Brown said: “There is no doubt in my mind that during the relevant period you rode roughshod over the legislative framework.
“A legislative framework is designed to protect the environment. You did so for financial reasons. I accept you were under considerable financial pressure because of the business environment in which you were working.
“You employed around 20 people and you were endeavouring to keep the business afloat.”
He continued: “Had it not been for your failure to comply with environmental legislation the site wouldn’t have been in such a haphazard fashion. In my judgement, it would not have been such an attraction to arsonists. I understand residents nearby have been living in constant fear that another fire might occur. The dreadful and tragic events of that have taken place elsewhere in the last six months demonstrate the awful consequences that fire can bring.”
Judge Brown’s comments came after the court had been told there had been four fires at the site since August during which thousands of tonnes of waste plastic had gone up in flames, resulting in road closures and evacuation of nearby residents (see letsrecycle.com story).
But the court was told all the fires had happened after Holt, the former owner of V10 Polymers who is in the process of setting up a new waste management business was evicted from the site.
The site has now been bought by an Isle of Man-based company, which has planning permission for 181 houses. Judge Brown said he hoped that company would start clearing the site of its combustible plastic waste imminently.
Prosecuting, David Bradley said that process could cost up to £1million.
Opening the case at Blackburn Magistrates Court, Mr Bradley said Holt had been the sole active director over the period of the offences. The site was owned by Holts Developments Limited and both companies are now in liquidation.
Mr Bradley said the first fire at the site was a major blaze on August 28 and there had been others since.
He said stacks of waste plastics should have restricted dimensions and have six-metre fire breaks between each stack, which would help prevent the spread of fire and enable the fire service access to fight fires. Instead, the stacks ran into each other and presented a major fire risk.
In December 2015, a formal statutory notice was served which revoked the permit which should have had the effect of stopping operations on the site and requiring clearance of all waste. When inspectors called in March it was immediately obvious the site was in the same condition and recycling was still going on.
Defending, Lisa Judge said her client was held in high regard in waste management circles and in his local community.
Ms Judge said: “This was a reputable operation for nearly five decades which then became criminal because of its failure to engage with the Environment Agency because of its financial pressures.”
Holt, of Gleneagles Drive, Brockhall Village, Old Langho, pleaded guilty to failing to comply with the conditions of an environmental permit, knowingly permitting waste to be deposited on land when there was no environmental permit in force and failing to take steps specified in an environmental permit revocation notice.
Holt was given an eight months prison sentence, suspended for two years and 120 hours of unpaid work. He must pay the costs within three years.