UK Wood Recycling Ltd has been ordered to pay £143,335 in fines and costs for storing waste wood in a manner likely to cause pollution at its site near Redcar in 2014.
The company, based in Manchester, was sentenced at Teesside Crown Court on Thursday (24 November) over the storage of the material at the Wilton International industrial estate site between April and September 2014.
In March 2014, UKWRL had suffered a fire at the site involving around 16,000 tonnes of waste wood which burnt for around two weeks.
The Environment Agency claims that the company ‘significantly exceeded’ the maximum size of its wood piles in a way which would make ‘spontaneous combustion highly likely’.
Prosecuting for the Agency, Christopher Badger noted that its case was supported by Cleveland Fire Brigade, whose officers said the storage methods were ‘as risky as those that had led to a fire which happened at the site previously in Christmas 2013’.
In the six month period following the fire waste began to build to build up at the site, and the Agency instructed UKWRL to reduce the size of the pile by 4 August 2014. It adds the company did not meet this deadline, blaming staff illness.
A compliance visit by the Agency on 9 September that year found that all waste wood stacks had increased in size, and stacks that had previously been compliant had been combined to form larger piles.
The Environment Agency decided to suspend the company’s permit that month, preventing it from bringing anymore wood on to the site. According to the Agency, an independent fire risk expert – Steven Manchester of BRE Global – concluded in a report that the manner of the storage ‘made it likely it would cause pollution to the environment and harm to human health due to the increased probability of self-combustion’.
UK Wood Recycling had originally pleaded not guilty to the charge but had admitted keeping waste wood in a way likely to cause pollution to the environment or harm human health on the morning of its trial, the Agency said.
According to the Agency, UKWRL also asked for a separate offence to be taken into consideration after they admitted during 2015 illegally depositing over 8,200 tonnes of wood waste on an adjoining site which they were leasing.
The court also heard that the company was fined £200,000 in November 2013 following a fatality on the company’s main site in 2008. The prosecution said this showed that the company hadn’t paid proper attention to regulatory controls.
In sentencing, Judge Howard Crowson recognised the company had shown commitment to improving its fire prevention and protection measures since 2014 – and according to UKWRL had acknowledged there was no regulatory breach at the time of the fire in 2013.
The company was fined £72,000 and ordered to pay costs of £71,335 and a victim surcharge of £120.
Commenting on the sentencing, Vicki Hughes, group business development director at UK Wood Recycling, said: “We are very disappointed to have found ourselves in this position because we are a company that strives to operate to the safest and highest standards at all times.
“The charge refers to a period from April to September 2014, during which time we were in discussions with the Environment Agency regarding fire prevention plan guidance over stack sizes permitted on waste wood sites. The guidance at the time was TGN7.01, which was being disputed by the industry generally as it was felt it was impossible to comply with.”
We are very disappointed to have found ourselves in this position because we are a company that strives to operate to the safest and highest standardsVicki Hughes, group business development director
UK Wood Recycling
Mrs Hughes added: “Although we admit that we were not complying with TGN7.01 during that time, we were not storing material outside the limits of our agreed permit and the wood was stored in much smaller stacks than at the time of our earlier fire.”
Tristan Drought, environment management team leader at the Environment Agency, welcomed the sentence, which he said reflects the seriousness of the situation officers found on site in September 2014.
He added: “We are working together with the company to find a way they can operate as a profitable business while taking fire prevention and environmental concerns into account. The company has invested considerable funds on the site and we continue to work with them to find a satisfactory way forward.”