Wood recycler urges full consultation over EA fire guidance

Hadfield Wood Recyclers has criticised the Environment Agency for failing to consult more widely with industry in its “restricted” review process for controversial Fire Prevention Plan guidance.

The wood recycling firm has called for a full consultation on the Environment Agency’s Fire Prevention Plan (FPP) document, which the firm claims includes “unworkable” storage restrictions which are causing issues “for ourselves and many other businesses in the recycling industry”.

Hadfields has stopped accepting lower grade waste wood at two of its sites
Hadfields has stopped accepting lower grade waste wood at two of its sites

Since last month Hadfield has stopped accepting lower grade waste wood into its Manchester and Middlesbrough sites for fear of EA action, fines or invalidating insurance cover, as it claims local EA officers are enforcing restrictions outlined in the new FPP document issued in March (see letsrecycle.com story).

The Agency is currently undertaking a periodic review of its FPP guidance to be published in the autumn with contributions from the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) forum, which includes representatives from the Chief Fire Officers Association and the Wood Recyclers Association (WRA).

An Agency spokesman explained that industry would therefore be able to contribute to the review via WISH and the WRA, but added: “Should our review conclude that there are substantial or significant proposed changes to the guidance ‎then we will carry out an Accountability for Regulator Impact (ARI) assessment. If following the ARI assessment we decide that the proposed changes would have a significant impact on business, then we would carry out a formal external consultation.”

Consultation

However, Hadfield previously thought the current review process would involve wider gathering of industry views and had therefore intended to draft its own response to the Agency on the FPP document.

Upon learning that the firm would not in fact be able to contribute directly to the EA’s review, managing director Geoff Hadfield said he was “extremely disappointed that the only route for consultation is via WISH, and that the WRA and individual organisations haven’t been given the chance to respond to these guidelines directly”.

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The company said FPP outdoor and indoor stack size restrictions equating to 167 tonnes and 33 tonnes per stack respectively are “far too small for a sizeable operator to achieve”, while stack separation distances of six metres on all sides have also restricted its sites’ storage space.

In addition, the firm claims that the maximum storage time of three months on site is “too short and unnecessary”, with many biomass facilities requiring suppliers capable of storing feedstock for longer in case of plant shut downs.

Mr Hadfield said: “We would urge the EA to rethink this position. We feel it is essential that operators storing combustible materials, including wood recyclers and tyre recyclers, are given the chance to feed into this document with their thoughts and potential solutions. Without the EA understanding the day-to-day practicalities of individual operations and how this guidance is going to affect them, there is no chance that workable guidance can be introduced. As it stands at the moment, the FPP guidance will put many companies out of business.

“There is no scientific evidence to suggest the new guidelines are necessary but there is plenty of practical evidence to enforce the fact they are not workable.”

East Durham

Gary Cook, managing director of wood recycler Durham firm Waste Stream International, also told letsrecycle.com that local EA officers were enforcing storage restrictions in the FPP document, which was “putting huge pressure on our business”.

The company supplies some feedstock for Dalkia’s Chilton biomass plant, which Mr Cook explained required him to stockpile a certain amount of material on site to ensure continuity of service in the event of processing machinery problems.

He said: “Our site basically needs to treble in size which is impossible. If we want to grow our business it is going to cause us lots of problems with the Environment Agency. We are on the verge of losing contracts because of this – it will close our business.”

Mr Cook said that the local fire services had seen and were happy with the fire breaks and safety processes on his site, but that “we tell the Agency this and all we get is a shrug of the shoulders”.

Timberpak

Mark Hayton, operations director at Timberpak – which sources and supplies waste wood to parent wood panel company Egger – described FPP as a “ridiculous document with ludicrous stock limits”.

He explained that Timberpak supplied some waste wood material to third parties other than Egger, including Hadfield, but that due to the recent gate closure at the Middlesbrough site it was being forced to seek off-takers elsewhere.

Mr Hayton said: “We are now being heavily financially impacted by these guidelines. Egger has good stock levels but it is a danger to the industry – it would be a complete disaster if the current FPP document is left unchanged.”

The Wood Recyclers Association is currently planning fire tests in partnership with fire services to provide evidence on the susceptibility of wood stacks to fires. Previously slated for September, the tests have now been pushed back to October.

The Environment Agency says that while it is “impossible” to completely prevent fires, it needs to be satisfied that operators have in place “adequate control measures to minimise both the risk from fire and also the impact on the local community”.

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