In this latest Environmental Law News Update, Christopher Badger and William Upton consider the jail sentence recently received by a waste operator, the reduction in Environment Agency enforcement officers, and the failure of the latest challenge to Cuadrilla’s Lancashire fracking plan.
Waste site operator jailed for 8 months
John Millen, trading as K.M. Millen Grab Hire, was sentenced to 8 months imprisonment on 12 April at Maidstone Crown Court after the EA found that over 40,000 tonnes of construction and demolition waste had been deposited illegally at his site in Sittingbourne, Kent. No environmental permit existed for Mr Millen’s waste activities at the site.
The EA issued an enforcement notice requiring Mr Millen to clear the site within 3 months. However, not only had none of the waste been removed, there was evidence that Mr Millen had continued to crush, treat and deposit construction and demolition waste.
Mr Millen received the custodial sentence even with credit for a guilty plea. The fact that he had ignored the advice and warnings provided by the Environment Agency was considered by the Court to be a significantly aggravating feature.
EA cuts frontline enforcement staff
ENDS has reported that the number of environment officers employed by the EA has fallen by over a third in the last five years and that more are expected to leave. The fact that there has been such a significant reduction creates concern that less time can be spent on inspection and enforcement, investigating illegal waste operations and responding to pollution incidents.
Legitimate businesses have previously raised the importance of tackling waste crime with the Government. This led to an additional £5 million funding being secured in order to tackle waste crime in 2014 and the Government Spending Review 2015 secured an additional £23 million for the EA to tackle waste crime up until the end of March 2020.
However, while the EA’s waste crime budget increased in 2015-2016 at just over £14.8 million compared with £14.4 million in 2014-2015, it should be noted that the budget has decreased from £17.4 million in 2011-2012 – a reduction of £2.6 million.
By the end of 2015-2016, HMRC recorded that there were 622 known illegal waste sites operating in England. It has previously been calculated that for every pound spent on enforcement there would be a likely return of as much as £5.60 (see ‘Waste Crime: Tackling Britain’s Dirty Secret’, published March 2014).
The Government is currently consulting on whether to bring illegal waste sites within the scope of landfill tax – the consultation is due to close on 5 May and can be found here
Planning challenges dismissed against Cuadrilla
The latest challenge to fracking in Lancashire by Cuadrilla has failed. The High Court rejected arguments that the grant of planning permission by communities secretary Sajid Javid in October was defective due to inconsistencies with the Council’s planning policies as well as arguments over alleged deficiencies in the environmental impact assessment.
No fracking has taken place in the UK since 2011 when earth tremors were caused during fracking operations at another Lancashire site. Folliwing this ruling, the drilling rig for the wells is expected to arrive within weeks. The process of hydraulic fracturing is not expected to begin until later in the summer.
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