The Planning Inspector in the recent Public Inquiry to determine the future of Stowey Quarry has dismissed an appeal to dump asbestos at the site. In June 2011 Bath & North East Somerset Council (BANES) gave approval for Stowey Quarry to be landfilled with stable non-reactive hazardous waste (SNRHW) including asbestos. The Environment Agency (EA) raised no objections. Stowey Sutton Action Group challenged this and the decision was quashed in September 2011. A further planning application was refused unanimously by the council in September 2012, based on new evidence from SSAG which resulted in the EA making a holding objection on the basis of the unknown risk of contamination to the Chew Valley lake.
At the opening of the inquiry on 3 September 2013 the Appellant revised the proposed waste stream, removing the leachate-producing SNRHW element leaving the asbestos and inert waste. This was done to neutralize the EA’s holding objection and enabled BANES to withdraw completely from the Inquiry process. Stowey Sutton Action Group therefore contested the appeal alone.
The Inspector made his decision to dismiss the appeal on 25 November 2013 on three grounds. Firstly, that the proposal would cause harm to the character and the appearance of the area, and would conflict with existing policies; secondly, that the risk to the groundwater and thus to Chew Valley Lake of a failure either in the liner or the waste acceptance procedures at the site would be significant; thirdly that the fear of asbestos fibres escaping into the air and water would have an adverse effect on the living conditions of the local community.
The Inspector is critical of BANES’ decision to withdraw from the Inquiry, leaving him in a position to determine the outcome without direction or view from the local planning authority.
Sally Monkhouse, chair of SSAG commented: "We are delighted with the Inspector’s decision which will safeguard the Chew Valley lake and local community from the threat of harmful wastes including asbestos. The decisions taken by BANES and the EA in June 2011 have now been shown to be flawed. At each and every stage valid objections and clear evidence have been ignored by both authorities who purport to protect our communities. In the absence of adequate rigour, it was left to the community to correct these mistakes. It would restore some confidence within this community if the authorities were to acknowledge this and apologise."
"We wish to thank all the many individuals and businesses who helped by giving their time, energy and in many cases, money, to support this campaign. In particular we'd like to thank Bristol Water for their robust stance, the hydrogeologists at Ston Easton based Integrale Ltd and Paul Stookes of Richard Buxton Solicitors for his guidance and expert legal counsel."
For further information please contact: Emma Robinson 07896 359420 Sally Monkhouse/Heather Clewett 01275 333665
Notes to Editors:
Chew Valley Lake lies just 1500m from Stowey Quarry and supplies over 50m litres of drinking water a day to Bristol and surrounding areas.
If approved, the disused quarry could take up to 65,000 tonnes of asbestos and other hazardous waste every year
Bristol Water (owner of Chew Valley Lake) has objected to the plans, criticizing the application as being "technically flawed" commenting: "Bristol Water considers that the use of Stowey Quarry as a waste disposal site is inappropriate and represents a risk to the long term quality of the water resource at Chew Valley Lake." It also cautions that: "in the past 50 years, two of our water sources have been put beyond economic use by pollution from landfill leachate … (where) it was clear there was no meaningful control over what was tipped".
Over 4,000 signatures have been received on paper and online petitions to stop the Stowey Quarry development
Independent Expert analysis commissioned by Stowey Sutton Action Group highlighted errors in the application and clear evidence that the quarry was an inappropriate site due to the risk of land instability and the threat to Chew Valley lake from leachate generated by waste. Objections to the plans were also received from Bristol Water, Bristol City Council (leader Barbara Janke), Jacob Rees Mogg MP North East Somerset, the Green Party, Don Foster MP Bath, Bristol MPs Kerry McCarthy and Dawn Primarolo, the CPRE, BANES' Ecology officer and most significantly, the Environment Agency.
To read the Inspector's report in full please click here.
On 3rd September, the opening day of the Stowey Quarry Public Inquiry at Fry’s Conference Centre in Keynsham, BANES withdrew from the hearing to defend an appeal against their decision to refuse plans to dump 645,000 tonnes of asbestos and stable non-reactive hazardous waste at the quarry. The decision was prompted when the Planning Inspector Brian Cook allowed the proposed waste stream to be altered to asbestos and inert waste only, in so doing removing the hazardous waste component.
In spite of their unanimous committee decision in September 2012 to refuse the application, and many letters from local residents urging them to continue to oppose the revised plans, the Council withdrew, blaming the Environment Agency’s (EA) decision to drop its holding objection. The Environment Agency explained that the removal of hazardous waste, in their opinion, removed the threat to the water supply in Chew Valley Lake.
In the Inquiry, Bristol Water strongly disagreed with this stance, and requested to speak at the hearing, even though as a witness for the Council, they could have withdrawn. Martin Berry, Resources Planning Manager for Bristol Water, argued that Bristol Water continue to be concerned at the potential risk to the South West’s largest reservoir, Chew Valley lake. In his explanation, he referenced other Bristol Water reservoirs where leachate from inert landfill sites (such as Stowey Quarry) had contaminated previously clean sources of water, with the water supply being lost indefinitely as a result.
Bristol Water's statement claimed that the proposed change of waste "to inert waste and asbestos... does not reduce [our] concerns... because there would still be a risk of leachate formation. Our understanding is that there is a clear pathway for pollutant to move from the base of the Landfill into the waters of Chew Reservoir, the final receptor for surface and ground water in the area'. The statement continued: 'It remains our view that Stowey Quarry is too close to the ecologically sensitive and publicly important water environment of Chew Reservoir to be used for any type of waste deposition".
In the absence of BANES, Stowey Sutton Action Group (SSAG) took the lead in defending the Council's decision to refuse permission, employing specialist environmental lawyer Paul Stookes of Richard Buxton Solicitors to represent the local community's firm opposition to the asbestos disposal plans. Stookes called witnesses Kay Boreland and Gareth Thomas of Integrale to present their independent evidence of land stability at the quarry and demonstrate the links between the quarry’s water table and springs feeding Chew Valley Lake. Thomas stated that if the quarry was used for landfill "there would be significant potential for slope instability" and that adding any material to the top of the quarry slopes "could trigger a landslip". Boreland explained that the limestone rock surrounding the quarry was saturated with water and the proposed waste dump would be completely reliant on an engineered liner to stop any leachate polluting the ground water, and thereafter the lake. Boreland explained that no landfill liner could be 100 per cent secure, saying "in my opinion there is too great a risk to put hazardous materials [such as asbestos] into this site."
Submissions were also heard from an environmental pollution expert who spoke of the noise and dust pollution that would likely impact on nearby residents, and the traffic generated, which would affect the whole of the Chew Valley. Dr Phil Hammond was among others presenting his evidence to the Inquiry, and outlined grave concerns about the deadly effect of both inhaled and ingested asbestos, which causes the incurable mesothelioma cancer. Afterwards, in a public letter, he berated BANES for abdicating their duty to protect the public health of its constituents, 4,000 of whom signed a petition opposing the plans. In his letter he accused BANES of acting unlawfully under the terms of the Health and Social Care Act in jeopardizing the health of residents.
He wrote: "As a doctor with some expertise in patient safety issues, I have witnessed the anxiety already caused by this prolonged application, and witnesses to the inquiry talked of removing their children from the village school and not allowing their grandchildren to visit the village. Others would not walk anywhere near the quarry, and I certainly would not on a windy day… The onus must be on the appellant to demonstrate that the integrity of the proposed landfill site and the environmental controls that will be put in place will be such that there is no justifiable case to support the public's concern. Not only is the existing Environmental Statement inadequate, but there has been no attempt by the appellant to engage with the community and explain its planning proposals. BANES knows this and should have been objecting alongside us on these grounds at the Inquiry, not just limiting itself to the EA’s verdict."
On the third day of the Inquiry, 3rd October, it was announced that the Appellant’s witness Robert Harper would not be taking part "for personal reasons".
The Appellant's sole witness, John Williams, stated that he had had no role in the writing of the Environmental Statement prepared for the Environment Agency, had no qualifications in noise management, no experience of Air Quality management, and no experience of land stability. He admitted that the Appellant had kept no records of traffic movements or dust levels to establish base line conditions for the Environmental Statement. When asked what the bore holes were for, he made a guess. He did not know who his company (Oaktree) had consulted on land stability. Mr Williams was not aware that there was no mains water supply at the quarry, and his QC suggested that provision for a misting spray could be done by harvesting rainwater. He then backtracked and Mr Williams said that they would look into the cost of installing mains water. There was then a discussion of conditions should permission be granted.
Closing submissions, applications for costs and a site visit followed on 4th October. Mr Forsdick on behalf of BANES did not sound at all neutral, and seemed to be persuading the Inspector to allow the proposal. Mr Stookes for the SSAG summarised the concerns of all of the expert witnesses. He said that Rob Harper's estimate of the size of the quarry was one and a half times its actual size, and that lack of opportunity to cross-examine Mr Harper undermined the Environmental Statement, as this depends on his evidence. He said that location of the site should be taken into account, not merely a reliance on pollution control. Most of Mr Fraser's closing submission depended on the fact that after the withdrawal of SNRHW, BANES and the EA have not objected to the proposal, and that there is outstanding planning permission for the infilling of Stowey Quarry. (From 2008, by delegated authority, not by Council meeting). He did not accept most of the evidence submitted by the Action Group. He sympathised with residents' concerns about asbestos, but said that as disposal of asbestos is so strictly controlled nothing could possibly go wrong.
For a full account of the Public Inquiry please go to Inquiry/History
Planning Inspector: Brian Cook
For the Appellant. Barrister: Vincent Fraser, QC. Witnesses: John Williams and Robert Harper.
For BANES. Barrister: David Forsdick. Witnesses: Chris Herbert of SLR, Mr Webb, Mrs B. Keenan of the Environment Agency, Mr M. Berry of Bristol Water.
For Stowey Sutton Action Group. Solicitor advocate: Paul Stookes. Witnesses: Dr D. Dickerson, Gareth Thomas, Dr Kay Borland, Heather Clewett, Dr Phil Hammond, David Beecham, Keith Betton, Victor Pritchard.
Members of the public who have spoken: Rosemary Naish (Clutton PC), Sarah-Jane Stretfeild-James,
Sally Monkhouse, Martin Berry (Advisor to Bristol Water).
For further information please contact:
Sally Monkhouse/Heather Clewett 01275 333665
Sarah Jane Streatfeild James 07778 317768
Stowey Sutton Action Group