- Since 2005, the Environment Agency (EA) has regulated an Environmental Permit for the operation of a landfill site at Walley’s Quarry, Silverdale, Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire.
- The site is located near the centre of Newcastle under Lyme.
- The site which is a former quarry has planning permission for both a landfill (to ground level) and to create a land raise (above ground level)
- The landfill site has planning permission (regulated by Staffordshire County Council) to accept waste for disposal until 2026 with final restoration to be completed by 2042.
Who is responsible for what?
The Environment Agency regulates the two environmental permits held by Walleys Quarry (formerly known as Red Industries RM Limited) for the landfill.
Staffordshire County Council is responsible for determining and monitoring planning permission. It is also responsible for improving the health of the county’s population.
Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council is responsible for monitoring air quality across the area, including the assessment of statutory nuisance.
UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), formally the Public Health England (PHE) exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing and reduce health inequalities. UKHSA are an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care and a distinct delivery organisation with operational autonomy. They provide government, local government, the NHS, Parliament, industry and the public with evidence-based professional, scientific and delivery expertise and support.
The Environment Agency regulates two environmental permits held by Red Industries to operate a waste facility at Walleys Quarry - one permit for the landfill site and one permit for the soil treatment facility.
The permit allows the operation of a Non Hazardous waste landfill. Non Hazardous waste includes municipal and industrial wastes.
The permit would also allow Stable Non-Reactive Hazardous Waste (SNRHW) (gypsum and asbestos), in a separate cell. The operator has never used a separate cell and therefore SNRHW is not accepted.
The total quantity of waste allowed to be accepted at the facility is 400,000 tonnes per year. The permit also allows the operation of:
- a leachate treatment plant for management of leachate produced by the landfill
- landfill gas engine and flare for treatment and utilisation of landfill gas created by the landfill.
Monitoring is required for landfill gas, leachate, surface water and groundwater at a number of points at the facility, at different frequencies (weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual).
What is the odour?
Odour sources from a landfill include leachate and landfill gas created from the decomposition of the waste, newly deposited materials on top of the waste mass, and delivery vehicles carrying waste to the site.
Landfill gases are formed when biodegradable waste (such as food scraps, paper, and wood) rot and decompose (breakdown by bacteria) or evaporate. Emissions are a mixture of mostly methane and carbon dioxide, with very small quantities of other gases.
Landfill gas is formed in a landfill when biodegradable waste (such as food scraps, paper, and wood) rot and decompose (breakdown by bacteria) or evaporate. The gas is a mixture of mostly methane and carbon dioxide. It also contains a number of other gases in very small quantities. The gas, if not properly contained within the engineered landfill, can seep out into the air and lead to unpleasant smells. The different gases that can make-up landfill gas vary depending upon the type of waste on a landfill site and how far the waste has broken down.
Landfill gas is mostly methane and carbon dioxide, which are odourless and colourless. However, the gas also contains hydrogen sulphide that, even in small quantities, has a strong smell of rotten eggs. This is what residents can smell.
How do the Environment Agency assess odour?
Assessment of odour is a dynamic process determined by site specific and weather conditions. The EA uses an assessment process designed to provide as much information as possible. The 'FIDOR' acronym - Frequency, Intensity, Duration, Offensiveness and Receptor Sensitivity - is a useful reminder of some factors that will influence the degree of odour pollution. They use a 6 point scale:
0 – No odour
1 – Very faint odour (need to inhale into the wind to smell anything)
2 – Faint odour (you can detect an odour when you inhale normally)
3 – Distinct odour (there is clearly an odour in the air as you leave your car or enter the area)
4 – Strong odour (a bearable odour but strong, you could stay in the area for some time)
5 – Very strong odour (unpleasantly strong, you will want to leave the area quickly)
6 – Extremely strong odour (likely to cause nausea and a strong need to remove yourself from the odour immediately)
The operator can be found to be in breach of its permit if: 1. odour that is at a level likely to cause pollution outside the site boundary can be substantiated by an officer and found to be due to activities on the site, and 2. the operator is not following all appropriate measures to manage that odour.
An operator will not be in breach of the odour condition in their environmental permit when they cause odour pollution beyond the site boundary, provided they are using all appropriate measures. However, even if the operator is using all appropriate measures but the EA considers that the residual odour is at such a level that it is unreasonable, it will be necessary for the operator to take further measures to reduce odour pollution, or risk having to reduce or cease operations if appropriate.
In response to increased community concern of odour within Silverdale and the surrounding areas since the Christmas Period, the EA have installed four Air Quality Monitoring units around the landfill site. These Mobile Monitoring Facilities (MMF) will remain in place until at least the new year and collect monitoring data continuously. The data will be collated into a full and summary report which will also be provided to Public Health England to provide expert opinion on any human health impacts.
The Landfill Directive provides certain technical Standards for landfill sites. More information can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/environmental-permittingguid…
The Environment Agency has published landfill technical guidance that it expects operators to follow, in addition to the conditions set in their Environmental Permit. Technical guidance has also been published on waste acceptance, water monitoring, landfill engineering, landfill gas and leachate treatment. More information can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/environmental-permitting-land…
Operators also have to use the EA's published guidance notes for particular topics such as noise and odour. See link below https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/environmental-permitting-h4-…
What measures are in place to minimise the odour at a landfill site?
Measures to minimise odour commonly include the following. This is not an exhaustive list, there are other measures which can be used on a site by site basis:
- Capturing landfill gas and combusting it using a landfill gas engine or flare
- keeping the tipping area as small as possible
- covering waste as soon as possible;
- installing capping over the waste when operational areas have been completed;
- ensuring the landfill gas management system is operating effectively and installed once gas is being produced;
- keeping leachate levels low;
- avoiding over-tipping older areas of waste.
Capturing landfill gas
The operator have said work on drilling the gas wells is progressing as planned, and will see 28 new gas wells completed and operational by the end of October. This is vital work to increase the amount of landfill gas going into the gas utilisation plant to be safely destroyed and, once complete and connected, will further reduce the landfill gas escaping from the site. At the end of each day all wells must be capped or connected to the gas management pipework so that nothing is left open. This is set out in the agreed installation plan for this work.
The Landfill Directive refers to capping as the ‘top sealing layer’. This layer prevents rainwater flowing into the site through the surface and prevents gas escaping. Capping is either a clay or welded plastic membrane with a topsoil layer. The design of a landfill cap must be submitted to the Environment Agency for approval before the construction work commences. The EA inspect the works to ensure the construction is completed to the required standards. Environmental Permits for landfills include conditions requiring the site operator to undertake surveys of the site surfaces for fugitive emissions. If emissions are detected action will be required by the operator. This may include repairs to capping or changes to landfill gas management. Temporary capping can be used to cover areas for defined periods of time, however permanent capping is required to last for the life of the site and its integrity must be demonstrated as part of the process to surrender a landfill permit.
There are engineering standards which temporary capping is required to meet before it is considered fit for purpose to minimise odour emissions. Temporary capping is installed to allow time for settlement of the waste in each cell, prior to installation of the final gas infrastructure and final profiling. Once this is all complete and the cell is full, the permanent cap is added which has a similar effect to temporary capping, but for a much longer period.
Walleys Quarry Ltd have chosen to use a substance called ‘posi-shell’ to cap one of the cells. The posi-shell materials are covering the flanks as expected and is being applied by independent certified experts. Once this work is complete, the EA will assess its success by analysing data from a ‘surface emissions survey’, which will show how much hydrogen sulphide is contained after capping. This work also needs to be independently assessed and validated.
As rainwater lands on the site it drains through the waste in the landfill and dissolves a range of substances which then collect at the base of the landfill. This is known as leachate and it can contain high levels of contaminants. The base of the landfill site is designed to collect and extract this leachate. The level of leachate at the base of the site is required to be measured and sampled. The amount of leachate within the landfill is controlled by conditions in the permit and any excess leachate has to be removed. Once the landfill cells are filled to capacity with waste, the operator is required to install an engineered cap over the top of the waste to reduce the amount of rainwater getting in, which limits the production of leachate. Some landfill sites including Walleys Quarry Landfill have a leachate treatment facility on site. Following treatment, leachate will be either removed from site by tanker or discharged to the local sewer. Some sites do not have a treatment facility and leachate is collected in a storage tank and removed from site by tanker for treatment elsewhere.
Where does the waste going to Walleys Quarry come from?
There are no restrictions on waste being accepted from further away than the local area. As the operator are a commercial operation, they can take commercial waste from around the country. There are many reasons why these waste companies may chose Walley’s Quarry landfill, rather than a landfill closer to them to dispose of their waste.
Why has the Environment Agency not temporarily suspended waste acceptance?
The EA have said they can only suspend activities where they involve risks of pollution. At Walleys Quarry the hydrogen sulphide escaping the site is coming from waste already in the landfill that is now decomposing, not from new deposits. This means that suspending current operations (or revoke the permit) would not address the issues.
Importing new waste has a part to play in controlling landfill gas from decomposing waste. The EA have instructed Walleys Quarry Ltd to stop hydrogen sulphide escaping from existing waste and to take appropriate steps to manage new waste, including:
- Making sure Walleys Quarry Ltd follows procedures to check the documentation that accompanies each load before it is tipped at the site.
- Obtaining details of all waste loads rejected at the site this year because they contained gypsum-waste.
- Increasing their audits of the waste supply chain of waste arriving at the site; they track back to find where waste originated and what it contains. This is important to ensure only waste authorised by the permit is accepted at the site.
- Making sure Walleys Quarry Ltd increase the number of gas wells across the landfill to make sure infrastructure is in place for the future.
- Working to improve the gas utilisation processes, so future landfill gas will be safely destroyed.
Why is the site not being shut down?
The Environment Agency understands that many residents would like Walleys Quarry landfill to be closed. At this current time, the engineering and design of the landfill means it is not in a suitable position to close the site permanently, there is waste and odour from the existing waste that needs to be actively managed. The EA is working with the operator to bring the site back into compliance with its environmental permit, in line with published guidance, relevant legislation and the regulator’s code of conduct.
What happens when the site stops taking waste?
Once a landfill site is full, it cannot accept any further waste and it is closed. For Walleys Quarry, this will be no later than 2026.
The environmental permit conditions still require the permit holder (the operator) to complete the monitoring required by the permit and demonstrate that no pollution is occurring - this will be until 2042. The permit holder is supposed to make financial provision for the landfill site for 30 years after the site stops taking waste. This is known as the aftercare period.
The EA works in consultation with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), formally the Public Health England (PHE) and follows their advice and guidance.
They produced a report (RCE-18) which was published in 2011 and concludes that living close to a well-managed landfill site does not pose a significant risk to human health. The report encompasses the results of a number of epidemiological studies, detailed monitoring results from a major project funded by the Environment Agency, and advice sought from the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment. You can read more about the impact on health from landfill site emissions in the report here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uplo….
If you have health concerns relating to the landfill my advice is to speak to your GP. The local authority’s Environmental Health Department and Public Health England will be able to provide appropriate advice to local GP’s.
I have also produced a report on the Health and Impact of local residents following a survey. From the responses to the survey it is clear constituents are genuinely frightened about what they are breathing in and are devastated by the impact that living with the intolerable odour is having on them and their families.
Staffordshire County Council is responsible for determining and monitoring planning permission. Considerations included in a decision on planning permission include following points:
- operational life of the site,
- final height and profile (visual) of the landfill,
- phasing of the site,
- hours of operation,
- traffic movements to and from the site, and
- the need for the site.
Questions on these issues should be raised with Staffordshire County Council.
Why did Staffordshire County Council grant planning permission for a landfill site near a residential area?
The extraction of clay from the site for making bricks and tiles commenced around 1900. In 1946 new legislation withdrew ‘old’ rights for surface mineral working and a new express grant of permission was required. Therefore in 1948, two permissions were issued by Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council allowing the continued working of clay and deposit of waste materials. At the time Knutton Manor Colliery was located to the west of the site and a sewage farm to the east, with the Poolfields residential estate beyond that.
In 1991, an Act of Parliament required that the 1948 permissions be registered with Staffordshire County Council (SCC) in its role as Mineral Planning Authority. The applicant was also required to submit a new set of modern operating and restoration conditions. At this point, SCC added conditions to limit the time period for the landfilling operations and restrict the type of waste deposited to inert materials only (ie, those that don’t cause odours) to minimise disturbance to the local community. The operator at the time appealed against these restrictions and the appeal was upheld by the Secretary of State in November 1997 which meant that non-special industrial, commercial and demolition waste plus mineral waste could be imported to the site for a specific time period.
Traffic movements are considered by Staffordshire County Council as part of the planning permissions for the sites. They do not form part of the Environmental Permit.
The parking of vehicles on the highways has been raised with the operator. The landfill facility opens at 7am. The operator has advised that they have contacted the companies who deliver waste and requested they do not park outside the site before the sites is open. If they observe vehicles parking on the roads adjacent to the site during the day they are requesting they move on.
Waste hauliers have a duty of care to ensure theirs loads are secure. If residents observe waste falling from a vehicle on the public highway please report this to the Environment Agency.
Details of the waste company and vehicle registration number will assist in out investigations. The operator has advised they undertake litter collections along the roads outside of their site.
The Liaison Committee is run by RED Industries, the operator of the site. RED Industries facilitate and attend these meetings, and are responsible for the invitations and scheduling of these meetings.
Representatives are currently invited to attend from the EA, Staffordshire County Council, Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, local councillors, and residents’ representatives, including various parish councils and residents associations. As you will note from this list, as MP I am not invited to attend these meetings, although on one occasion (January 2021) I have attended as an observer.
If any residents are interested in joining these meetings to represent the community please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.