The Bickerstaffe Record
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Cotterill on the Council, Planning applications

Tox story: how the Tories don’t do waste

02.22.10 | Comment?

Below you’ll find West Lancashire Labour group’s response to the Lancashire County Council’s snazzily titled ‘Consultation on Site Allocations and Development Management Policies Development Plan Documents.’

Basically, it’s a consultation on where the tips and other waste management site (including hazardous waste).

Alert (or obsessive) readers will be aware that this matter was raised for Tory cabinet members to consider on 19 January.  The draft response provided for comment at that cabinet meeting was very weak, but was not commented upon by the Tory cabinet, who must have had other things on their minds than the protection from pollution of a large number of their residents. 

In particular, it was shocking that the initial draft consultation response made no mention at all of any site in the County’s waste site plans other than the one at White Moss, and that this glaring omission was not picked up by the cabinet.  

Thus, and just as an example, the fact that there is provision in the draft plan for an incinerator on Simonswood Industrial Estate, while the Industrial Estate also plays host to large quantities of ammonium nitrate, the substance responsible for the 2001 explosion in Toulouse which killed 33 people, blew out windows for many miles around and made 500 homes uninhabitable, goes completely without comment. (Coverage of this incident was much lower than it might have been as it took place just 10 days after the 9/11 attacks). 

While I am not suggesting there is necessarily a potential risk from having the two facilities on one industrial site, I am suggesting that it might be nice actually to notice that it’s planned, since clearly the matter is likely to be of huge concern to residents.  Frankly, such an attitude was a derelection of duty by senior Tory councillors over a very serious matter.

It fell to Labour councillors, therefore, to make sure the consultation was properly dealt with.  In addition to a successful campaign for an additional consultation event in Skelmersdale, Labour ‘called in’the consultation issue to the Executive Overview and Scrutiny on the following grounds:

 

 

 

“Insufficient coverage in the report at Section 6 of wider issues covering waste management, including sites other than White Moss and the emerging Local Plan for West Lancashire.”

and with the following recommendation back to cabinet:

 

 

“That comments in relation to those reflecting initial views at Paragraph 6 of the report be expanded, specifically in relation to the wider waste management issues, including sites other than White Moss, and the relationship to the emerging Local Plan for West Lancashire.”

In keeping with standard practice, the Conservative councillors attending this meeting failed to listen to the arguments at all, and voted against this recommendation.  That’s what they do. 

However,the very act of bringing the matter to the meeting forced the administration to review their lamentably poor response to the consultation so far, and a somewhat enlarged response was in the end sent off on behalf of the Tories, although it remains anodyne.  I can’t see it anywhere on the council website, so they seem happy to keep quiet about the whole matter.

Meanwhile, both our MP Rosie, and the Labour Group, have been getting on with the proper job of talking to residents and drawing up a proper response. 

Here’s our response in full, with credit paid particularly where it’s due to local environmental group ARROW North West, who provided a lot of good input.

Waste and Minerals consultation response

This is the consultation response of the West Lancashire group of councillors.  Prior to drawing together this consultation response we have consulted with local residents as part of our ongoing engagement work, particularly in the Skelmersdale area. 

We have also received input from ARROW Northwest, who have provided their own comprehensive feedback.  While we find much of the feedback from ARROW persuasive, and we acknowledge that there is within ARROW a resource base and expertise in this area that we do not seek to emulate.  Therefore, while we refer at points in our own response to ARROW’s work, our key recommendation is that ARROW’s response be examined carefully by the County as it moves forward with its development planning, and the points made treated with the utmost seriousness.

White Moss

1)  We concur with ARROW’s findings that there appears to be a contradiction between the fact that the region is currently a net importer of hazardous waste and the ‘proximity principle

2)  Further, we concur with ARROW that there appears to be a contradiction between the decision not to go forward with the larger landfill site, because such proposals would be in conflict with the peat safeguarding policy, and the selection of a smaller site for hazardous waste which also appears to be in conflict with the peat safeguarding policy.

3)  Like ARROW we do remain concerned about the track record of management of this site in the context of, potentially, another 20 years of hazardous landfill.  ARROW have provided details of previous problems in their response, which we do not need to replicate here. 

However, we would want to add that, while it might be claimed that management and oversight processes have been tightened in recent years, it is possible to explain this as the current operators preparing the way for this proposed process of extension to the size and lifetime of the site, and that standards might again slip as and when approval for the extension is granted.  We believe it is incumbent on the County Council to take this risk fully into account, both in terms off the decision on whether to move forward with this site in the first place, and in terms of strict planning conditions IF the site does, ultimately, gain an extension.

4)  As above, we share ARROW’s concerns about the capacity the Environment Agency to manage its workload and responsibilities, not only in respect of this site but others now proposed within the borough (incl. at Simonswood).  Local experience from the alleged major pollutant Sonae, just over the Knowsley border but affecting West Lancashire because of the prevailing winds, suggests a strong need to come to a firm agreement with the Environment Agency going forward if this site at White Moss or any others where pollutant risk is apparent go ahead.  In the case of Sonae, Knowsley council’s considerable efforts (alongside those of George Howarth MP) to take up responsibilities have, we understand, not yet resulted in action.  We would not want such a recurrence in West Lancashire, and preventative measures should be agreed as part of the development planning process.

5)   ARROW makes short reference only to the threat offered by extended hazardous landfill to the economic regeneration plans for Skelmersdale.

6)    It is our contention, however, that these plans, and the allied local development planning process for Skelmersdale, provide perhaps one of the most coherent arguments against the proposed hazardous landfill site at White Moss.

There are two key aspects to this issue. 

First, because the West Lancashire local plan development is running behind the minerals and waste development plan, and this means that there has as yet been no formal identification of possible sites for new housing.  What we do know, however, is that there is a requirement on the council to provide additional land for housing.  

It is hardly inconceivable that, as the plan moves forward, the view might emerge that housing for the enlargement of Skelmersdale might be built on the southern side of the motorway.   However, this will be militated against by any proposals to extend the size and life of the White Moss hazardous landfill site.  Thus the process for identifying housing land is, through the waste and mineral plan process, effectively illegitimated, and that the needs for waste disposal for the county and beyond override the legitimate needs of the residents of Skelmersdale.

For this reason alone, any proposal to extend the White Moss site should be abandoned.

Second, development of new housing both around and in the town centre of Skelmersdale, in an area just a couple of miles along the prevailing wind path from White Moss, is planned as part of the town’s regeneration.  Profits released from new housing are essential within the developer plans to allow for the creation of the town centre as a whole.  This has been the plan for the town centre for some years now.

There is a very real risk that news of the extension to White Moss will, in time, have a negative effect on house prices; while clearly it is desirable that some houses are offered at affordable prices to local people, open market accommodation should gain the marker rate in order to ensure that the town centre is built as planned.

This may happen whether or not there is an actual risk of pollution from the White Moss site, and however small it may be, because in these circumstances perception of risk is as strong as actuality.

In short, Skelmersdale have very specific and particular needs around its regeneration which mean that a hazardous landfill site – safe or not – will militate against its future.  Residents have had legitimate concerns about the existing site for a number of years, but this should not be compounded by concerns of potential residents which may stop the town growing to the critical mass it needs both in terms of sustained services and business and in terms of West Lancashire housing targets.

7)         In addition to the planning process for West Lancashire as a whole, the borough council is also engaged in a more specific process of identifying sites for gypsies and travelers in keeping with the Regional Spatial Strategy.  While we would argue that the council’s process is wholly flawed and objectionable, the reality following a planning enforcement meeting last week is that the council has indicated its desire to see the required site at the existing temporary and illegally occupied site it White Moss, just a few yards from the hazardous landfill, and again downwind from it.

It is not appropriate, in our view, for what will almost certainly become a residential area to be located so near a hazardous site.  Given that the gypsy site will go ahead in all likelihood, this means that the White Moss site should not.  We would argue that permission would not have been given permission for the original site if the gypsy site had been legitimately in place at that time, so the same logic should now apply.

8) One of the advantages set out in the consultation papers for the identification of both White Moss and Simonswood for preferred locations was the proximity of the railway line.  It is our contention that the proximity of the line is in no real sense an advantage, because a) it was accepted by officers we spoke to at the open day that little or no waste arrives by rail across the country anyway b) there is no station near to either preferred location.

Rather, we contend that the proximity of the rail line is simply being used as a factor to bolster the argument for a location which would have found itself ‘preferred’ in any event, for reasons other than transportation.   This is not a legitimate way to proceed, and we would suggest therefore weakens the case for both locations to be taken forward.

Simonswood

9)   In respect of the Simonswood site, our key concern that the possibility of an ‘incinerator’ is effectively being concealed within the consultation.   We contend that to include incineration facilities within the definition of ‘housed’ waste facilities is, if not deliberately misleading, somehat confusing.  In any reasonable sense, an incinerator is not a housed facility, as what it produces from the incineration goes beyond the confines of the housing, and in this case would be carried over Simonswood and Bickerstaffe towards Skelmersdale by the prevailing wind.  This should have been made clearer, and the fact that it has not been provides an argument for the potential for incineration being excluded at the next stage of the planning process.

10)  In a similar vein, it is not reasonable to argue for a strategic location of incineration facilities on the basis that there is already waste disposal activity on the Simonswood Industrial Estate.  There is no incineration currently and it is a wholly different type of activity to the current operations.

11)  Further, while we do not pretend towards technical expertise in this matter, we would ask that the potential for an incineration facility be questioned in relation to the existing storage of large amounts of ammonium nitrate on the industrial estate.  This is of course the substance, which when exposed to inappropriate environmental conditions, caused the 2001 Toulouse explosion with the loss of 33 lives – an incident which would have had a much higher profile had it not taken place just a few days after the 9/11 attacks on New York.

12)  ARROW quite rightly point the fact that the proposed strategic location for this ‘housed waste’  is at the very south west tip of Lancashire, and as such provides a service more for Merseyside than it does for Lancashire.  We concur with ARROW that this allows the Merseyside authorities too easy a path away from the development of recycling because it does not have to develop waste facilities on its own soil and go through the relevant planning processes.  This is not, in our view, a legitimate way to avoid overall responsibility, and means that West Lancashire residents potentially suffer because of it.  Of course, the same broad principle applies to White Moss and its potential use by Greater Manchester authorities.

 13)  ARROW also rightly point out that HGVs would need to access the site via Merseyside.  This is because there is an existing HGV ban on the narrow country lanes through Bickerstaffe and Simonswood.  There is already some breaching of this ban, which is a matter for highways enforcement rather than planning, by lorries taking a short cut to the industrial estate.  Any move towards the Industrial Estate becoming a strategic location brings with it a risk of ever greater transgressions on a road surface which is already badly holed and in need of frequent repair.   If the site does gain strategic status, it should bring with it specific guidance to planners that conditions should be imposed in respect of traffic movements, so that transgressions can be pursued through both planning and highways.   This should also be considered as a means to regulate traffic movements at White Moss.

14)   Further, if Simonswood is given the go ahead as a strategic location, specific consideration should be given to improving the road network for the short distance between their and Knowsley Industrial Estate so as to keep vehicle movements within that non-greenbelt area and off Perimeter Road.  This woud utilize scrub land within Knowsley near the site of the putative new train station.

Other sites

15) ARROW also give brief consideration to the smaller built waste facilities at Pimbo, Burscough and Great Altcar.  We concur that the siting of these may be acceptable, although as with White Moss there needs to be consideration at Burscough of any expansion in housing and how that might impact on the issue.  This information should have been in place before this waste consultation, so any firmer decision should be held back to give the local plan precedence.

16) However, we also concur with ARROW that, as at Simonswood, the inclusion of possible incineration within the possible modes of waste disposal is misleading and not acceptable, and incineration should be explicitly excluded at the next stage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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