(The letter below is for the most part exactly the same as the letter sent recently to Bucks County Council. The main differences between this version and the original are that in this version, references to specific council officers have been removed and some quotes have been replaced with paraphrasing. These alterations were made to avoid breaching any confidentiality laws. The background to the sending of this letter is explained separately at the end of the letter.)
We – residents of Ley Hill and surrounding areas – would like to complain in the strongest terms about the way that the Bucks CC Planning Department has handled an application to use the Dunton’s Brickworks site (HP51UW) as an asbestos landfill. We are contacting a few people within Bucks County Council who, we have been informed, are open minded and have a track record of seriously wishing to improve systems and communications between the public and the County Council.
If you would like a full list of residents happy to disclose their names and addresses in relation to this complaint we can supply you with one. We can also tell you which other people within Bucks County Council we are contacting if you would like to know.
This letter is long because it contains many details, but our complaint can be summarised with three points:
1) The Duntons site has a planning consent that bears no relation to the operations that will now take place at the site, and the new operation will cause all control measures in the site’s planning consent to be abandoned. A ‘fit for purpose’ planning consent must be issued for the new Hazardous Waste landfill.
2) We believe that a new planning process must take place so that local residents can participate in producing a new planning consent for the landfill operation at the Duntons site.
3) An Environment Agency (EA) permit has been issued for the site and the detail of site operations described in it does not match the site’s planning consent at all. The EA have stated that Planning and the EA have separate responsibilities but must jointly regulate the Duntons site. If Bucks CC Planning do not undertake a planning process to issue a new planning consent for the new operation that will take place there, they cannot fulfil their role as joint regulator of the site because important health and safety issues that fall within the remit of Planning rather than the EA will not be addressed.
The following pages explore issues 1) – 3) above in far greater depth
The site’s current planning consent is not a valid consent for the site to be run as an asbestos landfill because the 2012 planning consent does not describe or control landfill activities, let alone asbestos landfill activities
We believe that although the site now has an EA Permit, it currently has no valid planning consent for the asbestos landfill. The EA have stated that the asbestos landfill operation needs both an EA permit and valid planning consent to proceed.
The EA have stated that they jointly regulate sites with Planning. Planning cannot take any proper part in the joint regulation because they have only examined, and provided consent and controls for, operations that will now not take place at the site. Planning have not yet examined the detail of the new asbestos landfill operation. The site’s planning consent does not make reference to an intensive landfill operation or provide any controls for one.
The new operation will be a Hazardous Waste landfill and it will involve very different daily site activities to those detailed in the site’s 2012 planning consent. It would be negligent of Bucks CC to allow this operation to go ahead without a planning consent properly designed for the new operation.
The 2012 planning consent specifies that activities at the site, including backfilling are to be phased over approximately 25 years, largely to limit the impact of HGV traffic on the village. Site activities include: clay quarrying to make bricks on site and phased backfilling, with periods of intensive site activity (and associated site traffic and noise) limited to just 8 weeks of each year.
The new operation will involve intensive landfilling daily, for 6.5 years and an HGV vehicle leaving or visiting the site on average every 12 minutes, every weekday (48 HGV journeys and 24 HGV site visits daily, just 1 HGV short of the maximum number permitted by the site consent). The site will incorporate one mound of inert waste and one mound of asbestos waste. The asbestos waste mound will be 10 metres high before capping, the vast majority of the mound above ground, with two unsupported sides facing the village of Ley Hill. It could possibly be the only asbestos mound (as opposed to craters filled with asbestos) in the UK.
The only examination of the site owner’s application for an asbestos landfill has been undertaken by the Environment Agency, but the EA have a limited remit. Approximately 17 concerns and queries submitted by residents and/or statutory bodies during the EA Permit Consultation, were dismissed and left unexamined by the EA because, the EA stated that they were the remit of the Planning authority. Bucks Planning Department, though, refuses to give us any opportunity to question them on these issues.
The Planning Department has refused to engage with local residents individually.
Planning stated, in their response to our group letter, that they were within their legal rights to simply allow the asbestos landfill to go ahead (later in the letter we dispute this), that we should have instigated a Judicial Review process within 6 weeks of the 2012 planning consent being issued if we were unhappy with the 2012 consent (which seems flippant since the 2012 permission balanced business needs with those of the community, and we would have had no Judicial Review case in 2012 since the 2012 permission opposes intensive landfilling at the site and is specifically designed to avoid it), and that no variation is necessary because the asbestos landfill operation will not differ significantly from the operation outlined in the planning consent (despite the fact that the new operation permitted by the EA is totally different to the one described in the planning consent)
Despite addressing none of the concerns related to Planning issues at the Duntons site expressed in our Group Letter to them, the Planning Department rounded off their response letter to us by informing us that they will not be entering into any further correspondence with us on the matter, because they do not have the resource to do so. This seems very unreasonable.
Controls specified in the site’s current planning consent will not be met.
Periods of intensive site activity
Periods of intensive site activity are limited to 8 weeks of each year by the site’s planning consent but will be daily for 6.5 years with the new landfill operation.
Noise levels are limited to 70 decibels for just 8 weeks of each year under the current planning consent, whilst the EA Permit allows levels higher than 3 times this amount daily all year round.
Impact on road traffic and site traffic is a Planning issue, not an EA issue. The asbestos landfill will have a huge impact on traffic and the Highways Authority should urgently examine that impact as part of a Planning consultation
In response to our group letter, the Planning Department focus on the fact that traffic and other matters, would have been thoroughly explored by the Development Control Committee in 2012. It ignores the fact that none of the limits placed on HGV numbers by the 2012 planning consent will be possible with the new intensive landfill operation. It states that all relevant matters were thoroughly debated by the Planning Development Control Committee when the site’s current planning consent was agreed.
Material considerations, such as traffic were given consideration. The primary reason for the 2012 extension to the planning consent was to avoid the high HGV numbers associated with intensive landfill. Planning consent was extended from 8 years to approximately 25 years, periods of maximum site activity limited to just 8 weeks of each year, and only gradual restoration was permitted through phased backfilling, specifically to reduce the impact of HGV movements on village roads.
Section 75 of the Planning Development Control Committee Document (6th March 2012) states,
“The proposed extension of time would provide an additional time period in which infilling could be carried out, which would reduce the intensity of vehicle movements through the village compared to the site being required to be filled by 2020”.
The 2012 Document states that the planning consent is extended to approximately 25 years because the remaining 8 years of planning consent would involve too intensive a landfill operation. However, the new operation involves a landfill operation so intensive that it will be completed in just 6.5 years – 1.5 years less than the 8 years rejected as far too short by the 2012 Development Control Committee. On average, an HGV will pass along local lanes and roads every 12 minutes.
If the Planning Department takes into account how all ‘material considerations’ were resolved in the 2012 consent it will realise that new intensive landfill does not currently have planning approval.
The new operation will create a situation on local roads that directly contradicts guidelines in The Department for Transport’s Manual For Streets.
The Department for Transport’s Manual For Streets on page 16, 2.2.7 specifies that lightly trafficked lanes, like the single lane leading to the site entrance, should have pedestrian and cyclist use prioritised as much as vehicular use. The asbestos operation will not only not give equal priority to cyclists and pedestrians but will destroy current such use. It will cut off many walkers and pedestrians from footpaths and bridleway entrances leading to wider networks across the local countryside.
The Manual for Streets also emphasises the need for good visibility for traffic and other road users which seems to have been completely ignored by Bucks CC Planning in light of the new intensive asbestos landfill, where the only lane to the site is dark, unlit, narrow, with a blind bend just metres from the site access track entrance where vehicles will need to pull out across the road when turning onto the highway.
The Highways Agency urgently needs to re-assess the impact this new asbestos landfill operation will have on surrounding roads and on the single site access track which incorporates a public footpath. This should be done in conjunction with a new planning process for the Duntons site.
The Highways Agency must be given the opportunity to examine the impact of site traffic on local roads in light of their closure of one of the site’s two entrance/exit tracks and the banning of HGVs from all roads except one leading to the site.
Planning explored traffic issues in the 2012 consultation but the Highways Agency was not mentioned in the report. The Highways Agency should urgently be consulted about the safety of the site becoming an intensive landfill operation.
Changes to the layout of the site, made after the permissions for backfilling were first issued, will exacerbate traffic issues created by the new intensive landfill operation.
The site had one of its two access/entrance tracks closed down (we believe) in the 1990s, when the Highways Agency declared Blackwell Hall Lane unsuitable for HGVs. The site now only has one long, narrow, unmade access/exit track, (incorporating a public footpath), with only space for one way traffic. Michelmersh has not suggested that it will install any traffic control measures on the track despite the fact that a lorry will be leaving or entering the site on average every 12 minutes throughout every working day of the year (maybe more frequently in the winter).
The banning of the use of Blackwell Hall Lane by HGVs also means that all HGVs exiting the site must only turn left onto a narrow, unnamed lane, and must approach the site entrance only from the village end of the lane. The portion of the lane that HGVs are permitted to use leads uphill away from the site, past housing and through a bottle neck area beside two pubs before reaching wider roads (although the closest has a school on it, and the road there is also lined with parked cars for some of each weekday during term times).
Legal controls related to asbestos mean that each HGV containing asbestos will only be able to enter the site (and presumably the access track) at a strictly allotted time. The site’s access track has a relatively narrow entrance and no off road parking off the lane, so HGVs are likely to park along the lane to wait for their timeslot. HGVs parked or manoeuvring in the lane will cause a hazard for car drivers (particularly those that have just driven down the hill on Blackwell Hall Lane around the blind bend a few metres from the site entrance) and, even more worryingly, for pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders who use the lane to access multiple footpaths and bridleways to either side of it.
The lane is narrow (without central white lines) has no pavements and no verges that are easy to walk on to escape two-way or manoeuvring HGV traffic. The lane is unlit and dark because trees and shrubs to either side form a foliage tunnel. Vehicles will have to swing across the road to exit the site because the entrance/exit is narrow and this will cause a hazard for other road users (particularly if other HGVs are parked or queueing along the lane).
If vehicles realise they are too early for their timeslot or need to reverse for any other reason (to allow emergency service vehicles through, for example) they will have to reverse around blind bends and parked cars – the cottages along the road do not have driveways because of their age, and residents park their vehicles along the road. Further up the lane (away from the site entrance), visitors to the popular Swan and Crown pubs park along one side of the road. In addition, visitors to the pub sit on the island in the road which forms the Crown pub garden and people wander from it across the usually quiet road to cars and the common. It is likely that often clusters of HGVs will either arrive or leave the site and this will be dangerous for people parking and using the pub and common facilities. It will be noisy, fumy (due to idling engines as HGVs give way to oncoming traffic) and will have a detrimental impact on the successful pub businesses.
Bucks CC Planning and the Highways Agency, need to examine all of these issues in detail in a proper planning consultation with a view to issuing a new and appropriate consent for the site.
The site’s western boundary footpath is owned by Bucks CC yet at no point has Bucks CC questioned that members of the public walking on that footpath are likely to inhale asbestos fibres
The EA has overlooked this path in their decision document and local residents have sent an email to them asking that they urgently re-examine the position of the path. The EA have pointed out in their final decision document that, “The Local Planning Authority did not respond to the consultation,” so apparently, Bucks CC have also overlooked this path.
The footpath in question means that walkers on the path will be well within 15 metres of asbestos tipping at times. EA information on asbestos fibre monitoring in their final decision document suggested that asbestos fibre can be in the air up to 20 metres away from asbestos tipping even during incident free, acceptable asbestos tipping. During high winds or an accident, presumably asbestos fibres could be in the air further than 20 metres from tipping.
Bucks Planning Department have not answered any questions posed by individuals or in the group letter related to the southern and western boundary footpath.
The issue of public safety must be examined as part of a full planning process. Input from members of the public, who know this locale well, would be invaluable to Planning.
Asbestos landfills have very different safety controls to asbestos in other settings, and features of this site mean that without proper planning controls, the public will at times be in danger if it is landfilled with asbestos.
Asbestos is classed as an SNRHW (stable non reactive hazardous waste). It may be stable and non reactive in the environment, ie it does not break down into other components, but it is not inert if it enters human lungs, in the sense that it will cause serious changes in the human body. It is also legally classified a Hazardous Waste.
All types of asbestos, including the most dangerous, most fibrous varieties will be accepted at the site. Asbestos is a deadly mineral. Fibres are just 3 to 5 thousandths of a millimetre large which is the perfect size to cause harm because they are easily inhaled deep into the lung whilst being too small for the body to expel.
In settings other than landfill, where the most fibrous varieties of asbestos are removed or handled, areas are tented, spaces set up with negative air flow systems and air is often continually monitored during activity to ensure and to inform best practice. Nobody is allowed near the asbestos without a suit and mask. Asbestos and all rubble contaminated with asbestos is carefully placed in plastic bags, double wrapped and carefully placed by hand on a sealed lorry.
The manner in which asbestos is legally handled at a landfill is completely different. On an asbestos landfill, fibre release into air is only legally required to be monitored for approximately 2 hours, just 3 times a year, regardless of how much asbestos is being tipped yearly. The asbestos does not necessarily arrive properly double wrapped in plastic bags. An EA officer admitted that since the plastic bags contain contaminated building rubble as well as pure asbestos, sharp edged concrete or nails could easily pierce and tear the plastic bags in transit (as they rub together in the back of the lorry) or as they are tipped from lorries on the site. Rips in plastic bags very easily lead to releases of fibre into the air.
Michelmersh have stated that no site workers will handle asbestos by hand, they will be inside a vehicle cab or will only venture over to a site accident dressed in full suits and masks. Members of the public, though, will wander along site footpaths, just metres from tipping faces.
If there is a site accident and an uncontrolled release of asbestos fibre, the EA have stated that, from an EA perspective, Michelmersh employees will not have any legal obligation to warn members of the public walking on site footpaths, to discourage them from entering a dangerous area or from helping them away from a dangerous area. Michelmersh have only stated that they will inform the EA of any site accidents involving fibre releases.
Further controls need to be put in place with a new site planning consent. Many children use the footpaths on and near the site as part of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. Many people use the paths to visit the pubs at Ley Hill. The western and southern site path joins with many other footpaths, one of which is a key Chiltern footpath. The EA have fulfilled their remit but it is limited.
The site’s western boundary footpath is a Bucks CC footpath and Bucks planning need to ensure that proper controls in the site’s planning consent keep walkers safe on this popular footpath.
Planning should request an EIA from Michelmersh produced specifically for the Planning Department so that the Department can properly examine new site operations and issue a valid planning consent for the site
The site has never handled Hazardous Waste and has never had planning consent for Hazardous Waste landfilling.
The Environment Agency pointed out in the Draft Decision Document that they have examined the EIA produced for them by Michelmersh, and normally they would examine an EIA produced by the applicant specifically for the Planning Department as well, but that the Planning Department had not requested one because planning consent was in place.
An EIA would have detailed site issues in relation to the new asbestos landfill from a Planning perspective. Since Bucks CC planning decided that no new planning consent was needed for the asbestos landfill (which we refute), no agency has examined the new asbestos landfill operation from a Planning perspective.
An EIA should be requested now as part of a planning process with a view to Bucks Planning issuing a new ‘fit for purpose’ planning consent.
Does Bucks CC Planning believe (erroneously) that the EA have taken over full responsibility for assessing and regulating the site?
During the consultation process a number of people and bodies questioned the EA over the validity of the site’s planning consent since proposed operations are so different to those outlined in the consent. The EA responded, in their final decision document, with,
“The existence or not of planning permission is not a matter for the Environment Agency. It is a matter for the Local Planning Authority. Once the Permit is issued, then without prejudice to any other necessary consents the Operator can commence the permitted operations subject to the requirements of conditions 2.6 relating to the engineering of the landfill and the pre-operational measures as detailed in table S1.4 of the Permit.
The Local Planning Authority did not respond to the consultation.”
(Our bolding). Is Bucks CC planning proposing to remain uninvolved, in the hope that if there are problems at the site the EA will be culpable because they issued the Permit? If there are problems, accidents related to site traffic or fibre releases onto busy public footpaths for example, Bucks CC planning are in danger of being culpable simply because the site’s planning consent patently does not match the new operations ie it is not fit for purpose. The EA have fulfilled their role but planning have not.
Perhaps Bucks CC Planning find it convenient to hope that the EA will cover all the bases (despite the fact that the EA have repeatedly stated that the site must be jointly regulated). Planning’s letter to residents in response to our community group letter suggests this when they state that the operation will be strictly regulated by the Environment Agency (phrased in such a way as to suggest to many of us that Planning have no further regulatory responsibility). Planning state that the Environmental Permit will control all aspects of mitigation any potential impacts. Again, we feel that this statement suggests that Planning are telling us that all responsibility for control of the site and matters relating to it is now in the hands of the EA.
The EA have made clear that Planning and the EA have joint responsibility for controlling and regulating the site. The Planning Department should properly shoulder their share of the responsibility, by properly examining new site operations and should issue a new planning consent.
When deciding that Michelmersh could landfill the site with asbestos waste it was inappropriate of Planning to simply focus on the law that allows sites with planning consent to landfill with non-hazardous and inert waste to take asbestos instead
Intelligently interpreted, this law surely refers to ‘like for like’ filling ie the law means that a site that has gone through all the checks and balances to be a non hazardous waste landfill can automatically become an asbestos landfill.
This site has planning consent for gradual and phased backfilling, yet Michelmersh has not asked to backfill with asbestos. They have asked to be allowed to abandon all the site activities and controls detailed in their 2012 consent and, instead of backfilling to ‘gradually restore’ the site, they wish to intensively landfill it (directly described as inappropriate in the Development Control Committee Document 2012). They wish to create complex cells for mounded asbestos landfill with footpaths on site and homes nearby. The scale and complexity of this development, and the fact that it involves asbestos, a Hazardous Waste, means that the local Planning Department should examine every detail of this proposal through a planning process and local residents should also be fully involved.
Planning stated in its letter in response to our community group letter that they are legally permitted to allow the site to become a full scale landfill operation (with much of it filled with asbestos). We disagree because of the reasons detailed above.
In addition, in their letter to residents, the Planning Department state that since they are legally permitted to simply allow the site to become a full scale landfill (which we believe to be a questionable interpretation of the law both legally and morally), they do not have to amend the site’s current planning consent. Furthermore, they state that no other aspect of the permission is being altered which would require a formal variation to any other planning conditions. These statements seem shockingly inaccurate to many of us.
Operations at the site will be completely different to those described and permitted by the 2012 planning consent, and all control measures demanded by the 2012 consent will be abandoned.
Formal variation of multiple planning conditions is clearly necessary.
Planning would not be legally obliged to automatically allow the switch from non-hazardous and inert fill material to asbestos fill material because the consented operation and the new operation are entirely different. It would be negligent to allow the new operation to go ahead only with the site’s current planning consent. A new, appropriate planning consent must be issued.
Confusion over areas of responsibility and authority
Planning state in response to our group letter that if conditions of the planning consent are breached Planning will step in but on questioning the EA about this, the EA have stated that Planning may be mistaken about their powers in certain areas once an EA Permit has been issued and operations begin. Areas of responsibility and control need to be clear both to the Planning department and to residents.
Residents are concerned that business has been prioritised over the public’s safety
Michelmersh (the owners of the site) asserted at a public meeting that they chose asbestos landfill because it would mean that they could operate the site most intensively and most profitably. In regarding the change of operations as ‘acceptable amendments’ our Bucks CC Planning department is apparently prioritising the convenience and profit of a Sussex based business over valid concerns of local Bucks residents. Compressing 25 years of planned phased, mixed site activity into 6.5 years of particularly intensive landfill activity will have a huge effect on the local community, the direct opposite effect of the intentions expressed by the Development Control Committee document which informed the site’s current planning consent. Residents’ concerns need to be formally examined and addressed by our local Planning Department.
We feel that we are being unreasonably ignored. This is not a case of nimbyism. We did not object en-masse to the 2012 planning consent, in which the needs of business were balanced with the needs of the local community. We are concerned that in not having a new planning process and issuing a planning consent that is ‘fit for purpose’ for the intensive landfill operation, our Planning department has overlooked many important health and safety issues at the site and has no measures in place to ensure that members of the public will be safe.
Many of us feel so strongly about this situation that if we cannot get the Planning Department to begin a new planning process for the Duntons site with a view to issuing a new planning consent, we will contact national newspapers and programme makers of Dispatches and Panorama to see if they would be interested in examining this situation.
Please could you help us?
Residents of Ley Hill and surrounding areas.
Background to the letter of complaint recently sent to Bucks County Council in respect of an application to use the Duntons Brickworks site for full scale landfilling (much of it with all types of asbestos).
The version of this letter is slightly different to the one actually sent to Bucks County Council. To avoid breaching any confidentiality, the version on this site has had all references to the names of particular Council officers removed. Also, some quotes from the Council’s letter to residents have been removed. The quotes have been replaced with paraphrasing and some additional explanation. These alterations have been made because although the Planning Department’s letter was clearly a single letter intended for the community, it was separately sent to individuals and we were not sure whether or not we would be breaching confidentiality laws by quoting directly from it. A small number of syntax and punctuation errors have also been corrected.
The background to this letter of complaint is that residents had sent a Group Letter to Bucks CC Planning with a list of concerns about apparent oversights by the Planning Department in relation to the new landfill operation at the Duntons site. Bucks CC Planning responded to the Group Letter with a short letter that ignored the long list of residents’ concerns in relation to lack of planning controls and instead appeared simply to justify its apparent inaction in relation to Michelmersh’s application to use the Duntons site for full scale landfilling. Despite answering none of our questions and not addressing any of our concerns, the Council’s letter to residents also stated that Bucks CC Planning lacks the resource to engage further with us on any issues related to the Duntons site. Many of us felt that this was an unacceptable response by our Planning authority and consequently wrote the letter of complaint above.
The Bucks CC Planning Department have repeatedly stated that they must allow any ‘reasonable amendments’ to the site’s planning consent. The Planning Department’s letter suggested to us that drastically changing the site’s actual use from the use specified in its planning consent constitutes a ‘reasonable amendment’. Many of us are concerned that without a new site planning consent, the many other differences between the site’s new EA Permit and the site’s current planning consent will be automatically allowed by Bucks Planning Department under the umbrella term of ‘reasonable amendments’. This is unacceptable. The letter above points out that the public must be allowed to participate in a consultation process before such important decisions are made.