We receive a number of emails from operators about the regulatory inconsistency and bullying by Environment Agency officers, but we think that this letter from a well run operator really epitomises the true extent of this malfunctioning Quango in detail and to what lengths it allows its warranted officers to abuse their powers (we have removed some chunks to protect the individual writer and company).
It also helps show how the Environment Agency can afford to pay its staff exorbitant wages, provide extensive benefits and generous pensions (at the expense of local businesses and the public through higher service costs) whilst local council enforcement officers receive only a fraction of these benefits (there is a true difference in transparency and revenue models (scorings influence fees) between Quangos and genuine government authorities):
“The EA (Environment Agency) periodically visited the site, usually 3 times per year. If there was anything that wasn’t compliant with the permit, they would score the company, by way of OPRA score ( Operational Risk Appraisal) The OPRA score is made up of points that you are given each site visit for anything that is not compliant with the permit. The total is added up, and at the end of the year and the licence subsistence fee is dependent on it. The higher the score the higher the fee.
The fee was around £1200 per year. Our OPRA score for the site in 2012 was 32.
The site has always been full almost to capacity and the we were always working at a backlog of old waste as well as current waste. We explained this to our EA Officer Emily Boothby during her site visits. She understood that we were working toward removing old waste while continuing to recycle as much as possible and reduce waste to landfill and was supportive of our progress. Instead of leaving a full site to the receivers, we were battling to save it.
With this in mind we bought a Godswill Baler to compact the waste into bales to produce RDF (refuse Derived Fuel) to be exported to Sweden for Waste to Energy. We were the first company in our area to try this new way of reusing waste, and aiming for Zero to Landfill.
This was a cheaper option than Landfill, and also a greener option for the environment. The baler was so expensive we would have to keep it for 5 years to pay for itself.
We began to make the bales. This involved a detailed manual and mechanical sorting of the waste first to comply with the calorific value that the burners in Sweden required it to have.
The bales were regularly tested so each load had a consignment note and a proof of calorific value with it.
Because it was summer time when we began, the RDF was not required as quickly as it would have been if it were winter months. The RDF built up so we had a large amount stored on site, awaiting collection.
We had a site inspection in May 2013 and we were scored by our officer, a total of 24 points.
These were Category 3 breaches which was classed as ‘a non-compliance which could have a minor environmental impact’. This was the most full the site had ever been, and it was at its worst.
In June 2013 we agreed to meet with our EA officer for a site Audit. This was to determine what our plans were with regards to the storage of RDF and other matters going forward.
It was decided that we would apply to change our Environmental Permit to allow us to store RDF on the part of the site that was already licensed and allow us to store higher tonnages.
The permit currently only allowed us to store waste in a building or a bay, but as the waste was wrapped and baled, the EA would look favourably on us varying the licence to include the storage of this RDF.
In September 2013 we had a meeting with our EA officer and a member of the permitting team, who agreed that the EA would support the application and it would be a minor variation to the existing permit.
We began to application process on the 25th September 2013.
To finalise the application I required our OPRA score which would determine the fee to I could include a cheque with the application pack.
I continued to email our officer with questions and responses to her questions throughout October 2013.
In November 2013 we had a letter from Rotherham MBC planning department saying they had a complaint from a householder who wanted to know why we were storing baled RDF on the unlicensed part of the site. I explained that we were in the process of changing our licence to allow this. He said that the council would fully support this, as well as the storage of Trommell Fines on the unlicensed area of the site, and we should apply for retrospective permission once the licence was changed.
We had arranged a collection of all the RDF (800 bales) to be removed by the end of January 2014 which we did.
During this time there were a lot of large fires on sites all over the country that caused a lot of problems for surrounding businesses and the Environment Agency. Companies who couldn’t afford to dispose of the waste they had on site, had ‘suspicious’ fires during the night that got rid of the waste.
Also, large companies were storing RDF at the dock side for export and just leaving it there, then going into administration which left the waterways to pay for the removal of the RDF, at a cost of millions of pounds.
These incidents caused the EA to re-asses the storage of waste along with the Fire Service and the storage of RDF on sites and docks. The EA were in consultation with the Fire Service and they produced a guidance for the storage of combustible waste. This was called the TGN.7 Regulations. This was a guidance for Waste Companies and was changed regularly.
Our License didn’t include this TGN.7 regulation, as the licence was an old style permit.
In March 2014 we had an enquiry from another operator called X, who we had dealt with previously and had a good relationship with. He told us he knew of a company called X who were looking to rent or buy land in our area and would we be interested in selling or leasing the part of the site that wasn’t licensed, which we were intending to include to store RDF and trommell fines. X had shown interest in this land before and knew it was a large 2 acre piece of the site that we didn’t have much use for.
He introduced us to the directors of X and told us that he was also a director of X, and they had taken over the running of Bootham Lane Landfill Site where we used to tip ourselves, and they were planning to run a few more landfill sites. One of the directors said he had run another landfill site in the North East for the last 2 years.
Initially they wanted to rent the site for 3 years with a view to buying it. They were going to apply for their own licence and they were planning to erect a building for the waste.
We agreed a price and employed our solicitor to begin the lease agreement. We had a clause in the lease that stated that X would have to have a £2million insurance policy for clean up, in case they just left the land and all waste on it for us to clear.
We also had a clause that said that we would only allow them to rent the site once the licence was in place.
X then said that they could remove our Trommell Fines which were stored on the unlicensed area of the site to their landfill at Bootham Lane.
Trommell Fines were previously accepted at Landfill for cover material at a cost of £5.00 fee and £2.50 tax. Unfortunately, companies and landfill sites began to take advantage of this, and were taking in mixed waste and passing it off as trommell fines.
Trommell Fines are primarily 90% dust/soil and Landfill Companies require this to cap off the waste every few layers to stop hot spots on the landfill site which could result in fires. Unfortunately, some big waste companies in the past had pushed their luck and the waste that was being passed off as trommell fines was clearly not, and it was just mixed waste shredded into small pieces.
The HMRC were alerted to this by the sudden loss of revenue from the higher rate of Landfill Tax (£82.00 per tonne) and an increase in the revenue from the lower rate of Landfill Tax (£2.50 per tonne) and decided that trommell fines had to be tested for their content and would be charged at full landfill tax if they didn’t meet the criteria.
The companies who did this were ordered to pay back HMRC the revenue they had avoided by cheating.
Before we agreed to let X dispose of our Trommell Fines, I requested a copy of the site licence and all the permissions where they were taking the fines. It was checked and it all looked fine. The licence said that the Landfill Site could accept the material we were sending and had another 2 years to run.
The Transfer Notes were all correct stating that the materials were coming from X at Wath-Upon-Dearne, Rotherham and going to the same landfill site that we had taken them to for the last 10 years.
X sent in their lorries and began taking out the Trommell Fines that the EA had asked us to remove.
I emailed our officer on the 8 May 2014 to tell her we had began removing the fines as she had asked, and told her where they were going and that X was the broker.
On the 12 May 2014 we received an email from John Crowl from the EA Crime Team in the North East, asking for copies of the Transfer Notes we had received from disposing of our trommell fines at Landfill. We sent them immediately.
On the 19th May my solicitor emailed me to ask if it would be possible for X to occupy the site prior to their licence being issued, as it was taking longer than expected. I refused this request and emailed our officer to see if they had applied for a licence. She said the EA hadn’t had any application for the site or even discussed it with anyone from X.
On the 22nd May 2014 our officer and another officer came to the site to take a sample of our trommell fines for the EA to test. We assisted them in the sampling and asked if there was a problem with X. The officers said they couldn’t tell us anything as it was regarding an issue that John Crowl fro the NE team had with X.
I emailed X and told them we were no longer prepared to lease the site to them. That day they sent back 2 loads of fines saying they were unsuitable and they didn’t come in again after that.
I emailed our officer to tell her that we would be applying to vary the permit ourselves as the lease agreement had fallen through.
At this point our total Opra score for the year was 64 points from 1st May 2013 – 1st May 2014. They were all minor Category 3 breaches and there was no reason to believe that once we had varied our permit we would be fully compliant. We only had the same 2 officers visit the site during that time.
We had no complaints regarding odour, or vermin and we hadn’t caused any harm to the environment or human health.
On the 10th July John Crowl sent 2 officers from his team to speak to us regarding our involvement with X. We explained that we intended to lease the land to them and it had fallen through. The EA Officers told us that X had been taking trommell fines to landfill for restoration. We showed them our paperwork which showed that it wasn’t our fines they had taken for that purpose. He went away and said it was probably the last you’ll her from us as everything was in order.
We had a site inspection on the 31 July 2014 from 2 new officers who hadn’t visited before. This was to assess our fire risk potential.
We had a site visit on the 7th August which consisted of 5 officers and 2 fire service officials. Our EA officer informed us that they would be looking to suspend our environmental permit due to the amount of waste on site. I could not understand this as there was less waste on site than when she had agreed to extend our licence.
This had happened after John Crowl and his officers had visited.
On the 25th August 2014 we had a request to attend a formal interview with John Crowl regarding the suspected illegal activities and offences that he believed we were party to.
We declined this interview, as we had not committed any offences or partaken in any illegal activity. We were aware that John Crowl had been after the directors of X for 12 months and hadn’t been able to get hold of them. Although X had no charges of any illegal activity against them and still haven’t to this day. The directors of X said that John Crowl had a vendetta against them from their dealings with him in the North East for a previous company.
On the 29th August 2014 we had a site visit from 2 new officers who we hadn’t met before and they had come to site specifically to take a photograph of the remainder of the trommell fines that were left on site. They told us we must not remove the trommell fines from site as they were potentially hazardous! We had never heard anything as ridiculous as this, as we had the tested regularly and they were fine. He said they had the test results and would send them to us.
We were told that we could only dispose of them as a Hazardous Landfill site with them permission of the EA.
At 3PM we received an email giving us an Enforcement Notice relating to the RDF stored on site that we were in the process of including in the permit variation.
It was through no fault of ours that the permit variation hadn’t yet gone through and nothing had changed, except that there was less waste on site. The only thing that had changed was the involvement of John Crowl from the North East Environment Agency.
I wrote to the officer who issued the Enforcement Notice explaining that we were in the process of changing the licence to include the RDF storage and that I felt this had come out of the blue and that we were being punished because we wouldn’t attend John Crowls’ interview. She replied saying that she had 2 weeks to respond and would respond on the 14th dayI made a complaint formally and received an email saying that my complaints would be looked in to, and that I was going to appeal against the Enforcement Notice.
On the 5th September 2014 I submitted our licence application in incomplete. There was information missing that I had requested from our officer in May 2014 that she never sent. I didn’t have the fee or our up to date OPRA score.
On the 12th September another3 officers visited the site. I had met 2 of them before but not the 3rd. He introduced himself as Fran Lowe and he was the regional senior officer and he had come to site regarding my complaint.
During the visit Fran Lowe told us that the whole site was operating illegally and if we appealed against the Enforcement, we would not be successful. He said that he thought his officers had been very lenient with us and if it was up to him he would have revoked our licence altogether. I believe this was a bullying tactic that he was using because he then said that he knew about the ‘Hazardous Fines’ and that it would be in our interest to attend the interview with John Crowl to clear our name. I asked if they had the test results back and he said (12th Sept) that they had them back and they showed our trommell fines to be hazardous.
The other officers agreed with him and said we could have the interview at their Rotherham office if it suited us better. We said we would not attend the interview until we had seen the test results for our trommell fines that John Crowl had taken. Fran Lowe was not pleased at hearing this. He said we ought to get ourselves a solicitor.
The site visit resulted in him giving us an OPRA score of 62 points for that one visit, the highest score we ever had and there were Category 2 breaches that said it was a non-compliance that could result in a significant environmental impact. Bearing in mind there was less waste on site than the previous site visits.
Fran Lowe said that the EA would not allow us to store RDF on the site as they previously had said they would and they would refuse our application. He said he would put it all in a letter so we would be clear.
I emailed Fran Lowe after that visit to say we would not appeal against the enforcement notice and just remove the RDF at a higher cost to Landfill instead of waiting until winter when we could have it exported at half the price. He had basically scared us to death with the threat of revoking our licence.
On the 15th September I still had no response from Joanne Holt or Fran Lowe regarding my complaint against the fact that the enforcement was issued without prior notice and whilst we were in the process of varying the permit. I still have not had a response from either of them.
On the 16th September John Crowl requested an interview which we declined again.
On the 20th September 2014 we had an arson attack on our site. It was a small fire that was dealt with quickly. No one else was affected, there was no contamination to waterways, nearby houses, in fact no one other than ourselves and the EA were aware of it.
When we were back at work on the 22 September we received an anonymous call asking us politely no to attend the interview with John Crowl and not to mention any names involved in the Bootham Lane Landfill Site that X were operating as it as in our interest. This came the day after the arson attack.
4 new officers attended the site on Monday 22 September 2014 to assess any impact from the small fire. There was none, but we still got a very high OPRA score for letting intruders bust the fencing and enter the site.
We had began to remove the RDF by 1st October and 500 tonnes had been taken to landfill. The cost was higher than anticipated when we produced the RDF and due to the fact that Fran Lowe had said the EA wouldn’t vary our licence to include the storage of RDF, we decided we would have to sell the baler to pay for the cost of the RDF removing. So our pioneering recycling system was now to be taken out and we would have to revert to not recycling waste to energy.
The RDF was not moving as quickly as we would have liked because we had to rely on haulers to collect the RDF for landfill because we sold our own lorries and trailers when we installed the baler as we didn’t require them.
I emailed our officer and explained we would not meet the Enforcement deadline and asked her to extend it. We were committed to removing the RDF as quick as we could.
The officers visited the site on the 7th October 2014 to decide about extending the enforcement notice. They agreed there was some way to go but we had made significant progress.
During this visit the EA officer said he had the test results from our trommell fines. He said they were inconclusive and the EA couldn’t prove that the trommell fines were hazardous. The test was completed on the 25th September so when Fran Lowe visited site, he did not know the test results which he threatened us with, they hadn’t even been carried out.
On the 9th October 2014 our officer asked if it would be alright for the directors of the EA to visit our site. I felt I had no option other than to agree after all the pressure we were getting from them. They were due to visit on Tuesday 14th October at 10am.
On the 10th October, John Crowl phoned to request an interview at our offices on the 14th October, which was the day that the EA Directors were coming, so we refused the meeting with him again.
After this conversation our officer rang and said the directors would not be visiting on Tuesday, so we were free to meet with John Crowl from the EA. I told her we would not be attending the interview.
On Thursday the 16th October 2014 John Crowl rang X (manager) on his personal mobile number, to his surprise because he had never given it to him, nor ever met him. He asked if he could come to our yard to have an ‘off the record’ meeting.
We said that would be ok. He came to site in his normal clothes and was with a man who had been to site before when he had come to take to the trommell fine sample, and had told X that this would be the last we would hear of them. The man with John Crowl said he was an ex police officer and therefore he could tell who was lying and who wasn’t. We believe this is another bullying tactic employed by the EA officers.
John Crowl asked us why we wouldn’t attend a formal interview. We explained that we had nothing to tell him other than what we had already told him. He said that he needed us to implicate X by directors names, otherwise he couldn’t prosecute them. I asked what they were being prosecuted for and he wouldn’t or couldn’t tell us. He said that they wouldn’t know it was us unless it went to court. He then said if we gave evidence against X in court, the EA would not prosecute us. I told him the only thing we had done wrong was to store the fines on the un-licensed part of the site that we were applying to include.
He said he that someone had tipped a load of hazardous waste at Bootham Lane Landfill Site. That explained why they were trying to make our fines look as though they were hazardous. All the tests proved they weren’t. I am to assume that X was taking fines to Bootham Lane Landfill from other places that weren’t tested and the John Crowl was trying to pin it on us. The EA accused us of having hazardous trommell fines before they had even tested them. He had sent letters of alleged offences and implicated all the other bullying techniques before they had even tested the trommell fines. I also assume he wanted us to tell him if we knew who else X were working with. It is impossible to take a small sample as big as a teacup from a pile of 1000 tonnes and verify that the whole pile consisted of the material tested.
We told him that we had been ‘advised’ by a third party not to get involved for our own benefit.
He then said something that I found quite offensive which was ‘ do you know how much money these waste men are making? have you seen them driving around in their big Range Rovers?’ This had nothing to do with John Crowl, who was obviously bitter.
He also said, ‘what have you got to lose? you’re screwed if you do the interview and screwed if you don’t’ I think that this was in reference to all the harassment and victimisation we have had from our own EA officers, who ALL requested we attend the interview with John Crowl at some point during every site visit.
We had an extension to comply with the Enforcement Notice to the 5 December 2014,
At 4pm that day This site visit report came for the visit they carried out 2 weeks previously to assess the site with a view to extending the enforcement date. the same day that John Crowl had visited. I believe that he our EA officer had waited to see if we would agree to the interview, and if we did we wouldn’t have got this high score. This score now put us in a bad operator group, so our licence fee for the year would be 500% higher.
We had another site visit on the 6th November 2014, and although at this permit we had removed 1200 tonnes of RDF, we were still classed as a high risk site for fire, therefore resulting in another 62 points on our OPRA score.
A meeting was arranged for the 17th December with our own officers to discuss the site moving forward.
The EA officers told us they were pleased with our progress and could see that we were committed to improving the site and being compliant.
They told us that the EA were going to vary our licence themselves to include the TGN.7 fire regulations so we would have to comply with them.
They asked us for a timescale that we could comply with, without putting our company at any further financial disadvantage. We suggested May 2015 to be fully compliant. This meant putting fire breaks and walls in the stockpiles of waste stored on site. They had to be reduced and a 6 metre break between stacks.
The officers said that was a reasonable timescale and that we should use the winter months up to then wisely. We left for christmas holidays feeling optimistic for the new year and got the feeling that the EA were going to give us a bit of a break and let us get on with getting the site compliant.
After we got back from the christmas holidays the site was covered in snow, so the RDF and current waste was not being collected as fast as we would have liked. Then there were very high winds for 2 weeks which resulted in the Landfill Site being closed. I emailed our officers and explained this, and we also stopped anyone other than our own skip lorries tipping at the site. This was a pro-active move to stop the waste building up again. As the RDF had almost gone, I sent regular photos to our officer who seemed pleased with the progress. Although I did warn her that the current waste in the building was taking a back seat so we could get the RDF out.
On the 27 January 2015, our officer visited site with Stephen Glenville, who had previously visited during the last year.
He wanted to go straight to the part of the site where the trommel fines were stored. He said he had been around the back of the site and seen that we were processing the trommell fines over a grid. This was true. We were putting the fines over a grid to try to removed any small stones so they weight was less. He said that these fines could be hazardous and we were not allowed to process hazardous waste on our site.
He said he had been on a site with John Crowl the day before. This explained why he went straight to the trommell fines.
We haven’t heard anything ourselves from John Crowl since he visited our office off the record.
We again had our trommell fines tested and they did not show any hazardous content, the same as the test the EA carried out didn’t. We cannot understand why Stephen Glenville mentioned hazardous waste again.
The site visit resulted in an OPRA score of 62. So the EA officers who met with us on the 17th December had said to get our site in order over the winter months, but this particular officer had met with John Crowl the day before and the EA had visited again, giving us a high score.
On the 2nd March our EA officer and Stephen visited site again and presented me with a Enforcement Notice suspending our EA licence until we complied with TGN.7 Fire regulations.
It said that we were a big fire risk, even though we had removed 2000 tonnes of waste from site in the last 5 months. Surely we were a bigger risk then?
We are primarily a skip hire business, and we bring all our skips back to our site. This will leave us with nowhere to tip our own skips, which are hire out all over Barnsley and Rotherham.
I can appeal against this but the suspension will still stand.
I believe we have been treated unfairly by the EA for the last 12 months. The problems began from the involvement with X and their NE Officer John Crowl. I believe that John Crowl used his influence with our officers to put pressure on us for 12 months. Whenever we refused, as you can see, we were dealt another blow by the EA.
Every single officer who visited our site requested or suggested that we have an interview to basically drop X in trouble. As far as we are concerned, they didn’t do anything wrong and have never been charged with anything. We haven’t heard from X since and I believe that the company has gone int liquidation.
We spent £182830.31 on the removal of 2076.49 Tonnes of RDF and waste to
Landfill when the cost would only have been £74753.64 if we had exported it. As I mentioned, we had to sell the baler to fund this. As soon as the RDF had gone, the EA sent the licence suspension notice.
We could have left the RDF where it was until the Planning Inspectorate had made his decision which up to today (5 March 15) he still hasn’t.
We have 18 employees and have recently had a grant of £30,000 from the government to retain these jobs for 2 years. We have to pay this back if we do not retain these jobs.
I acknowledge that this is a long story, but have catalogued everything as I was advised to by another company who had similar problems with the EA a few years ago. Apparently this is a tactic they use.
If there is anything at all you need clarification on, or if you would like to see the site reports that damn us, then I can send them to you. I also thought it might be beneficial to write to the ombudsman with my story, but I run the risk of further problems in the future with the EA officers.
Thank You for taking the time to read this diary of events and hope you can help?”