George Eustice: Whittlesey spoils ‘criminal investigation’

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Published:
12:37 18 June 2022



Updated:
5:26 PM June 18, 2022

Environment Secretary George Eustice has revealed a criminal investigation is underway at Saxon Pit, Whittlesey, where 122,000 tonnes of potentially hazardous waste was dumped.

Mr Eustice will visit the site with his Parliamentary Under-Secretary, MP Jo Churchill, and NE Cambs MP Steve Barclay.

“The Environment Agency is currently carrying out a criminal investigation,” Mr Eustice told Mr Barclay.

“The investigation is complex and involves large-scale offenses and multiple suspects.”

He said: “A round of bail interviews have taken place and the final round of interviews focusing on those who control the site of the site will take place shortly.”

In his letter to Mr Barclay, dated June 14 and published by the MP last night, Mr Eustice apologized for the delays in responding to concerns that had been raised.

He told Mr Barclay: “I appreciate your concerns about the time it has taken to resolve the issues on the site.

“I’m digging deeper into the details of the case and doing a deep dive to see what we can do to expedite this case.”

And, he added, to see “what should have been done differently”.

He acknowledged Mr Barclay had been ‘dissatisfied’ with the Environment Agency’s actions and promised ‘I will investigate and challenge this’.

Mr Eustice said he was fully aware of the ongoing remediation work and that the first phase was 95% complete.

Work had begun on phase two of five along the eastern boundary of the site.

“The last layer of restoration of the first phase will be completed after the installation of the underground impermeable clay plug to prevent or minimize the entry of water into the pit,” he said.

“Once fully landscaped, the restoration program should include standing water environments, reedbeds, grasslands and scrub habitats.”

Eighteen months ago angry advisers demanded the Environment Agency (EA) explain why no legal action had been taken.

As I first revealed, the illegal dumping at the old Saxon Pit brickyard has persisted for many years.

And when it was discovered and tests revealed the toxicity of the illegal waste, the Environment Agency gave it some thought and then quietly dropped the lawsuit.

“I’m going to be pretty honest with you,” said Whittlesey City, District and County Councilor Chris Boden.

“In my view, the Environment Agency has failed miserably in fulfilling its legal duties.

“But the Environment Agency is dangerously unaccountable for its actions and inactions, especially at the local level.”

A study by the EA of 50 samples found that 43 contain “enough chemical contaminants to make them dangerous”.

Instead, the EA agreed that ‘non-compliant’ waste at Saxon Pit could remain after containment measures were put in place.

According to the EA, this was to ensure that leachate (fluids) and landfill gas from imported waste could not escape.

Studies have shown that the waste was “illegally buried in a vacuum between October 2017 and February 2018.

“This excludes waste illegally accepted and buried by previous operators before October 2017.”

In April this year, new operators won permission for a center to recycle incinerator ash, despite hundreds of objections.

The approval means that ash from the incinerator, along with construction demolition waste, can be imported, stored and processed at the former brickworks, off Peterborough Road, Whittlesey.

The claim was made by Johnsons Aggregates and Recycling Limited, who were unrelated to the site when the alleged illegal dumping was undertaken.

Johnsons says the site will not be an incinerator, but will import incinerator bottom ash (IBA), as well as construction and demolition waste for recycling.

Last year Mr Barclay described it as ‘unacceptable’ that a recycling plant could start up in Whittlesey at the same disused brickworks where illegal waste was dumped.

At the time, the Environment Agency was seeking comments on the environmental permit application for the construction of a waste recycling plant processing 500,000 tonnes a year at the former Saxon Pit brickworks in Whittlesey.

“Yet this is being done without resolving outstanding issues which remain of great concern,” Mr Barclay said.

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