Reply to letter Robert Buckland MP sent to SBC:
(Environment agency log number and contact details are within this letter)
Dear Mr Buckland
Thank you for your email, which Mr Jenkins has forwarded to me as his line manager and the manager ordinarily responsible for such things.
I understand your distress; ‘biosolids’ as this sewage sludge cake is formally termed can be extremely odourous. There is a code of practice to direct spreaders in minimising impacts, and the process is subject to the Environmental Permitting regime. Unfortunately however, the Local Authority has no role in the Permitting of such, or in the practical enforcement of any outcomes from it.
The spreading of biosolids is an accepted and regulated practice, and it is a valuable way of returning nutrients to often exhausted agricultural soil whilst disposing of a waste product. I believe that 80% of all sewage sludge ‘cake’ is returned to the soil in this way across the UK. This activity is controlled either by an Environmental Permit or by a registered exemption; both of which are issued by the Environment Agency.
The difficulty for the Local Authority is that, where a process is controlled by a Permit or Exemption, we are effectively prevented from using the Statutory Nuisance provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (s.79). (Technically, and in extremis, it would be possible, but only with the express prior formal permission of the Secretary of State.) This limitation is set so as to avoid both ‘double jeopardy’ for the regulated business, and duplication of and confusion in the enforcement of any issues. In situations such as this where there may be a nominal dual role for different regulators; it is common for one to take the lead, and for that to be informed by arrangements such as the one I have outlined here.
In response to the complaints that we have received about this event to date, we have spoken to the Environment Agency and relayed residents’ concerns. The EA have confirmed that this is within their remit and that they will investigate; issuing log number 1539793.
The Environment Agency’s incident hotline number is 0800 807060. I recognise that this must be frustrating for all concerned, but it is the EA who have the enforcement duty and powers and have accepted that the issue is theirs to investigate. My advice would be to concentrate your efforts with the EA through the above telephone number and log number.
Service Manager – Healthy Neighbourhoods