Image Copyright Wakefield Express. Waste at Welbeck Landfill Site.
The current operators of the Welbeck Landfill Site are currently consulting on proposals designed to extend the working life of the site. The consultation documentation can be read here.
Cllr Hemingway as portfolio holder for climate, nature and the environment has been speaking to the press this week, and his views against the proposals can be read here.
When Wakefield Friends of the Earth was formed 30 years ago, Welbeck was one of the first campaigns, if not the first. This particularly focused on the plans to re-route the River Calder (thankfully never passed) to maximise landfill volume. We are deeply frustrated that we still have to suffer the ignominy of hosting the “largest landfill site in Europe”. you can see just HOW big Welbeck is on this map.
Just Transition Wakefield has also responded to the consultation, alongside supporting members to engage with the on-going discussion over FCC Environment’s proposals. We have submitted the following comments.
Just Transition Wakefield response to FCC Environmental consultation on Welbeck and the options for restoration. 5/7/23
As an organisation, Just Transition Wakefield is dissatisfied with ALL of the options presented in this very shallow consultation document (https://welbeckconsultation.fccenvironment.co.uk/).
However, let us go through each in turn with the same broad brush detail as the consultation itself.
1. “Complete the remaining waste void with soil to facilitate a quicker restoration in line with approved contours. The use of soils to complete the site would extend the timescales to complete the site by a considerable time and would also divert much needed restoration materials required across the wider landfill to complete our restoration commitments and associated wider links to the Country Park.”
It is our view that this option has been placed as option 1 as a distraction from the reality of the situation. FCC Environment clearly has no intention of the public backing this option, and the public have no desire to see either time extensions or risks to final restoration. This option cannot be supported, but we question the reason for putting it into the consultation: it reads as a risk or threat to the public.
2. “Cap the landform when the current planning consent expires. There is a significant depression where current tipping of waste is taking place and it will not be possible to achieve an acceptable profile to ensure that surface water can runoff the capped landfill. Any depression in the restoration profile will impact the integrity of the landfill beneath and the long-term management of the site and lead to surface water collection which will not be acceptable to the Environment Agency and Planning Authority”.
Again, this option is not acceptable, because the public cannot accept risks to the integrity of the landfill beneath, or the long term integrity of the site. We do not support this option because it risks public and ecological health and threatens the restoration of this damaged and dangerous site.
3. “Immediate abandonment of waste operations. As per the above reason, even if the current waste area was capped, that profile would not allow surface water runoff.”
This option is clearly included as a threat along the lines of “If you don’t let us do what we want we will walk away leaving you with the bill.” It is clearly unacceptable and in our view, following this option should require the Environment Agency to revoke your licence to operate in ALL facilities in the UK and result in claims for damages.
This is the worst of all options, and we believe that you have cynically included this threat to act as a lever to gain yet another extension.
4. “Extend the life of the operation to achieve the consented restoration contours. Based on recent gate receipts it is estimated this would take over 3 years to achieve, however, this profile is not the quickest way to bring an earlier closure to the landfill site, which, based on feedback received at the Community Liaison Group meeting is a key consideration.”
This consultation is written to suggest that this is one of your two preferred options. Let us call this the “business as usual” option, in which the waste disposal gravy train continues to run, you continue to collect the money and very soon we will be back consulting on a new set of options for further extensions because waste volumes are still falling as recycling rates increase and use of incineration also increases.
This is not acceptable because it extends operations too far, and gives no guarantee that it will provide a hard end date for the site.
5. “Revised restoration profile to ensure surface water runoff. Reducing the waste tipping volumes by approximately 100,000m3 would minimize the additional time required to 2 years which will be an improvement for local residents on the above three year option facilitating quicker cessation of waste import to the landfill prior to the completion of restoration. This is option FCC are proposing would like to proceed with.”
Clearly this is your preferred option as it extends the life of the waste gravy train but also nods to council and public need for an earlier completion of your contracted responsibilities. However, the time extension is still a problem for community and council.
Overall, we are deeply frustrated that you blame the problem on the covid pandemic; that you have failed to anticipate or respond to the predictable and long term trends in waste volumes as recycling rates and incineration rates increase, and that you have failed to proactively discuss this and potential solutions with both the Council as commissioner and the public who have suffered the fall out from your operations for far too long.
Instead, let us recognise of our actual starting point and suggest that you think more flexibly about the way through the problem.
Firstly, recognise that we are in the midst of an ecological crisis that includes excessive soil, water and atmospheric toxin loads; a widespread collapse in insect populations; a global biodiversity collapse often called “The Sixth Mass Extinction”, and a growing awareness of the impacts of pollutants on both human and ecological health.
Secondly, recognise that we are in a climate crisis where atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, including methane, are far too high and still rising. We mention methane, because it is a significant emission from landfill sites.
Thirdly, recognise that the citizens of Wakefield District have lived with the “largest landfill site in Europe” for decades, and that they have a right to restoration.
If we are all to respond appropriately to these twin crises, and the public duty to restore life, we need an approach to the Welbeck problem that delivers the following:
– minimising additional toxic load to land, water and air, in both short and long term, with current and future generations in mind;
– bringing forward the restoration of the site and its rewilding to the earliest possible date whilst avoiding future issues such as poor drainage leading to system failure at Welbeck; this for benefit to the whole community of Wakefield District, including human, animal, plant and microbial communities;
– minimisation of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly methane, now and in the future;
– a recognition that landfill operators have benefitted from the public purse and owe a debt to the public to hand back land that is safe, fit for purpose and stable in the long term.
Just Transition Wakefield is very happy to listen to any constructive proposal that recognises the above reality as its starting point, that is built on genuine partnership with the community and its representatives including the council, and does not use cynical threats and pressure to simply maximise profit and minimise responsibility.