A housing developer has agreed to pay £100,000 to three environmental charities after the Environment Agency found it had incorrectly relied on exemptions from the waste permitting requirements in using waste soil on a development site in Northumberland.  

We receive a lot of enquiries about the use of waste permitting exemptions.  It can be a difficult area to navigate and incorrect assumptions are common.  This case demonstrates the importance of getting it right.

The developer - Bellway Homes - imported around 2,688 cubic metres of waste soil, containing metal, wood, rubber, wire, plastic and tyres, from another site in 2017 to build a soil bund around an attenuation pond (to capture rainwater and pollutants).  In February 2019, the Environment Agency received a report of illegal waste activity on the site and, after investigating, issued an enforcement notice directing Bellway Homes to remove the waste soil from the site.

Bellway Homes removed the waste soil but argued that it had not breached any environmental law requirements in using the soil.  This was based on advice from its consultants that it could bring the soil onto the site under exemptions from the need for any environmental permits or other authorisations.  The Environment Agency did not accept this as correct.

The use of waste is largely regulated under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016, which stipulate those activities which require authorisation under an environmental permit. A breach of the rules governing waste activities can lead to a criminal prosecution. 

However, enforcement undertakings offer an alternative to criminal sanctions for some environmental offences.  An enforcement undertaking is a voluntary offer by an offender to the Environment Agency (which, if accepted, results in a legally binding agreement between the parties) to put right the effects of their offending and its impact (if applicable) on third parties.  An enforcement undertaking can only be accepted where the Environment Agency has reasonable grounds to suspect that the offender has committed a specified offence. It is not an admission of guilt for any offence to which it relates, but it does prevent the Environment Agency from bringing a later prosecution for the offence (unless the offender fails to satisfy the undertaking). 

Bellway Homes agreed via an enforcement undertaking to pay £50,000 to Northumberland Wildlife Trust, £30,000 to Wear Rivers Trust and £20,000 to Tyne Rivers Trust, as well as to improve its awareness of the law in relation to soils and waste and review its protocols to prevent future issues.

If you have any questions or concerns arising from this update or on issues of environmental compliance generally, please get in touch.

Post co-authored by Phillipa Shepherd.