Members of a two-decade-old environmental campaign group say their community has become a dumping ground. Laura Drysdale reports.
A group of campaigners from the former West Yorkshire mining town of Normanton and its neighbouring village of Altofts are fed up. They say their community “has become a dump – and nobody seems to care”.
The area has hit the headlines in recent weeks after it emerged a backlog of clinical refuse had piled up at a waste site in the town.
Read more: Criminal investigation launched after human body parts found at Yorkshire site
Healthcare Environmental Services Ltd (HES) was found by the Environment Agency (EA) to be in breach of permits at four of its six locations by having too much waste on site. Excess levels reached 350 tonnes in September, the Health Service Journal reported, five times more than the company’s 70 tonne limit.
Paul Dainton, the president of Normanton and Altofts based environmental campaign group Rats (Residents Against Toxic Scheme) claims members raised concern about potential risks at the site seven years ago and is critical of the site’s regulation. “If there had been proper regulation, they would have spotted it well before it got to five times its limit,” he says.
The EA has said that there is no risk to public health or the environment. But, says Paul, the level of waste being stored “must have an element of extreme concern, certainly for the local population”.
Read more: Yorkshire and Humber NHS trusts ditch clinical waste contracts with Healthcare Environmental Services
In 2011, just months after planning permission was given for the HES site and as plans for a waste recycling centre in the town were approved, Paul claimed the area had become a dump for Yorkshire and a “cesspit of the waste industry”. It is a claim he and wife Joyce stand by today. “It has just become a dumping ground,” she says.
Waste sites have been the focus of much of Rats’ time since its formation 20 years ago.
The group’s main objective on founding in 1998 was to fight against plans for a tip at Newland Hall Estate on the outskirts of Normanton and Altofts, a battle it won. “It was to stop it being tipped over. It’s on our doorsteps, it’s where we walk our dogs, it’s where we go for walks, it is a countryside park kind of thing and it is beautiful,” says Paul.
The group has also fiercely opposed Welbeck landfill site in the town, a tip scheme approved in 1997 to “restore land despoiled by former mineral workings by importing colliery spoil and controlled waste”, according to planning documents.
Paul is critical over the enforcement of licence conditions. In 2009 the Wakefield Express reported that the then site operator breached the terms of its permit more than 50 times between 2003 and 2007, with incidents including gas emissions, powerful odours and failure to control harmful dust particles.
Read more: Report finds catalogue of breaches at Welbeck
A regulator of the waste industry, the EA says it carries out site visits, spot checks and audits to ensure activities at Welbeck “do not place the environment at risk of harm”.
The agency took enforcement action in 1999 and 2008 over litter and a diesel spillage. Since then, there have been “occasional minor beaches”, a spokesperson says, “that have not posed a significant risk to the environment”. “The site is used for depositing non-hazardous waste and the operator has demonstrated good compliance with the environmental permit in recent years.”
Landfill operations were due to finish at Welbeck by May this year, but last month a planning application for an extension was approved. Waste will continue to be dumped there for another five years, until the end of 2023 and the site is expected to be belatedly restored by the end of 2025.
Wakefield Council, which owns the site and currently leases the land to FCC Environment, says it will ensure the company adheres to planning conditions and operates as a “good neighbour” in the community.
“As it is now it’s simply nowhere near finished,” Paul said ahead of the decision. “As residents we’re all left with the dust and the dirt. It’s a shambles and a disgrace.”
Rats has raised thousands of pounds through car boot sales and concerts to pay for resources for its campaigns. “It’s the community that have all pulled together,” says Joan Shaw, who has lived in the area since 1986 and has campaigned with husband Eric for years. “But I think everybody gets a bit despondent because 20 years on, we are still the same, we aren’t getting better.”
“It’s got worse,” says Paul. The campaigners who have gathered in the front room of his home in Altofts agree. Some, members of Rats, have been campaigning for many years, whilst other residents are involved in newer ‘battles’ – against the planned high speed rail route and a proposal to expand Rudd Quarry, taking it closer to homes and a primary school in Altofts, and later restore it to ground level by “importing inert soil and soil-making materials”.
“The area that we prevented from being a waste tip, the HS2 line is now planned to go directly through it, directly through Newlands,” says Paul.
“For me, it has been my entire life,” says Kerry Waud, who has been involved in campaigning since childhood. “For the last 20 years it has been us all battling and trying to stop Normanton being used as a bin.”
Some waste travels miles to be dumped in the town, she adds – perhaps the most prominent example being the 14ft whale transported to Welbeck in 2013 after it washed up on a beach in Cleethorpes.
“Why should we have it all?”, Julie Mills questions. She and husband Kevin were campaigning against Welbeck when their children were growing up; today it is the future of their grandchildren at the forefront of their mind.
“The village has gone now,” Julie says. “We seem to be the place that is getting it all. We seem to be the tip.”
Kevin agrees. “We have got grandchildren growing up in this environment. We are concerned for the future, for the children of Normanton and Altofts.”
Campaigners claim there is “little care” for local people and are critical of Wakefield Council, which is responsible for granting planning permission to developments in the area.
“I have only lived in Normanton for four years and I just can’t believe how badly Normanton and Altofts is treated,” says Michaela Green. “It is classed as a deprived area is this and it seems to me they just think anything can go here.”
The council said complaints made in the Normanton area relating to environmental issues were “comparable” with other wards.
Tom Stannard, the authority’s director for regeneration, said it was a shame to see “such negativity” about the town. “Normanton and Altofts are lovely areas and we are very proud that they form part of this district. They are attracting private sector investment, especially in quality housebuilding, which is a clear indication that the market is good and that people want to live there.”
He said businesses were also relocating or extending in Normanton, helping to boost the local economy.
The HES site
Fifteen NHS trusts, all in Yorkshire and the Humber, ditched their contracts with HES, which has denied claims that human body parts were among the refuse that built up. Facilities management company Mitie was drafted in to replace the service.
A criminal investigation was launched and the HES’s permit at Normanton has been partially suspended to prevent the site accepting any more incinerator-only waste.
In statements on its website, HES said anatomical waste contributed to less than one per cent of the overall waste collected and is disposed of “as a priority”.
It said the storage issues had been caused by a “lack of incineration capacity”, though the EA has rejected the claim.