A recycling company was fined £100,000 yesterday (Wednesday) after admitting breach of environmental and planning regulations following a serious fire at its premises.
Mid UK Recycling Ltd, which has a contract to recycle waste collections on behalf of Lincolnshire County Council and a number of other local authorities, pleaded guilty to keeping controlled waste on land at Ermine Street, Barkston Heath, in a manner likely to cause pollution to the environment or harm to human health on or before July 7, 2015.
The company also admitted failing to comply with a planning enforcement notice relating to storage of material at the site.
In addition to being fined the company was ordered to pay prosecution costs of £50,000. The firm has already agreed to pay up to £230,000 compensation to Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue for the cost of dealing with the blaze in July 2015.
Judge John Pini QC, passing sentence, said the company had a history of not complying with guidance and enforcement notices.
He said: “The prosecution point to the history of non-compliance by a failure to respond to advice given a number of times. The repeated guidance and the failure to heed it properly, with knowledge of the risks, is to a considerable extent what grounds recklessness as opposed to negligence.
“The prosecution case is that despite warnings and advice from the Environment Agency, fire prevention guidance was not incorporated into the written management systems and the planning permission was not adhered to. Had the fire prevention guidance been implemented as it should have been, and condition six (of the planning permission) adhered to the fire could have been minimized or avoided completely.”
The fire broke out after waste scheduled for recycling spontaneously combusted and destroyed a stockpile of waste which consisted mainly of shredded carpet, mattresses, plastic bottles as well as bales of waste. The bales of waste were stacked three times higher than the permitted level. One of the recycling buildings was destroyed and 50 workers had to be evacuated from the site.
Ninety firefighters dealt with the blaze which burned for almost a week before being finally put out.
A subsequent report described the cause of the fire as “stockpiling loose and baled waste without properly reviewing the risk of taking necessary actions to mitigate the risk in a timely manner. The direct result was self combustion of waste resulting in a significant fire. If the waste within the bale storage area had been managed in accordance with fire prevention guidance the impact of the fire would have been greatly reduced”.
Nearby roads including the A153 and the B6403 were closed for up to 48 hours affecting a number of local businesses in the Ancaster and Wilsford area.
Local residents were advised to keep their windows and doors closed due to the large amount of smoke coming from the fire.
The court was told that extensive steps were put in place after the fire to ensure that Mid UK Recycling complies with the various regulations and guidance.
Mowbray Christopher Mountain, 44, of Burghley Park, near Stamford, managing director of the company, pleaded guilty to the same two charges.
A second company, MC Mountain & Sons Ltd, which owns the site, pleaded guilty to failing to comply with an enforcement notice.
No seperate penalty was imposed on either Mr Mountain or MC Mountain & Sons Ltd.
Richard Banwell, prosecuting, told Lincoln Crown Court that the effect of the fire at Barkston Heath on July 7, 2015 could have been minimized or even prevented if the company had followed fire prevention guidance.
The company had been served with a planning enforcement notice to reduce the height of waste stored outside from 10 metres to the permitted height of 3.5 metres. The firm was also told to adhere to conditions set out as to where waste was stored outside of the buildings and to ensure that waste kept outside was baled and wrapped.
He said breach of the conditions has been noted on visits to the site by council officers and staff from the Environment Agency.
“It is a picture of non-compliance which sometimes gets better.
“Large amounts of waste were stored outside up to 10 metres in height. Loose waste was stored externally which was not baled or wrapped. That led to an enforcement notice being served. They were required to reduce the height of the waste to 3.5 metres, store waste in the correct areas and to bale and wrap all waste stood outside.”
Mr Banwell said that there had been a build up of recycling waste at the site after nine shipments for export were cancelled by customers. He told the court that the company should have reacted by sending the surplus recycling material either to landfill or to an incineration plant.
John Cooper QC, representing each of the three defendants, told the court: “Mr Mountain and the company are extremely sorry for this incident. They are a reputable company and they take it most seriously.
“It was a farming business initially and has developed into waste management. The site at Barkston Heath opened in 2014 and has 460 workers. Nearly 100 per cent of the recovery and recycling they deal with by not sending it to landfill sites. It isn’t a business that is making huge amounts of money. It is a local business that started locally. Too significant a financial burden will close the company and 460 jobs will be lost.”
Mr Cooper said that before the fire Mid UK had sought planning permission to extend the outside area where waste could be stored and believed this would be granted. However their application was turned down.
He told the court that Mr Mountain has since paid compensation to local businesses whose trade was affected by the fire.
* Following the outcome of the case, Mid UK Recycling’s Managing Director Chris Mountain, said: “We are extremely sorry this fire occurred and while there were mitigating circumstances at the time, including the cancellation of several shipments of RDF which increased our stock on site, we do understand there were actions that could have been taken which may have prevented the fire occurring.
“We are a company which strives to operate in a safe and professional manner at all times and it is therefore even more devastating to us that an incident like this occurred.”
He added: “We work hard to comply to all regulations. At the time of the fire we, like many other companies in the waste and recycling sector, were working with the Envionment Agency towards meeting new fire prevention regulations which had been introduced a few months earlier. Since the fire we have made many changes at the site which has enabled us to gain a bespoke fire prevention plan from the EA.”
Following the fire Mid UK Recycling says it took a number of actions to improve its site safety and facilities and reduce the risk of future fires occurring. These included:
○ Investing in sprinkler systems at the Barkston Heath site, including installing a 55,000 litre water tank
○ Installing additional fire suppression equipment in dedicated areas of the site
○ Installing fire suppression systems on all mobile plant
○ Investing in a new state of the art fire alarm system which lets the Emergency Response Team know if a fire breaks out
○ Installing several new water storage tanks on site
○ Installing concrete fire breaks and concrete walling to separate waste materials.
○ Revising its environmental management system
○ Updating its Tool Box Talks relating to housekeeping on site, environmental aspects, environment compliance and the storage of bales
○ Updating its Tool Box Talks on fire safety and Fire Marshall duties
○ Improving capacity to enable materials to move through the site more quickly
○ Implementing a strict regime of deep cleaning in all waste processing units
○ Dedicated offsite training in live fire fighting with Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue
○ Investing in a bespoke environmental software compliance system.