Waste management facilities are making life intolerable for local residents – agencies must have the power to take action
Waste management companies slipping standards in the storing of waste are having horrendous consequences for local residents, writes Darren Jones MP.
Waste management is a large and diversifying industry which brings the promise of good jobs — but when standards slip, the consequences for people living nearby can be horrendous.
Avonmouth, in the west of my Bristol North West constituency, is home to a concentrated number of waste processing facilities: the quantity of waste passing through local plants has risen from a few thousand tonnes a decade ago to a few hundred thousand today.
This hasn’t happened by accident — the council changed planning guidelines in 2011 to incentivise operators to set up in the area and so capitalise on a growth industry — but it’s brought some unwelcome surprises for local residents too.
The biggest challenge, about which I hear from constituents more than almost any other, has been a massive growth in the nearby fly population. This can make life intolerable for people living in affected areas: at the worst of times, eating and drinking outside becomes all but impossible, and preparing meals indoors is a massive issue too.
I’ve seen flypaper strips left out overnight and completely covered in flies by the following morning. And although the problem is at its worst over the summer, when heat and humidity combine to make the infestation even worse, it risks becoming a year-round headache as climate change causes more unseasonably hot days.
The root cause is partly bad companies which flout the terms of their environmental permits by improperly storing waste, storing too much of it or failing to cover bales of rubbish adequately.
In one extreme case, an operator was found to have committed more than a dozen breaches inside of a year — and the Environment Agency, whose job it is to enforce these conditions, has been getting more proactive at doing so. But it’s increasingly clear that the underlying issue is more systemic: there are simply too many of these facilities concentrated in too small an area, near too many people.
The science is simple — flies will always thrive in the presence of decaying organic matter — and it means that even companies which do everything right are adding to the aggregate problem.
In this context the first thing we need is more intelligent regulation, and that’s why I’ve secured a Westminster Hall debate on the subject.
As things stand, the only option for dealing with the fly infestation is through identifying rule-breakers, which means even the best-case scenario is one of slow, piecemeal progress. This hasn’t been good enough.
The Environment Agency should have a stronger role in assessing the concentration of existing waste processing facilities locally, as well as their proximity to each other, in determining whether to issue permits in the first place.
Getting this right means having a better framework to gauge cumulative as well as individual impact. It also means giving the Agency the teeth to enforce its decisions: at present, operators who have their environmental permits revoked because of non-compliance can trigger a lengthy appeal process during which the initial decision does not take effect. The cost and time constraints this process imposes deter the Agency from serving notice in the first place, to the great frustration of local people who desperately need a permanent solution.
The fly presence in Avonmouth leaves what should be vibrant outdoor spaces unusable on warm days, taking a toll on community life, and it makes homes harder to sell, leaving residents feeling doubly trapped.
In the meantime, people in Avonmouth do what they can — installing nets and fly-traps, stocking up on repellent and insecticide sprays, and keeping windows and doors closed when temperatures rise. But that’s no way to live.
We need to tackle the flies at source by taking action to limit the number of these plants, and I will continue to press the Government to give agencies the power they need to do so.
Darren Jones is Labour MP for Bristol North West.
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