Council takes legal action against one of the companies run by major £200k donor to Vaughan Gething

-Credit:WalesOnline/ Rob Browne
-Credit:WalesOnline/ Rob Browne

A Welsh council is taking legal action over a landfill site operated by a subsidiary of the company that made controversial donations totalling £200,000 to Vaughan Gething's leadership campaign. Resources Management (UK) Limited ('RML') operates the Withyhedge landfill site in Pembrokeshire where a stench of 'rotten egg' has been escaping and affecting nearby residents.

Now, Pembrokeshire council has written to RML warning it is "not prepared to let this nuisance continue at the expense of the public" and notifying of its intent to seek an injunction if gases continue to escape from the landfill. For the latest analysis of the biggest stories, sign up to the Wales Matters newsletter here.

The landfill, north of Haverfordwest, has been in use since 1983 and operated by RML since 2014. In March 2022, ownership of RML passed to Dauson Environmental Group. Dauson is run by Cardiff businessman David Neal and the company gave a total of £200,000 to Vaughan Gething's Welsh Labour leadership campaign in a controversial move which has come under significant criticism.

In a statement to WalesOnline, Mr Neal said "all efforts are underway" to resolve the issues at Withyhedge and apologised to neighbours and communities in the area.

READ MORE: This bus station is leaving women feeling terrified and vulnerable

READ MORE: Health board wrongly paid staff thousands and now wants them to work for free to pay it back

Mr Neal was given a suspended prison sentence in 2013 for illegally dumping waste on a conservation site on the Gwent Levels and his companies Atlantic Recycling and Neal Soil Suppliers were also prosecuted and ordered to pay fines and costs of £202,000. In 2017, he was given another suspended sentence of 18 weeks with fines and costs of £230,000 after failing to remove the waste.

In January the company submitted a planning application for a solar farm next to its Atlantic Recycling site in east Cardiff which, by its nature, will go to Welsh ministers for a final decision. It later emerged that Neal Soil Suppliers, part of Dauson Environmental Group, had received a £400,000 loan from the Development Bank for Wales, an arms-length public body used by the Welsh Government to support businesses.

In late 2023, Pembrokeshire council started getting complaints about a stench escaping from the Withyhedge landfill - it says, to date, it has received 62 complaints and Natural Resources Wales has received 2,400 (an average of 30 a day). In April our reporter visited Spittal - a pretty, quiet village where residents have been dealing with the odour for months; one of them told us: "It makes people sick. It affects your skin and your breathing. It ruined Christmas for us - we were sitting here and we could smell it inside the house."

After the odour persisted past a NRW-set deadline of April 5, the the council sent RML a letter of claim (dated April 26) reading: “The Council is disappointed that you have failed to abate the nuisance despite five months’ notice and your ‘hope’ that the malodour would stop by 5th April 2024. The Council is not prepared to let this nuisance continue at the expense of the public.

“The Council now intends to seek an injunction prohibiting you from wrongfully causing or permitting noxious and offensive gases to escape from the Landfill. The Council is confident of obtaining such an injunction.”

The council invited RML to take action in the same terms as the injunction to avoid the costs of going to court. It has given RML until May 14, 2024 to respond to the letter - the same date NRW has required the company to complete work under an enforcement notice.

This letter was presented in a council meeting on the morning of Thursday, May 9 by Cllr Rhys Sinnett, with the council asked to note and support the legal action. He gave updates on the NRW enforcement notice, meetings with NRW and Public Health Wales and how best to further monitor the landfill.

Cllr Aled Thomas, the Welsh Conservative group environment spokesman told WalesOnline: "It's disappointing, but unsurprising, that it has taken Pembrokeshire County Council this long to take some action against RML Ltd, given the fact that the Council's deputy leader was a supporting nominee for Vaughan Gething's leadership campaign."

"The Withyhedge site stinks - both physically and metaphorically - due to the owner's donations to the First Minister's leadership campaign. It's time now that serious and significant action was taken by the Welsh Labour Government once and for all so the people of Pembrokeshire can have a quality of life back.”

Councillors speaking in the meeting also called for monitoring to see whether public health concern in relation to the odour was justified - as current information is not enough to indicate this. Councillor Michelle Bateman added: "As well as the physical health there’s really the anxiety about the unknown impact on physical health… the longer this goes on the more the anxiety has a psychological impact on people."

When the council first announced on May 2 that it had sent the letter, chief executive Will Bramble said: "We are extremely disappointed that RML has not delivered the necessary action to stop the completely unacceptable smells from the site. We fully support the additional enforcement action being taken by NRW and continue to work closely with them to do all in our power to correct the situation.

"Our intention to ask the Court for an injunction requiring RML to stop the odour nuisance arising from the landfill, is another part of our collaborative approach. The smell from Withyhedge is having a major impact on residents and visitors. This situation has gone on too long and it is unacceptable."

A statement issued by David Neal at RML said: "While we are disappointed with Pembrokeshire County Council’s decision to serve RML with a legal notice, we will of course continue to engage fully with the council so that this matter is concluded for local communities.

“In the meantime, we are pleased to report that planned works are proceeding in alignment with the deadlines of the current notice. And we continue to provide NRW and stakeholders with daily updates. While we conclude works at site, we once again express our sincerest apologies to our neighbours and local communities for the impact this issue has had. We would also like to provide reassurances that all efforts are underway to bring these works to a final conclusion.”