Health secretary Matt Hancock has said he has “grave concerns” over the “woefully inadequate” management of a landfill site in north Staffordshire, which has prompted fears for the health of thousands of nearby residents.
The Independent has previously reported concerns for the health of people living near Walleys Quarry Landfill, in Newcastle-under-Lyme, after levels of hydrogen sulphide nearby breached limits set by the World Health Organisation.
He said: “I am sympathetic with the distress and disruption suffered by the local communities who are being adversely impacted by offensive odours coming from the site, especially the impacts on the community’s overall health and wellbeing.”
Mr Hancock said he was concerned by the data reported at the site during a 24-hour period in March which found the levels of hydrogen sulphide reached 202 micrograms per cubic metre compared with a WHO limit of 150.
He added: “It is imperative that the Environment Agency (EA) both exercise the full range of their regulatory and enforcement powers over the company and, with local authority partners, engage effectively with the affected community to urgently resolve the problems at the site for the benefit of the community’s health and wellbeing.”
He asked for a briefing on the agency’s plan of action and timescales.
The company which manage the landfill, Red Industries, has suspended use of the site and had been given a 30 April deadline to carry out work to try and reduce smells. It had been issued with an enforcement notice by the agency in March for five breaches of its licence.
An update to residents seen by The Independent from the agency warned work to cap parts of the landfill may not be enough to prevent fumes affecting nearby homes.
Thousands of people nearby have complained over the smells, with some telling The Independent the fumes are affecting their ability to live normal lives. Staff at the nearby Royal Stoke University Hospital have also complained, to the local council.
Separately, it has emerged Adam Share, the chairman of Red Industries, who served as the company chief executive for more than 14 years, has previously been jailed for three months after being convicted of involvement in a conspiracy to hack into phones and computers used by Environment Agency officers.
Newcastle-under-Lyme MP Aaron Bell has questioned if Mr Share, who became Red Industries’ chairman in January this year, was a fit and proper person to be in charge of the company which took over the landfill site in 2016.
In a letter to the Environment Agency chief executive Sir James Bevan, Mr Bell referenced a report from 2007 that detailed Mr Share’s guilty plea at Southwark Crown Court to charges of conspiracy to cause modification of computer equipment and conspiracy to intercept communications unlawfully.
He was jailed for three months as part of the case involving his previous company Atlantic Waste, where Mr Share worked as marketing director.
He was the go between for the company and a firm of private detectives who hacked the computers of local residents, staff at the Environment Agency and officers at Peterborough City Council and Northamptonshire County Council.
The Tory MP questioned if the EA had applied a fit and proper person test to Mr Share when the permit for the landfill was transferred to Red Industries in November 2016 and whether it was aware of his conviction.
He also demanded to know if Red Industries had disclosed this information.
The MP added: “I believe in rehabilitation. However, the details of the case, which involved hacking residents’ computers and targeting Peterborough City Council, Northamptonshire County Council and the EA itself, make it clear to me that Mr Share was not a fit and proper person to operate a landfill such as Walleys Quarry, and that accordingly the transfer of the permit to a company with him as chief executive should never have been allowed.”
On 22 April, The Independent asked Red Industries if Mr Share was a fit and proper person to be leading the company but it did not respond directly to the question.
In a statement at the time it said it had “voluntarily curtailed operations to accelerate an extensive capping programme which will seal a substantial and extensive area of the site.”
It added that no hazardous waste was accepted at the landfill which would stop operations in 2026.
In a statement on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the company said, in response to Mr Bell’s letter: “As a company we do not comment on private correspondence.”
The Environment Agency was approached for comment.