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Legal threat grows over smelly sites

Waste operators have been warned they could face legal action over smells coming from their sites - even if they are not in breach of their permits.

Waste management and dispute resolution experts at Vertex Law said a recent ruling by the Appeal Court involving a Biffa site meant all waste operators should now review how they handle complaints.

The court overturned a decision by the Technology and Construction Court in 2011 that Biffa was not legally liable to compensate local residents for unpleasant odours from a household and commercial landfill site at Ware in Hertfordshire.

A group of local residents issued private nuisance claims against Biffa in 2009 on the grounds that smells from its Westmill site unduly interfered with their right to “comfortable and convenient enjoyment” of their land.

At that hearing, Justice Coulson dismissed the nuisance claims on the grounds that Biffa was not in breach of its operating permit and was not accused of negligence in carrying out its operations.

Rebecca Tinham

Rebecca Tinham, left, head of dispute resolution at Vertex Law, said: “Justice Coulson’s ruling suggested that if an operator was not negligent and complied with its permit it could safely assume it would be in the clear.”

But she added: “The Court of Appeal took the view that the regulatory framework did not erode the age-old principles of private nuisance law. The court concluded that there could be no absolute standard to determine whether or not the emissions were acceptable.”

Tinham said the character of the community claiming to be affected by a nuisance and the length of the exposure to it would be taken into consideration.

She added: “Waste management operators are now more susceptible to damages claims and injunctions preventing ongoing operations if odour levels from their sites are deemed unacceptable by the standards of the ordinary man in the street.”

Readers' comments (1)

  • Whilst it is good that "Waste operators have been warned they could face legal action over smells coming from their sites - even if they are not in breach of their permits", waste operators should also be mindful of the fact that other nuisances, such as dust, noise, vermin, etc. would also be covered by this legal decision. In short, waste operators need to re-learn the importance of being good neighbours. That is not too much to ask. Indeed the ordinary man (or woman) in the street would expect nothing less.

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