The Environment Agency has not appealed a ruling that prevented a company and its directors from being charged with contempt after a huge stockpile of waste was abandoned on a site in Orpington.
The EA originally went to the High Court claiming that Waste4Fuel had failed to comply with an order to remove some of the materials on its premises.
But the request was turned down in July because of lack of clarity in the wording of the EA’s documentation.
The deadline for filing an appeal against the High Court decision has now passed, and no appeal has been registered, the Judicial Office confirmed to MRW.
Appealing the ruling was one of legal options the agency could have pursued, according to Robert Lee, left, professor of environmental law at Birmingham University.
Another would be “starting from zero” by issuing another enforcement notice to Waste4Fuel to clear the site and seek contempt charges if the company did not comply with it, he told MRW.
The notice would need to contain very specific requirements on what Waste4Fuel had to achieve.
Lee said the police would get involved in the case only if there were signs of illegality in the handling of the waste, or financial crimes attached.
“As it stands, [the case] does not seem to me to be a police matter, it is an issue of environmental enforcement with the EA,” he said.
Waste4Fuel has been operating under a company voluntary arrangement since December 2013, owing its creditors around £600,000.
Some 12,000 tonnes of waste are left at the site, to the continuing frustration of local residents.
The EA has said that whilst Waste4Fuel’s environmental permit remained valid, it was the company’s responsibility to clear the site,
After the High Court ruling, the EA issued another enforcement notice on 8 July, which prevents the operator from bringing any additional waste on to the site until the total is reduced to the permitted level of 5,500 tonnes.
The agency has led an operation to remove up to 2,000 tonnes of materials to limit the impact on residents and ensure access for the fire brigade.
It said it is committed to find a long-term solution to the problem, but has not provided details about what that would mean.
“We are considering our next course of action, but as this relates to an ongoing investigation, we are unable to share information about this,” it said.
Professor Lee on the High Court ruling:
“Normally the EA uses contempt proceedings as a last resort, when all other options are absolutely exhausted. In the past this mechanism has worked very successfully and has ended up in imprisonments.
The EA must be very disappointed by the [High Court] judgement. What it could have done differently would have been issuing a notice in far more specific terms. The judge thought that some of the requirements of the notice were open to ambiguity or different interpretations.
Because the sanctions for contempt of court are normally very severe, including imprisonment, in order to enforce it the order must be absolutely clear to the offender on what he has to do.”