An Ombudsmens report has slammed the combined failure of the Environment Agency and two local authorities for allowing illegal waste activities to go unchecked over a seven-year period at an unauthorised waste site and has ordered them to pay neighbouring residents £95,000 in compensation.
In the joint Parliamentary and Local Government Ombudsmen report entitled Environmentally Unfriendly (21 January), the EA, Rossendale Borough Council and Lancashire County Council were all criticised for allowing thousands of tonnes of rubbish to be illegally dumped, burned and process on farmland in Rossendale between 2000 and 2007. The precise location of the site could not be released for publication.
The report claimed that Mrs D and her son the real names were not used to allow anonymity suffered extreme distress, aggravation and financial loss after the EA and councils failed to stop a neighbour from using his land as an illegal landfill site.
Mrs D and her son live in a green belt area noted for its biological and archaeological heritage. Their complaints about the damage the waste was causing to the environment and their property went unchecked for seven years. And the report stated that the three public bodies failed to work together despite the existence of a national protocol which clearly required a coordinated joint approach on waste enforcement.
The report explained that the three public bodies failed to take appropriate action against their neighbour, Mr R, who was tipping, burying and burning large quantities of waste illegally, blocking footpaths and intimidating anyone trying to use them. The report recommended the public bodies pay £95,000 in compensation to Mrs D and her son for financial losses and considerable distress.
Parliamentary Ombudsman Ann Abraham said: Our investigation found that the relevant authorities failed to take urgent or robust enforcement action, despite the very evident and unacceptable activities taking place on the neighbouring farm. Being able to undertake a joint investigation and issue a joint report with the Local Government Ombudsman has allowed us to consider maladministration and injustice in the round.
Local Government Ombudsman Anne Seex added: Anyone seeing the evidence of what happened on that land and of the devastation wrought on this beauty spot should be justifiably shocked and outraged that, despite all the legal safeguards in place, such events could actually happen.
Responding to the report, EA north west regional director Tony Dean said: The EA fully accepts the findings of this report. It is clear that we failed to meet our own high standards in this case and did not do enough to protect the complainants or the environment. We have apologised to the family and will pay the compensation proposed by the Ombudsman.
Illegal waste dumping creates a blight and harms the environment. We take it very seriously.
LCC chief executive Ged Fitzgerald said: "We could and should have done more to help these residents and apologise sincerely and unreservedly for what has happened. Their neighbour behaved in a very antisocial way and ignored numerous planning regulations and notices. But I fully accept that they should have received a much better service from all the organisations involved.
Since the complaint was registered, Rossendale Council has succeeded in bringing an injunction against the neighbour and stop him from carrying out illegal waste activities and he has had his HGV Operator's Licence revoked indefinitely. He is now believed to have moved away from the area.
Rossendale Borough Council chief executive Helen Lockwood said: There is no excuse for the distress that they have suffered. We acknowledge mistakes were made by the three authorities involved and we apologise unreservedly for what has happened. We have made significant progress in supporting them since 2006 and procedures are now in place to avoid similar problems in the future.