Hadfield Wood Recyclers has temporarily shut the gates to inbound waste at two of its sites to avoid enforcement action from the Environment Agency (EA).
The firm stopped accepting low-grade wood at its main recycling facility in Manchester on 26 July and closed to all customers at its Middlesbrough site, run by sister company UK Wood Recycling (UKWR), on 23 July.
Several thousand tonnes of waste wood, from a number of its local authority and waste management customers, will have to be diverted to other outlets or sent to landfill as a result.
Hadfields said it had been forced into the move after being threatened with action by the EA for not complying with new guidance for the storage of combustible materials at its Middlesbrough site.
The fire prevention plan (FPP) guidance and its predecessor TGN 7.01 state that wood reprocessors can develop their own ‘bespoke fire plan’, which demonstrates it is equivalent or superior to the EA’s guidance.
UKWR leased seven acres of additional land on a site adjacent to its existing Midlesborough facility in January, with the aim of moving some of the waste wood there while developing its plan in conjunction with Cleveland Fire & Rescue Service.
The company obtained planning permission to store waste wood on the new site but is still awaiting a decision by the EA to extend its current waste permit.
The EA said it will not agree to the extension because UKWR is not complying with the storage guidance outlined in FPP on its main site, according to the company.
UKWR decided last month to store wood on the new site with the aim of keeping the main site compliant with its own fire plan. But the EA has deemed this to be an illegal use of the site, so the company has stopped the activity with immediate effect.
Hadfield and UKWR managing director Geoff Hadfield said: “The new FPP guidance is totally unworkable for any large-scale operator such as us.
“We have been working with the EA for a number of months to try to reach an agreement on the bespoke fire plan we have submitted for UKWR but, unfortunately, that has not been possible. We were therefore left with no other option but to close the gates.
“We will continue to work with the EA to resolve this situation as soon as possible and hope to reopen our gates at both sites in the very near future.”
An EA spokesperson said the agency was aware of Hadfield’s decision and called it “the first step towards reducing the risk”.
The EA said: “We hope that the company continues to work towards actively reducing the risk of fire.
“Our role as a regulator is to ensure that permits protect the local community and the environment. An important part of this role is making sure that all appropriate measures are being taken to prevent fires.
“We also recognise that it is impossible to completely prevent fires, so we need to be satisfied that operators have in place adequate control measures to minimise both the risk from fire and also the impact on the local community.”
FPP requires a maximum 16-tonne stack size for unprocessed wood and 33 tonnes for processed. This is less than the previous guidance and the 1,000-tonne batches of biomass fuel UKWR is required to provide to Sembcorp Utlities as part of its supply contract for the Wilton 10 boiler.
FPP also requires anyone storing combustible materials such as wood to ensure it is not stored for longer than six months and, if it is being stored for longer than three months, additional measures must be put in place to ensure it is safe.
Hadfield believes it is unrealistic for large-scale operators and biomass power stations to be able to rotate material in such a short timescale due to the seasonality of wood flow.
The company has spent £250,000 during the past 18 months on safety measures at its UKWR site, including the installation of a fire and heat detection system, water cannons, remote monitors, hoses and boxes.
It is the first time in its 35-year history that Hadfield has closed the gates to contracted customers at two of its three sites.
The company’s Tilbury site is continuing to receive waste wood as normal for the foreseeable future.