Blast plans halted at Wearside quarry

Pictured at Houghton Quarry are, from left, Councillors Colin Wakefield, Derrick Smith and Shiela Ellis, who are concerned about plans for blasting there.
Pictured at Houghton Quarry are, from left, Councillors Colin Wakefield, Derrick Smith and Shiela Ellis, who are concerned about plans for blasting there.
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PLANS to blast a rock face at a controversial landfill site have been halted at the last minute after an outcry from neighbours.

Waste firm Biffa announced it would carry out “essential” blasting works at Houghton Quarry landfill site after a recent health and safety inspection identified a section of rock face was unstable and in “imminent danger” of collapse.

But irate residents, many of whom are already fed up with what they call the “stinking eyesore” of the tip, claimed the blasting works would breach the tip’s planning permission and cause damage to neighbouring roads and homes.

People from across the Houghton and Hetton area voiced their anger at a public meeting at Newbottle Community Centre. Now Biffa has suspended works “pending further discussions with the local planning authority”.

Sheila Ellis, independent councillor for Houghton and secretary of campaign group Residents Against Toxic Site (RATS), said the use of explosives at the former quarry was prohibited by planning conditions.

“The rock is in the same state was it was 10 years ago,” said Coun Ellis, who is a semi-retired geological consultant.

“To get permission to have a landfill site they had to say that the land was stable, now they are saying it’s unstable.

“Either it’s unstable, in which case there shouldn’t be a landfill site there, or it’s stable – in which case they don’t need to blast. They can’t have it both ways.”

Coun Ellis believes Biffa wanted to blast the rock to create a larger area for landfill.

Residents are also concerned any blasting work would damage the A690 road and nearby homes.

Community campaigner Edith Corney, from Dairy Lane, lived near the quarry when its previous operators used explosives.

She said the vibrations from the blasts damaged homes, including knocking a mirror off her wall and felling chimney pots from a neighbour’s house.

Speaking before the decision to halt the explosions, Craig Turnbull, site manager for Biffa, said: “The remedial work is required following a recent health and safety inspection which has identified a section of rock face as unstable and in imminent danger of collapse.

“Short term measures have been taken to keep the area around the rock face safe and there is no risk to the public or persons visiting the site. However, a series of explosive charges to collapse the unstable rock is now required.”

Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson was among the councillors who listened to residents concerns at the public meeting.

He addressed the issue with the council’s deputy chief executive and planning department yesterday morning.

“The planning department and enforcement team are in touch with Biffa,” he said.

“Whether the blasting has stopped because of a planning situation of it Biffa stopped because it understands the strength and depth of feeling of residents and wishes to be more open and transparent about how they are addressing the residents concerns is, I think, a moot point.”

He added that while work was ongoing to resolve the immediate problem with the landfill site, there was still a longer-term issue with the site.