Blasting decision on hold at controversial landfill site

Councillor Sheila Ellis

Councillor Sheila Ellis

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A DECISION over controversial plans to blast a rock face at a landfill site has been put on hold.

Biffa, the waste management firm responsible for the former quarry at Houghton Landfill, submitted a planning application to use explosives to clear a section of rock it said posed a threat to the health and safety of its staff.

But councillors and residents representing the pressure group Residents Against Toxic Site (Rats), who have long campaigned for the site’s closure, argued the move could damage nearby properties and cause ecological problems.

A report compiled for Sunderland City Council’s planning committee recommended approving the plans, subject to a number of environmental conditions being satisfied.

However, at a heated meeting at the civic centre, a motion to defer Biffa’s application while other options are explored was carried by 11 votes to five.

“I’m very pleased,” said Coun Sheila Ellis, a Rats campaigner. “We will keep up this fight.”

She had earlier told the meeting: “To argue the blast has nothing to do with landfill is like arguing that building a nuclear bomb has nothing to do with its deadly cargo.”

Biffa’s senior planner, Mike Harty, insisted health and safety was the only reason the company is seeking permission for the blast.

He said work to complete the landfill was impossible because staff were not allowed anywhere near the overhanging rocks.

“It’s a matter of time before it falls and a hard hat is not going to save people,” he added. “We cannot finish the site off if we can’t get in there.

“The proposed blast needs to take place regardless of any other plans and it’s a very expensive operation that we would rather not carry out.”

Coun Bob Francis agreed with the Biffa chief and added: “Employers are responsible for the health and safety of their staff.

“If the work did not go ahead, they would be liable for that, but we have a moral duty in this.”

After the meeting, Mr Harty expressed disappointment with the outcome.

“There seems to be some misunderstanding about our intentions with Houghton landfill.

“The blast is required because the rock face has become dangerous.

“All of the experts who were consulted agreed that a one-off blast would be the safest action to take.

“It is therefore disappointing that the committee opted to defer the decision.”

The news capped a bad day for the company, who had earlier been fined £90,000 after pleading guilty to water pollution infringements in the region.

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