A £50million transformation of a controversial landfill site could create hundreds of jobs as part of a new business park.
Sunderland City Council’s planning and highways committee last night gave its seal of approval to plans by waste management firm Biffa to redevelop Houghton Landfill into an employment park.
The company had previously applied to continue landfill operations on the site until 2028, but executives made a U-turn early last year with an announcement to close the site within five years.
The move follows pressure by residents to close the site, which made the council ask Biffa to come up with an alternative use for the land.
The council’s decision now means that Biffa has agreed to withdraw another planning application to continue general waste landfill for another 17 years, which had been pending yesterday’s outcome.
Instead it will now accept only inert waste, including rubble, stones and bricks for up to five years, until a suitable base to build the employment park on has been achieved.
Action group Residents Against Toxic Site (Rats) which has long campaigned against the landfill site, is suspicious of Biffa’s intentions.
Its chairwoman, Councillor Sheila Ellis, said she was concerned that creating the platform for the development would take much longer and that tipping would go on.
She added: “There will not be buildings on this site for about 20 years. There is no evidence of time scales.”
Councillor Derrick Smith, also part of Rats, said: “How can we trust that the firm is going to landfill for five years.
“Residents want it to stop now. The site continues to pollute on a daily basis.”
Councillor Colin Wakefield, who has also campaigned against the landfill site, said: “We welcome a five-year plan as opposed to a 17-year plan, which goes without saying.
“Our concern is, will five years be five years?”
However, when councillors voted to permit the development, they did so subject to a condition – yet to be drawn up by lawyers – which would limit the tipping to five years.
This came after Biffa’s project planning manager, Mike Harty, said the time scale was simply “a realistic estimate”, which further rattled opponents.
“We are reducing the whole nuisance of general waste,” he added.
“This is the quickest solution to getting off the site. This will bring an immediate end to general waste.”
Councillor Robert Heron said: “I welcome the report. I think it will be a good development. There will be work there. Nobody ever wanted a tip.”
Mr Harty said that once the business park has been built, it will support about 500 jobs and would also create green energy from solar panels.
The plans will put 4.8 hectares of previously-developed land to use, with offices, industrial units, a car park and new access roads.
Before it became a landfill site almost 17 years ago, it was home to a former quarry, dating back more than a hundred years.