Waste firm admits polluting water supplies in Sunderland

The entrance to the Biffa waste landfill site at Houghton.
The entrance to the Biffa waste landfill site at Houghton.
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A WASTE company has admitted five charges of polluting water supplies.

A lawyer representing Biffa Waste Services Ltd, which runs Houghton landfill waste management site, pleaded guilty to the offences under the Environmental Remitting Regulations.

Defence barrister Tim Horlock QC told Sunderland Magistrates’ Court the company would be entering the pleas on a certain basis to be put to the Environment Agency, which brought the case.

If accepted, Biffa will be sentenced at the magistrates’ court next month.

Each of the offences could attract a fine of up to £50,000.

The charges include breaking the terms of its environmental permit and allowing a foul-smelling liquid which runs from rubbish – known as leachate – into the water supply.

The offences are said to have taken place at a controversial rubbish tip in Houghton between April 2010 and May 2011.

Biffa denies a sixth charge under the regulations.

District Judge Steve Earl hit out at delays in the legal proceedings, which were expected to conclude at yesterday’s hearing.

The waste firm last appeared at the city court in September, when the Environment Agency asked for the case to be adjourned, but a change of defence barrister meant the case had to be put off again.

Mr Earl said he was willing to move the next hearing out of Sunderland to make sure it took place.

“There has been four months with little action. I am willing to move courts if needs be and of course the local community are avidly watching this case, and you can understand why,” he said.

Speaking outside court, protesters from pressure group Residents Against Toxic Site (Rats) also slammed the adjournments.

The case against the multimillion-pound company first came to court last spring.

Rats protestor Coun Sheila Ellis said: “I don’t think the judge could have done anything other than he did, but the thing is this first came to court in Sunderland in February 2012 and it will be back in February 2013, meaning there will be a whole year’s delay.”

Chairman and independent councillor Colin Wakefield added: “It seems to me that large national and multinational companies can do what they want.”

Biffa Waste Services is one of the biggest waste management companies in the UK and runs the Houghton landfill from a former quarry.

It deals with 500,000 tonnes of waste and lies less than a mile from Stonegate pumping station which supplies water to people living in South Sunderland, Houghton and South Durham.

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