Wearside pong campaigners gain support in Europe

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ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners have gained support in Europe in their fight against a controversial landfill site.

Members of Residents Against Toxic Site (Rats) addressed the European Parliament (EP) in the latest episode of their 13-year campaign against Houghton Quarry landfill site.

The EP’s petitions committee will now write to the Government expressing its concerns over the site and UK authorities’ alleged lack of action.

Rats said they had unanimous support from the committee of MEPs from all parties in Italy, Spain, Denmark, Germany and the UK.

Colin Wakefield, Rats chairman and independent councillor for Copt Hill, said: “We were walking on air when we came out.

“Sending a letter might seem a bit of a feeble response, but the European Parliament criticising a member state like that is pretty serious and pretty embarrassing.

“I’m just disappointed we’ve had to bring this to Europe.”

Coun Wakefield was joined in Brussels by Rats secretary and independent councillor for Houghton, Sheila Ellis.

She said: “We’re extremely grateful to the European Commission and the European Parliament for taking our concerns seriously.”

Coun Ellis said Rats was still determined to see Houghton tip closed.

Conservative MEP Martin Callanan has been backing the Rats campaign.

He said: “What is important is to ensure that the site meets all necessary safety and environmental requirements.

“I will continue to support the Rats group to ensure that any necessary alterations to the site in order to comply with EU law are carried out quickly and efficiently.”

The Environment Agency (EA) has stressed it has action taken against site operator Biffa in recent years.

In 2010, higher levels of ammonia were found in groundwater near the tip. Tests were carried out to determine where the substance had come from and the EA ordered the polluted water to be removed.

Action was also taken about the smell of the tip after hundreds of complaints from residents.

Graham Donachie, permitting team leader at the EA, said: “We continue to put considerable effort into our regulation of this site and take action where appropriate.

“Recent improvements on site have reduced odours, which has led to a reduction in the number of odour complaints we have received and, following our advice, the operator is currently carrying out work to remove the polluted groundwater.

Mr Donachie said the EA and Northumbrian Water continually review all groundwater monitoring data and have concluded there is little risk to the source of drinking water supplies.

He said after Rats’ original petition, submitted to the European Commission in 2004, the EA continued to respond to questions from the body regarding the regulation of landfill.

He added: “We also meet with Rats to talk about our work and provide them with environmental monitoring results.”

Biffa have not yet commented on the EP petition committee’s decision.

In the past the firm has said it feels the site is functioning and running well while Rats continue to bring up the same accusations.