An application for judicial review against the Environment Agency was refused in February.

Cleansing Service Group Ltd applied for judicial review on policy guidance by the Environment Agency, which set out its interpretation of an exemption in the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations SI 2016/1154, relating to the storage of sludge.

The Company's business included the removal of sludge from customer's septic tanks, which were transported to farms and transferred into storage tanks before being used as agricultural fertiliser. The tanks were fitted with grids, which allowed any debris in the sludge to be separated out. The debris was collected in a skip and removed to a permitted or exempt facility for disposal.

Agricultural use of sludge was governed by Directive 86/278/EEC, on sewage sludge used in agriculture, and the Sludge (Use in Agriculture) Regulations SI 1989/1263. Under the 2016 Permitting Regulations, storage of residual sludge was an operation that was exempt from the requirement to hold an environmental permit. However the Environment Agency issued guidance that the screening of sludge to remove debris amounted to treatment which required a permit.

The Company applied for judicial review of that guidance but permission was refused, the Judge decided it was not arguable that the screening of debris from sludge prior to storage was an activity that fell within the exemption. It was concluded that it amounted to treatment of the waste which needed to take place before the operation which fell within the exemption, and that there was no basis on which the screening could be excluded from the regulatory requirements. The Company appealed and was granted permission to apply for judicial review.

Following the application for judicial review, the Judge confirmed that "sludge" means "sludge" and "storage" means "storage", it does not include any form of treatment. It was concluded that the screening process carried out by the company to remove debris was unquestionably a form of treatment.

"The sludge collected from the septic tank owners is plainly different from the sludge stored on the farmers' land. In order to come within the exemption, sludge stored on the farmers' land must be in a condition fit for use on the land. It is unlikely that sludge collected from the septic tank owners will be fit for use on the land because of the debris that is regrettably deposited in the septic tanks. I do not agree that it is illogical that the operator who collects the sludge from a number of septic tanks and is required to remove debris from the sludge to put it into a condition fit for use on the farmers' land should be subject to regulation".

The application was refused.

North Somerset Council has ordered the removal of a Banksy-style anti-Brexit mural painted on the side of a grandmother's house.

Mrs Bridget Smith gave permission for her three grandchildren to spray an EU-themed mural they had designed on to the side of her house. The mural depicted a graffiti artist spraying the words 'Europe says please don't go'.

However after a local resident complained, the local council investigated and contacted Mrs Smith to say the mural was illegal, classifying it as an advertisement.

The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 makes it an offence to display any sign in contravention of the advertisement regulations. As the council believed the mural to be an advertisement, Mrs Smith would need planning permission for this and as she had none, the Council ordered her to remove it.

Mrs Smith was disappointed by the Council's decision. She commented: "I was astonished and thought it was ridiculous. I cannot understand how it can be advertising as I am not selling anything or trying to make money out of it. I and my whole family have personal ties with several European countries. I wanted to state a fact as I see it, in the hope it might make some people think in a new way.

"People have told me it was funny, and it has given them a lot of pleasure. This is a terrible waste of money and time when the council has problems with funding. [Nearby] Bristol is the home of Banksy, and it's wonderful seeing those artworks on display there but it's a different council here. I cannot help wondering whether there is a political element in the council's reaction", she added.

The Council gave Mrs Smith 21 days to remove the mural or face prosecution and a fine of up to £2,500. Mrs Smith's grandchildren have since painted over the words on the mural so it simply shows the image of a graffitti artist, and as a result the council have extended the 21 day deadline.

For more information, see the:

  • Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) Regulations SI 1992/666;
  • Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations SI 2007/783.

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has said that Government proposals to require all developments to leave biodiversity in a better state than before aren't suitable for everywhere in England.

The RTPI responded to a Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) consultation on the matter, saying that biodiversity net gain should "inform but not replace the professional judgment of planners and ecologists as they respond to specific local circumstances and enforce the mitigation hierarchy."

Instead they believe bespoke policies would be more suitable, such as the draft plan for London's Urban Greening Factor. They argue that dense urban areas where developments occur on previously developed land that holds little biodiversity value, a net gain for biodiversity is not appropriate.

They believe that local authorities should work to develop "strategic spatial plans for the environment, setting out objectives for biodiversity, green and blue infrastructure, natural capital, accessibility, and other priorities at a landscape level."

Policy and networks manager at the RTPI, James Harris, did say that the institute does support Defra's ambition to deliver biodiversity net gain through planning, but that measuring biodiversity net gain does not appear to be suitable for sites with zero or little existing biodiversity value, and so may have limited value.

He commented: "For brownfield sites with limited biodiversity value in a dense urban setting, a specific target for biodiversity units would surely be more appropriate than a percentage gain. It is also critical that any changes strengthen the ability of planners to work creatively with developers, other professionals and local communities to create great places. These changes must be complemented with proper resourcing for planners, enabling the profession to fulfil its leadership function, bringing together public and private investment to create places which benefit the economy, environment and society."

The UK Government has expressed concern over the issue of the "right sort" of wooden pallets that are used to import and export goods.

Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has held meetings with the representatives of the distribution industry about how to keep goods moving to and from the supermarkets if there is a no-deal Brexit on 29 March.

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the majority of such pallets will not meet strict EU requirements designed to stop the spread of pests and invasive non-native species. If the pallets are prevented from transit between the UK and the Member States, the millions of tonnes of goods they carry might not be able to be transported, which could potentially lead to shortages in certain goods.

It is estimated that around three million pallets are transported between the UK and the EU every month.

The UK Government has told distributors that all timber packaging, including pallets, designed for EU countries after a no-deal Brexit must be heat-treated or fumigated to comply with International Standards For Phytosanitary (Regarding Plants) Measures 15 (ISPM15). Currently pallets transported between the UK and EU are exempted from that standard if they meet certain requirements.

According to DEFRA's statement, "In the event of a no deal, all wood packaging material moving between the UK and the EU must meet ISPM15 international standards by undergoing heat treatment and marking. All wood packaging material may be subject to official checks either upon or after entry to the EU."

According to some producers who use wood pallets for transport, currently the vast majority of wood pallets used for transport of consumer goods delivered to supermarkets in the UK are not heat treated or compliant with ISPM15.

For more information on this subject, see:

A convicted waste criminal from Leeds has been ordered to pay £1,373,060 for defrauding government-backed schemes worth millions in a Proceeds of Crime hearing at Leeds Crown Court.

Terry Soloman Dugbo who is currently serving seven years and six months in prison, the longest custodial sentence given for an environmental crime, was ordered to repay the money he made from his fraudulence or face an extra eight years in prison.

In 2016 Dugbo was found guilty of falsifying paperwork for his waste operations in Leeds, to claim money through government-based Producer Compliance Schemes for collecting and recycling nearly 20 thousand tonnes of household electrical waste in 2011. In reality, Dugbo's company never handled such amounts of waste described and he was not entitled to the substantial funds he claimed.

Mr Dugbo was not able to provide enough evidence to show what happened to the proceeds of his fraud. Only after an in-depth investigation carried out by the Environment Agency (EA) and HMRC, it was discovered that he had benefitted around £1,373,060.09 from his crimes and the money was deposited in several bank accounts in Nigeria, Senegal and Spain.

Mr Dugbo contested the Proceeds of Crime actions since his conviction in 2016. He tried to reduce the previous benefit of over £96,000 for convictions of VAT fraud in 2014 and exporting hazardous waste to Nigeria in 2011. During the current proceedings, it was heard that Mr Dugbo had misled courts by claiming his assets had already been used to satisfy both of the earlier court orders when in reality they had not.

The investigation revealed that the crimes allowed Mr Dugbo to live a lavish lifestyle, including expensive holiday trips, luxury vehicles and tailor-made suits. Dugbo claimed that he gambled away much of the assets he acquired during the fraud, which the court rejected as not true.

EA's waste team leader, Dr Paul Salter said: "Mr Dugbo has now been ordered to pay £1.3 million which is a significant confiscation order on top of the custodial sentence already handed out. It sends out a clear message to others who flout the law that waste crime does not pay.

"Waste crime undermines legitimate business and can have significant detrimental impacts on communities and the environment. This hearing demonstrates how seriously we take waste crime and we'll continue to take action against those operating outside of the law and the regulations. Not only do we use environmental law to prosecute those who abuse the environment, but we also use the Proceeds of Crime legislation to ensure that criminals are deprived of the benefits of their illegal activity."

For more information on this subject, see:

  • Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations SI 2013/3113.

A furniture manufacturing company was sentenced this month for failing to prevent exposure to asbestos at its factory in Killingworth, Newcastle upon Tyne.

North Tyneside Magistrates heard how during a 14-year-period, following an asbestos survey carried out in 2003 which identified the presence of asbestos-containing materials, the Company failed to introduce an adequate management plan or carry out remedial work to prevent potential exposure to asbestos fibres.

Following a concern raised by an employee to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 2017, an investigation found the Company had failed to take measures necessary to protect employees from exposure to asbestos.

The Company also failed to ensure that maintenance workers were made aware of the locations of the asbestos to ensure they did not disturb it.

The Company, which is now in administration, was found guilty of breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Control of Asbestos Regulations SI 2012/632. Due to the Company being in administration, the Judge confirmed the fine which would have been £800,000, was reduced to £1.

HSE Inspector Ashfaq Ali commented "asbestos remains in many buildings where people work. If it is managed and in good condition, there is nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, the company didn't do what the law required and the asbestos in the building was not managed or maintained. This is a real risk and a clear breach of the law which required HSE to prosecute even though the company is in administration".

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