The combined failings of Rossendale Borough Council and two other public bodies allowed illegal waste activities to go unchecked over a seven-year period with devastating effect.
Environmentally Unfriendly, a joint report by the Parliamentary Ombudsman and Local Government Ombudsman, looked to the three bodies to pay £95,000 in compensation to the neighbours of the unauthorised waste site.
The payment by the Environment Agency, Lancashire County Council and Rossendale Borough Council was to reflect years of extreme distress, aggravation and financial loss suffered by Mrs D and her son (real names are not used to protect their anonymity) after the Environment Agency and Councils failed to stop a neighbour from using his land as an illegal landfill site.
From 2000-2007 thousands of tonnes of rubbish were illegally dumped, burned and processed on farmland a few metres from Mrs D’s home, enough to fill three Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Mrs D and her son lived in a green belt area noted for its biological and archaeological heritage. Their complaints about the damage the waste was causing to the environment and their property went unchecked for seven years. The three public bodies failed to work together despite the existence of a national protocol that clearly required a coordinated joint approach on waste enforcement.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman said:
“Our investigation found that the relevant authorities failed to take urgent or robust enforcement action, despite the very evident and unacceptable activities taking place on the neighbouring farm.
Being able to undertake a joint investigation and issue a joint report with the Local Government Ombudsman has allowed us to consider maladministration and injustice in the round.”
The Local Government Ombudsman said:
“Anyone seeing the evidence of what happened on that land and of the devastation wrought on this beauty spot should be justifiably shocked and outraged that, despite all the legal safeguards in place, such events could actually happen.”
Environmentally Unfriendly recommended that all three bodies:
- should individually write to the complainants to apologise for the failings the Ombudsmen identified;
- make good any financial loss resulting from the frustration of Mrs D and her son’s plan to sell their property in 2005 (an independent valuation put this amount at £35,000);
- pay compensation of £60,000 for the disruption to the complainants’ lives;
- put in place a joint agreement between the Environment Agency and Lancashire County Council on how they will work together to respond to illegal waste activities (as required by the national protocol) to prevent recurrence; and
- determine whether any other action, individually or jointly was required to prevent a recurrence of such events.
The financial compensation was divided amongst the Environment Agency and the Councils according to their obligations to use their powers to act on the complaint. Rossendale Borough Council's share was 10 per cent of the total.
Rossendale Borough Council and the other two bodies all accepted the Ombudsmen’s recommendations.