Waste company director Lee Reynolds has been fined £1,356 for the illegal storage of wood which went up in flames at Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire. He was also ordered to pay £5,000 costs and a victim surcharge of £135.
In just 2 months 3,000 tonnes of processed mixed waste wood was stashed in a warehouse at Lattersey Hill Industrial Estate before being abandoned some time before March 2015. A month later, the first of 3 significant fires broke out.
Reynolds, aged 36, formerly of Eye Road, Peterborough, was the sole director of Biomass Products UK Ltd which owned the illegal business.
Biomass Products UK Ltd was unlawfully operating the site without an Environmental Permit. In pleading guilty at Peterborough Magistrates’ Court (14 February 2018), Reynolds accepted that the offence was due to his consent, connivance or attributable to his neglect as a director of the company.
Miss Wendy Foster, prosecuting for the Environment Agency, told the court Reynolds had a ‘flagrant disregard for the law’ and had deliberately run the site illegally or allowed it to be run illegally. She said:
From January 2015 there can be no doubt that Reynolds was expressly aware that the activities were illegal and posed a significant fire risk.
She told the court that the site, a steel framed warehouse, was leased by Reynolds in October 2014 for 5 years from a pensions’ holding company. The building’s use was restricted to warehousing or workshop use, with a specific condition of the lease that no waste should be stored there. On the same day, Reynolds opened a business bank account stating he would use the building for storage, chipping and onward sale of waste wood.
Miss Foster said that deliveries were made only in the evening or at weekends and soon neighbours noticed a bad smell coming through the wall, which was reported to the landlord. The Environment Agency was alerted to the site in December 2014 and gained access early in January 2015 when it was found that the unit had been stacked from floor to ceiling with processed mixed treated wood. The unit was 7 metres high.
Reynolds was told he was operating without an environmental permit and was potentially committing an offence and that operations should stop immediately and the waste be removed. Waste transfer notes were also requested. The waste was not moved and no transfer notes handed over.
At a site meeting 2 weeks later temperature readings in the waste pile were so high that Reynolds was told the site was a fire risk and the waste needed to be removed imminently, but despite a following enforcement notice nothing was done and the site abandoned.
Following a fire, a multi-agency emergency action plan, put together two months before, was put into action and two-thirds of the waste wood was removed from the building, co-ordinated by Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service and paid for by the Environment Agency. Four fire service appliances remained at the site for 12 more days leading to significant financial and logistical demands on the fire service.
Miss Foster said the building was structurally damaged and the remaining third of the wood inside had to be cleared by the landlord at their cost. The adjoining building was also damaged.
Reynolds told investigating officers that he had made all the decisions about the operation, had no experience of waste and had only intended to store the wood until it could be shipped abroad.
He claimed he had not been paid to take the wood and a man he had met in a coffee shop said he could buy it off him and ship it abroad for power supply.
He said he did not know he needed an environmental permit, hadn’t looked at waste transfer notes and handed the keys back to the landlord before the first fire assuming they would deal with the waste.
He said he had been an estate agent for 10 years before starting the business.
Miss Foster said:
Research carried out by Mr Reynolds before starting the business was grossly inadequate and the activities that followed were reckless, if not a flagrant disregard for the law.
She said the failure to retain transfer notes for the wood was ‘highly suspicious’.
After the hearing Environment Agency officer Emma D’Avilar said:
This individual has put his own gains before the environment, and the businesses and people who have to live and work on the industrial estate. His story does not add up and the court has seen through his fabricated story.
Companies that deal in waste are governed by extensive legislation and controls so that situations like these do not occur. It was a sham operation from the outset that had to be cleared up by the Environment Agency, Fire and Rescue Service and the landlord which put great pressure on already limited resources.
Reynolds pleaded guilty to:
Between 1 October 2014 and 12 March 2015 on land at Unit 1, Unit B1, Lattersey Hill Industrial Estate, Benwick Road, Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, Biowood Products UK Limited did operate a regulated facility, namely a waste operation for the deposit and storage of waste, without being authorised by an environmental permit granted under Regulation 13 of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 and that offence was due to your consent, connivance or attributable to your neglect as a director.
Contrary to Regulation 12(1)(a), 38(1)(a) and 41(1)(a) and (b) Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010.