Decision delayed over West Lancs landfill plan branded "outrageous act of environmental vandalism"
A decision over whether to permit a controversial plan to build up a former landfill site close to a famous West Lancashire beauty spot has been deferred after councillors demanded that they see the location first-hand to judge the impact that it could have on the landscape.
Lancashire County Council’s development control committee was considering a proposal to import 200,000 tonnes of inert material into the Parbold Hill Quarry, which was landfilled more than 30 years ago.
Members were told that the site owner wanted to “reprofile” half of the 10-hectare plot, because of concerns that the way in which the land has settled over the past three decades was causing rainwater to “leach” through the buried household and commercial waste – and potentially pollute groundwater.
The meeting heard that the landfill design meant that run-off water was not being sufficiently captured, in spite of an element of pumping being deployed to dispose of it.
However, the concerns of a total of 15 objectors – the maximum number of oral representations allowed – were read out to the committee, raising issues including safety, ecological impact and the vista from a viewing area on the A5209 looking out across the Douglas Valley and West Lancashire plain towards Liverpool.
A man identified only as Mr. Sloan said that “to tip seven metres [of material] in the foreground is entirely unnecessary and an outrageous act of environmental vandalism”.
Fellow objector Dell Ellis added that “bulldozers will be moving around, buzzers bleeping where buzzards [once] hunted”.
Principal planning officer Jonathan Haine accepted that views would be affected for the 18-month duration of the works, which would generate 40 HGV movements every day and require a reduced 40mph speed limit on a section of the A5209.
However, he said that there would be a maximum six-metre increase in height above current ground levels at the greenbelt site, which would limit the permanent impact on the outlook.
“The final landform would not obscure the existing long-distance views.
“You would probably lose some of the views across the Douglas Valley, but given the higher elevation of the viewpoint itself, the more extensive views towards North Wales and Merseyside would probably be retained,” Mr Haine added.
Other objectors questioned the need for the work, with Mark Bolton – a local resident who happens to work in the landfill industry – describing as “highly irregular” the fact that all of the information submitted to the county council had been provided by the applicant, Maybrook Investments Limited, without any “final validation of the proposals from the Environment Agency”.
Another resident – living in the shadow of the landfill – also questioned how an existing crack in the structure would be affected by the addition of the new material.
“An officer has read [my statement],” wrote Deborah Power.
“If it were [being read by] me, you would hear the fear and the shake in my voice,” she added.
However, after almost two hours of presentations – and just as the committee was poised to debate the merits of the proposal – several members suggested that they could only reach a decision if they visited the area in person.
Coronavirus restrictions meant that they had been given a virtual video tour of the location, because of concerns that the “age profile” of the committee membership made them particularly “vulnerable” should they contract Covid-19.
County Hall’s head of planning Andrew Mullaney said that he did not feel that the lack of a site visit would result in members’ decision-making being in “any way prejudiced”.
However, West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper had written to the committee to state that taking a “desk-based decision would be unfair on [you] and the residents of Lancashire”.
Members agreed by a majority to request a site visit, which will have to take place on an individual, socially-distanced basis – with each member allocated a timeslot during which they will be walked around the location by a council officer.
In normal times, site visits are undertaken by all members travelling to the area in question in a minibus and examining a location collectively.