St Albans MP demands action over wood waste site after smoke seen again

Smoke pours out from the wood waste site in Potters Crouch, where yet another fire has broken out. P

Smoke pours out from the wood waste site in Potters Crouch, where yet another fire has broken out. Photo courtesy of Paul Foster - Credit: Paul Foster

Smoke has again been pouring out of a controversial wood waste depot – the site of numerous blazes over recent years.

Fire at Wood Recycling Services, Appspond Lane, Potters Crouch

Fire at Wood Recycling Services, Appspond Lane, Potters Crouch - Credit: Archant

The fire is believed to have started on Sunday but Wednesday morning the fire service was called out to Appspond Lane in Potters Crouch again because smoke was seen coming from a pile of wood located near an electricity pylon.

A spokesperson for the Environment Agency (EA), which has staff on site, said that the operator had been told to redistribute the waste in the pile away from the pylon and the fire service was on hand should the wood ignite as oxygen reached the middle of the pile.

The current blaze has left a neighbour of the wood waste site with a sore throat as a result of fumes wafting into her home from the mountain of wood waste since Sunday.

The woman, who did not want to be named, has hit out at both the depot’s owner, Navitas Environmental Limited, for failing to remove the wood as promised and the EA for its seemingly weak response so far to the ongoing problem.

Navitas gained an environmental permit last year, and had promised it would remove thousands of tonnes of the wood waste piled high on the site, situated in St Albans’ Green Belt fringes between the M1 and A414 near Hemel Hempstead.

The neighbour, whose family has lived nearby since 1946, blames a previous lengthy blaze, which took four months to extinguish, for the death of one of her horses, which died from smoke inhalation.

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She said: “I’ve got a sore throat from the smoke as there has been quite a lot of it.

“The Environment Agency doesn’t seem to want to know about it. They were supposed to attend a recent St Michael parish council meeting to talk about it, but never turned up.”

A spokesman for St Albans Fire Station confirmed that firefighters had visited the scene several times, adding, “There have been investigations into what is happening there. There was a lot of smoke again. We are waiting for heavy machinery to arrive, to move the wood around the site.”

St Albans MP Anne Main, who has previously criticised the depot as an ‘accident waiting to happen’, said on Tuesday: “I am seriously concerned about the lack of progress on removing the wood. On too many occasions we have had the false hope that there would be inroads into clearing the site.”

She has urged the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Rory Stewart, and the EA to have the wood waste mountain removed ‘swiftly’.

In a letter to Mr Stewart, she said there had been a “long and unhappy history” of problems there.

The permit granted to Navitas, which wants to build and operate a biomass builder at Appspond Lane, includes strict limits on the amount of wood that can be stored and processed on-site.

In his response to Mrs Main, the minister said that EA staff had met with the firm’s director, along with representatives of Herts Fire and Rescue Service, to discuss the safe storage and removal of the wood.

An EA spokeswoman said that following legal advice, “the county council will be approaching the owner to ask him to voluntarily remove the wood from the site. Should this be unsuccessful we will take legal action to enforce the removal.”

The EA estimates that 5,500 tonnes of waste wood material as been removed in the last two years, with 9,500 tonnes remaining.

The Herts Advertiser was unable to contact Navitas for comment.