St Albans recycling issued suspension notice before devastating fire

THE RECYCLING depot where a massive fire broke out was issued with a suspension notice by the Environment Agency just two months ago to “manage the risk of heat, fire and serious pollution” after they failed to reduce the amount of wood on site.

Around 10,000 tonnes of recycled wood caught alight just after midnight on Saturday, November 10, at Wood Recycling Services (WRS), Appspond Lane, Potters Crouch, causing a huge bonfire next to the motorway.

The Environment Agency reportedly issued Enforcement notices in May and July to reduce the amount of wood as the company had not complied with their Environmental Permits.

A spokeswoman for the agency said: “One of the Enforcement Notices required them to reduce the amount of wood waste on site to less than 10,000 tonnes.

“They were also prohibited from accepting further wood waste until there was less than 10,000 tonnes on site.

She added that those deadlines were not met, leading them to issue the suspension notice in September which stopped the site from accepting any further compost or wood waste.

It is not the first time the company, previously known as EQ Waste Management, have been reprimanded by the Environment Agency. In February 2009 the previous director of the site Adrian Lupson was fined more than �17,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of �66,000, as the management of the site had fallen short of the standards required.

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The recent fire spawned much media attention and became a prime focus for Herts Fire and Rescue Service.

As of Monday, November 19, the blaze led to 272 emergency calls, 110 visits by fire engines and 16 visits by special appliances including the High Volume Pump.

During the past week a single fire engine has been on site controlling the fire with crews being relieved every five hours.

Many neighbours of the site had been concerned about the potential dangers surrounding the wood pile before it burst into flames, with one resident describing it as a “recipe for disaster” which was “breathtakingly obvious”.

Noel Hurley, of Fishpool Street, wrote to Herts county council (HCC) in March to raise concerns about the recycling facility.

He said the district manager for fire protection responded and was also concerned by the facility.

He added: “He also told me that the National Grid had also raised concerns with the council but that the situation was complex because Herts Council send their recyclable timber there.”

“Obviously the protestations of Fire Protection, the National Grid and the public made no difference and the obvious happened when it caught fire.”

Noel added that there needed to be an investigation into why the concerns were ignored.

Richard Moffat, of Green Lane, cycled past the site about a week before it went up in smoke and also considered its dangers: “What concerned me was how unprotected it was.

“I remember thinking to myself that if this stuff caught light, how on earth was anyone going to contain it?”

He added: “Who sanctioned this to be there and were there no plans drawn up in the first instance to make sure it wasn’t an environmental hazard?”

A statement from the recycling company said the blaze started “on the very top of the pile” and “could have started by accident, perhaps even by a spent firework”.

Simon Lupson the current director of WRS said: “I am advised that the fire is contained and we hope that there will be significant improvement in the situation with smoke and ash in the next few days, although the site may not be able to be cleaned up for some weeks.

“I am very grateful to the emergency services, the Environment Agency, National Grid, the utility companies and our staff at Appspond Lane for their professionalism and the support that they are providing to us as we deal with the situation.”

The statement added that once the fire has burned itself out the company would implement its clean-up plan to remove waste ash and clear the site.

This clean-up plan is being co-ordinated with the Environment Agency to minimise environmental impact. An investigation into the fire is yet to be carried out as it is still alight. It is uncertain how long this will take.