THE Environment Agency has warned Swindon-based Hills Waste Solutions that it must improve the control of odours from its Northacre Resource Recovery Centre in Westbury after one of its directors came close to being prosecuted.

The company came under fire after hundreds of residents and South West Wiltshire MP Dr Andrew Murrison raised the issue in 2021 of foul smells coming from the Stephenson Road facility that forced scores of people to stay indoors and shut their doors and windows during the hot summer.

In 2022 the Westbury MP asked the Environment Agency to take enforcement action when residents were again forced to shut themselves inside during the summer months.

The Environment Agency wrote to Hills Waste in December 2023 after conducting a formal interview under caution on June 16 with the company’s waste operations director Simon Allen.

The move followed concerns about the company’s practices relating to the management of odour control at the innovative mechanical and biological treatment (MBT) plant.

Wiltshire Times: The Northacre Resource Recovery Centre in Westbury. Image: Trevor Porter 76857The Northacre Resource Recovery Centre in Westbury. Image: Trevor Porter 76857 (Image: Trevor Porter)

Hills Waste Solutions operates the facility under a 25-year contract for Wiltshire Council. It can handle up to 90,000 tonnes of waste per year, with Wiltshire’s household waste services contributing two-thirds of the volume.

The agency told Mr Allen: “On this occasion, the Environment Agency feels that it is not in the public interest to prosecute you for breaching the odour condition of your environmental permit, between 10 June 2021 to December 2021 at the aforementioned MBT plant.

“However, we would like to put on record our concerns about your waste management processes, in particular how the bio-filter element of the odour management is replaced, and to remind you of the requirement in your permit that you take all appropriate measures to prevent odour arising from your site.

“We take these complaints very seriously and as a result of the degree of concern raised with us by the general public, we will be very closely monitoring your operations in future and will need to revisit your odour management activities with specific scrutiny of the methods taken when replacing the bio-filter media.

“Should you find that you are in difficulties with the management of odours at this site, we would urge you to take external advice about steps which you might take to mitigate the odours arising and to advise us of any problems or difficulties you are encountering.”

The agency advised Hills Waste to replace the MBT’s bio-filter during the winter months as part of a ‘lessons learned’ analysis of the problems encountered during the summer of 2021.

Wiltshire Times: The Northacre Resource Recovery Centre in Westbury. Image: Trevor Porter 76857The Northacre Resource Recovery Centre in Westbury. Image: Trevor Porter 76857 (Image: Trevor Porter)

The Environment Agency’s concerns will add further fuel to campaigners from the Westbury Gasification Action Group and Dr Andrew Murrison, who are objecting strongly to plans to build a £200 million energy-from-waste incinerator next to the Northacre Resource Recovery Centre.

Dr Murrison said: “I'm deeply concerned. As if gut-churning smells were not bad enough, we now have residents worried that Hills' intended incinerator will also go wrong, potentially belching noxious materials over the town and surrounding area.

"Enough is enough. My constituents are fed up with Hills' Waste blighting their lives. 

He added that he was writing to the Environment Agency again questioning whether the company was fit to carry out the work.

Hills Group issued a statement saying: “Hills Waste Solutions operate to the highest levels of compliance at our Northacre Resource Recovery Centre in Westbury.

“The site is heavily regulated and we work closely with the Environment Agency to monitor and manage the site in accordance with its permit obligations.

“We can confirm that no prosecution action has been taken by the Environment Agency against Hills Waste Solutions or any individual employee in connection with the running of the site.”