Agenda and minutes

Special Environment and Regeneration Committee - Mobuoy Road, Environment and Regeneration Committee
Wednesday 22 January 2020 4.00 pm

Venue: Guildhall, Derry. View directions

Items
No. Item

SER1/20

Notice and Summons of Meeting

Minutes:

The Director of Environment and Regeneration read the Notice and Summons for the Meeting.

SER2/20

Apologies

Minutes:

The Director of Environment and Regeneration read the Notice and Summons for the Meeting and apologies were recorded from Councillors Dobbins and McHugh.

SER3/20

Declarations of Members' Interests

Minutes:

There were no declarations of Members’ interests.

SER4/20

Deputations:

(1) To receive representatives from Mobuoy Remediation Project Team to give a presentation on The Mobuoy Remediation Project

The Committee receivedMr M Livingstone, NIEA, Head of Regulation Unit and Project Director; Ms A McMullan, NI Water, Drinking Water Regulation bManager; Dr T Kearney, NIEA, Head of Land and Groundwater Team and Project Technical Director Ms T Hogg, Strategic Investment Board (SIB) who gave a joint presentation addressing their specific areas of expertise, on The Mobuoy Remediation Project outlining their primary objective which was for Council to endorse engagement with DAERA/NIEA to work in Partnership to co-design future development plans.

 

The Chairperson welcomed the members of the deputation to the Special Meeting.  He reminded Members that due to the ongoing criminal court proceedings there may be questions which the deputation might not be able to answer.  He pointed out that he would request any questions which he considered to be inappropriate to be withdrawn.

 

The presentation addressed the following areas in detail:

 

Overview

 

Site Overview

 

Mobuoy Criminal Case

 

Ongoing Criminal Case

 

Trial Date Set for 7 September 2020

 

Some project information is evidence in the criminal case

 

We remain limited in what information we are able to share at this point

 

Council Mobuoy Working Group – Summary of Issues Raised

 

Response to Failure in Waste Regulation

 

Enforcement – What has been achieved?

 

Protecting Drinking Water

 

NI Water’s abstraction from the River Faughan

 

Drinking Water Quality – how do we ensure we provide safe, clean drinking water?

 

Is Our Water Safe To Drink?

 

YES

 

NI Water’s Contingency Measures

 

Objectives of the Mobuoy Monitoring Programme

 

Overview of Mobuoy Monitoring Programme

 

Developing the Remediation Strategy – Options Appraisal

 

Remediation Objectives

 

Appraisal of Remediation Options – Sustainable Remediation Forum UK (SuRF-UK)

 

Framing the Remediation Options Appraisal

 

Other Issues Raised

 

Sustainability Criteria

 

Stage 1: Shortlisting of Options

 

Stage 2: Detailed Assessment of Options

 

Integrated Remediation

 

Remediation Strategy – Next Steps

 

Mobuoy Masterplan and Vision

Why a focus on Vision and Future Uses?

 

Site Potential

 

Potential Multiple functions of Site Post Remediation

 

Vision Building

 

Stakeholder Engagement

 

Delivery

 

Project Timeline

 

Council Mobuoy Working Group – Summary of Queries

 

Next Steps

 

Summary of Outcomes

 

Faughan Wetlands Park?

 

In conclusion Mr Livingstone pointed out that a business case would be required and Planning permission sought in regards to any development proposals in respect of the Mobuoy site.  This would ultimately be an Assembly issue requiring a Ministerial decision.

 

The Chairperson and Members thanked the deputation for their extremely comprehensive and complex presentation.

 

The Chairperson then sought Members’ questions and Members raised the following issues:

 

-      Enquired if examinations had been carried out to determine the types and amount of waste dumped at the Mobuoy site.

-      Enquired if the proposed options for the remediation of the site had been costed.

-      Acknowledged that the cost involved in the excavation of the waste dumped at this site would be considerable and enquired if any discussion on this issue had taken place at Assembly level during consideration of the future of the Mobuoy Road site.

-      Had the issue of the Mobuoy Road site been raised within the Local Development Plan, and, if not, why not?

-      Acknowledged the level of public frustration, disillusionment and anger regarding this issue particularly in regards to the lack of transparency and accountability.

-      Referred to the many “questionable facts” regarding this site.

-      Queried why the Public Inquiry into the illegal dumping at the Mobuoy Road site which had been requested by the Assembly in 2014 following the Mill’s Review had not been carried out.

-      Referred to suggestions at the time that the Executive would not make monies available to carry out a Public Inquiry.

-      Expressed concern at suggestions that the Public Inquiry had not been carried out due to ongoing legal proceedings against the perpetrators pointing out that this should not render such an Inquiry and all issues relating thereto to be sub judice.

-      Queried the legal advice on which the decision not to carry out a Public Inquiry was based.

-      Acknowledged suggestions put forward to change the topography of the Mobuoy Road site and expressed disgust that in an area of such natural beauty this presented an apocalyptic image.

-      Queried if any investigation had been carried out into the cost involved in the various proposed options for the remediation of the site and who should pay for these works.

-      Enquired if consideration was being given to the possibility of the Executive funding the remediation project.

-      Expressed concern at the continuous delays in addressing this problem.

-      Reiterated serious concerns that the Public Inquiry requested by the Department in 2014 had not been carried out.

-      Referred to public concern and alarm at the quality of the drinking water given the potential for seepage of toxic waste from this site into the River Faughan which increased the need for a Public Inquiry.

-      Enquired if officials from any of the Statutory bodies had been held to account for this catastrophe and referred to the public entitlement to receive a detailed explanation of the facts involved.

-      Suggested that the subject of the presentation required further investigation and public scrutiny.

-      Suggested that members of the public submit, through their elected representatives, any questions which they wanted addressed by NIEA which could inform part of the Agency’s monthly update on the Mobuoy Road site to Committee.

-      Questioned the sampling methods currently being carried out to ensure that there was no seepage into the River Faughan and safe drinking water.

-      Referred to the 2017 flooding and the constant threat facing the River Faughan.

-      Requested various samples from the site, along the water course and post treatment.

-      Queried how such an oversight could have occurred given that the continuous illegal dumping on this site was evident to those living in the surrounding area.

-      Queried what lessons had been learned from this catastrophe and what had been identified and what actions were being proposed and decisions made in terms of moving forward.  Such information could help instil confidence in the Department.

-      Expressed concern at the decision not to take forward to stage 2 the option to have the waste removed from the site and queried the reasoning behind this decision.

-      Expressed concern that this option was discounted at such an early stage, particularly given the lack of knowledge regarding the type and quantity of waste dumped on this site.

-      Referred to public concerns arising from the fact that the waste remained on the site.

-      Referred to the fact that this was the largest illegal dump in Europe and expressed concern that there was a general misconception that Council was in some way responsible for this disaster.

-      Pointed out that NIEA were responsible for this matter given the changes to the licencing policy in 2003/4 when they assumed responsibility for overseeing the regulation of waste operations.

-      Having assumed such responsibility of this site, queried how many inspections had been carried out by NIEA post 2004 up until the closure of the site.

-      When did NIEA first become aware that there was a problem at this site.

-      Whilst welcoming the positive feedback in respect of the quality of the water referred to earlier suggestions that a wall should be built to prevent leakage from the site into the River Faughan.

-      Whilst welcoming comments regarding this vibrant City pointed out that there was an obvious lack of vibrancy at the Mobuoy Road site and the surrounding area.

-      Acknowledged the palpable public anger in regards to the situation at Mobuoy.

-      Referred to the gaps which had been identified and in terms of the complexities involved requested a full scrutiny of all of the circumstances surrounding this case which would only be achieved through a Public Inquiry which would determine the facts and provide accountability in terms of moving forward and restoring public confidence.

-      A Public Inquiry must be regarded as a priority by the Executive and the Minister.

-      In regards to the suggested timeframe of 2027 in respect of the Civil Case, enquired if there were other factors involved.

-      In regards to the proposed timeframe in respect of the 2022 start date for any agreed works, queried if any money had been ring-fenced in respect of these works.  If not and if alternatives arose, queried if this would impact on the suggested timeframe.

-      How confident were the NIEA that the suggested deadlines would be adhered to?

-      Requested that a community consultation be carried out in regards to the proposed options in respect of the Mobuoy Road site.

-      Welcomed the campaigners present in the public gallery and commended them on their endeavours to have this issue addressed.

-      Pointed out that the apparent oversight and delay in addressing the issue of the illegal dumping at this site was yet another example of the discrimination directed at the North West.

-      Queried if the site contained any materials which would cause concern if there was seepage into drinking water supplies.

-      Referred to allegations by local farmers of the presence of “Blackleg” a disease affecting livestock emanating from this site.

-      Queried the cost involved in excavation of the site.

-      How could NIEA ensure that those responsible would not enjoy any financial gain from the remediation works.

-      Described the situation at Mobuoy as an act of “environmental terrorism”.

-      Expressed no confidence in this problem being satisfactorily resolved.

-      Referred to the suggested level of infill in the surrounding ponds and queried if tests had been carried out to determine the impact thereof on the eco system/wildlife in the area.

-      Queried what level of monitoring was carried out post 2004 when NIEA assumed responsibility for the site until the problem had been identified. 

-      Queried when the problem was identified initially.

 

 

Mr Livingstone advised Members that the Department had a Frequently Asked Questions link regarding Mobuoy Road on their website and said he would welcome feedback on how practical and beneficial these questions were considered to be.

 

Mr Livingstone pointed out that a Public Inquiry was a matter for the Minister and the Executive and undertook to relay Members’ comments regarding the absence of a Public Inquiry to the Minister the following day.

 

Mr Livingstone advised that he was not in a position to provide details regarding costs.  He stated that because agreement had not been reached regarding which option to take forward in respect of the site it would be impossible to estimate the costs involved.  He referred to innovative solutions suggested by SIB regarding the funding for these works.

 

Mr Livingstone acknowledged oversights by NIEA and a failure in Waste Regulations in regard to the illegal dumping at the site which were being addressed.  He referred to the various enforcement procedures which had subsequently been initiated by NIEA together with a Waste Regulation Review through which a number of problems had been identified which were being addressed through the Remediation Programme together with the stakeholder engagement.  He stated that a Public Inquiry would identify other bodies who were responsible in addition to those involved in the Criminal Case.

 

Mr Livingstone undertook to provide information on the lessons learned from the Mobuoy Road catastrophe.

 

Mr Livingstone regretted the breakdown in trust between the public and the Department resulting from this debacle.  He acknowledged that trust was a major issue and he was very keen to rebuild this through a number of major Council/stakeholder events the outcome of which would be published on the Department’s website.  In regards to the ongoing Criminal Case he said he was pushing legal boundaries in order to share information and would share as much as possible.

 

In regards to comments regarding the lack of vibrancy in the rural area arising from Mobuoy, Mr Livingstone pointed out that NIEA had legal responsibilities and would work tirelessly to deliver the vision that would be agreed by Council and the public in terms of the remediation of the site.

 

Dr Kearney advised that NIEA had considerable knowledge regarding the materials dumped at the Mobuoy site and she apologised for not having made this information available to Members and the public prior to or as part of the presentation.  She referred to a number of detailed and complex assessments of the site which had been carried out which had provided an indication of the materials contained in the site, on the basis of which it was agreed that an intrusive investigation be carried out.  This revealed a key number of waste zone areas where there was a concentration of various types of waste including municipal waste, commercial waste and metal waste.  She stated that when considering the site and the impact of the waste on the River Faughan assessments concentrated on the key source areas and areas of high priority in order to understand how the ground water was moving through the site.  She continued that through the investigation NIEA now had a fair idea of the cross section across the site.  A water plant survey had also been carried out.  She pointed out that there were various types of waste all at different levels.   However, in terms of options, costs had not been considered.  A considerable amount of work was still required in regards to the remediation process which would be undertaken during the next stage.

 

Dr Kearney confirmed that excavation/disposal had not been removed from the options and were still under consideration but would be subject to further investigation. 

 

Dr Kearney advised that the Mobuoy Road site had not been factored into the Local Development Plan but that the Department would be submitting a response to include the site in the coming weeks.

 

Dr Kearney advised that samples of the water from the River Faughan were taken upstream, downstream and adjacent to the site and at Carnmoney Treatment Works.  She undertook to investigate if, given the ongoing Criminal Case, the findings of the analysis of the samples taken could be made available for Members’ information.  She stated that this water was being constantly monitored and sampled and assured that this had not been impacted upon.  She referred to the considerable data which had been collected in respect of this site.  She pointed out that a lot of similar sites were able to undergo their own natural method of recovery with ground water systems assisting in the healing process. 

 

Ms McMullan advised that samples were taken at the point where the water exits the treatment works and entering public water supplies, and, if permitted, undertook to share the data collected.  She referred to a public register of data available on the NI Water website.  She advised that contingency measures were kept under review to ensure that the daily water supply was satisfactory and the process was continually reviewed similar to all water treatment works throughout Northern Ireland.

 

Dr Kearney advised that monitoring of the River Faughan was carried out on a daily and weekly basis.  Daily monitoring took place downstream and at the Cloghole extraction.  Other areas were monitored weekly and monthly depending on the information required.

 

Ms McMullan advised that daily samples were taken for some parameters and weekly for other parameters.

 

Mr Livingstone pointed out that the Polluter Pays Principle had two aspects (1) Criminal Case – to hold those responsible for what they did; (2) Environmental Liability Regulations – A strategy and cost recovery mechanism had been designed and in moving forward whilst because of the Criminal and Civil processes information could not be made available, assured that this would be carried through.  He undertook to establish if there were any further details which could be provided to Council.

 

Mr Livingstone pointed out that it was not intended to wait until 2027 to begin the Civil process however this was complicated by regulations.

 

Mr Livingstone pointed out that as the Project Director and new Project Manager he felt confident that the suggested timeframes would be adhered to aside from areas outside NIEA’s control and covered by the court proceedings.

 

Mr Livingstone acknowledged the importance of community consultation and assured that this would be carried out in terms of identifying and agreeing a vision regarding the future of the Mobuoy site.

 

Mr Livingstone pointed out that he was unable to provide projection costs in regards to the excavation of the site as this was linked with the ongoing Criminal Case.  He stated that the costs would be significant, however, this would become apparent as part of the procurement strategy.

 

Mr Livingstone advised that six weeks had been allocated to the Criminal Case proceedings.

 

Dr Kearney advised that the monitoring being carried out was tailored to identify materials dumped and the indicators were typical of the type of waste present in any landfill site.  She stated that there was no evidence of anything unusual or of any materials associated with pesticides.  She continued that there was nothing unusual, however, she emphasised that there was a process through which natural systems could assist in the recovery of the site by protecting water courses and the Faughan adjacent to the site which was encouraging.

 

Dr Kearney reiterated that no information could be disclosed in regards to the cost of excavation works.

 

Dr Kearney confirmed that concerns had been raised by the Veterinary Office regarding the possible presence of “Blackleg”.  This was, however, investigated by the Mobuoy Team and DAERA vets who were satisfied that there were no issues surrounding “Blackleg” on the site.  A number of other veterinary issues were also addressed at this time.

 

Mr Livingstone pointed out that monies had not been ring-fenced in respect of the remediation of the site as any proposed works would require a business case which would require Ministerial approval.

 

Mr Livingston undertook to provide written details regarding the level of monitoring carried out at this site post 2004 up until the closure of the site.  He pointed out, however, that a site visit was required prior to an Environmental Permit being issued.  He stated that currently NIEA had responsibility for over 800 waste sites all of which required a range of visits on a risk based mechanism.   He also undertook to issue details of the number and type of visits carried out during the period referred to.

 

Dr Kearney confirmed that there were a number of pond areas within the site and one was adjacent to the River Faughan.  She pointed out that investigations had been carried out into possible levels of contamination, however, no evidence of waste had been identified.  She stated that this had been closely monitored and assurances had been given that there was no impact on the River Faughan.  She continued that any areas of pondage on the City Waste site which had waste underlined were monitored actively, however, no issues of concern for the river had been identified.

 

Ms McMullan pointed out that daily samples were collected through a range of parameters to detect the presence of waste contamination which were subject to quantitative analysis to consider the concentration levels.  She referred to independent assessments recently carried out which concurred with the data collected by NI Water and provided assurances in regards to the quality of the drinking water.

 

In regards to the NIEA’s request for Council to endorse engagement with DAERA/NIEA to work in Partnership to co-design future development plans, Alderman McCready said he felt there were still a considerable number of issues to be addressed prior to arriving at this stage.  He referred to the fact that agreement had not yet been reached in terms of the remediation of the site or the costs involved which would be necessary before consulting or engaging in any meaningful manner. 

 

Councillor Duffy expressed concern that by refusing to accept the Department’s proposals would lead to further delays in the carrying out of remediation works, particularly given the time involved in the carrying out of a Public Inquiry.  She suggested that this be worked and managed as a parallel process.

 

Mr Livingstone acknowledged Members’ sentiments and pointed out that whilst an immediate response to the proposal was not required, if the procurement strategy and remediation strategy were developed without vision this would become merely remediation. 

 

Dr Kearney referred to a number of stakeholder events which had taken place in 2016 and stated that continued input from stakeholders was essential. She stated that the criteria in respect of selecting options could be reviewed.  She stated that there would be opportunities for the local community and stakeholders to engage fully on the impact and outcome of the remediation of the site.

 

The Director of Environment and Regeneration suggested that if Members were agreeable, Officers would engage with NIEA officials in terms of feeding relevant council strategies and polices into this process to inform the outcome regarding the future development of the site based on the options put forward and to present to Committee thereon in order that these could be considered and agreed upon prior to any formal endorsement by Council.

 

 

Members agreed accordingly.

 

Subsequently, the Committee

 

Recommended       (a) that Members of the public are invited to submit any queries regarding the Mobuoy Road site to Members/ Officers to be included as part of NIEA monthly update to Council on this issue;

 

                                    (b) that Council write to the Minister concerned reaffirming its demand to have a Public Inquiry carried out into circumstances surrounding illegal dumping at the Mobuoy Road site;

 

                                    (c) that monies are ring-fenced by the Executive in respect of the remediation works at the Mobuoy Road site; and

 

(d) Officers engage with NIEA officials in terms of feeding relevant Council strategies and policies into this process to inform the outcome regarding the future development of the site based on the options put forward and present to Committee thereon in order that these could be considered and agreed upon prior to any formal endorsement by Council.

           

(2) To receive representatives from DAERA Waste Regulation Unit to discuss Anaerobic Digesters/Slurry Tanks

The Committee received Mr J Wright who addressed the questions submitted previously by Council and the answers in response thereto in respect of Anaerobic Digesters.

 

Councillor McCann expressed concern at the link between anaerobic digesters and ammonia levels particularly in regards to the animal waste.   He enquired if the Department had concerns regarding the levels of ammonia emanating from anaerobic digesters particularly in regards to animal waste which was spread throughout the countryside.  He sought a rationale for the increase in the number of anaerobic digesters and requested information in regards to the implications involved in the spread of ammonia particularly in regards to water supplies.  He enquired as to fundamental issues arising from anaerobic digesters and ammonia. 

 

Councillor Duffy expressed concern at the lack of clarity in regards to the need for covered slurry tanks.  She said she understood that in regards to EU Regulations there were considerably fewer emissions from covered slurry tanks.  She sought clarification on the issue of covered slurry tanks for planning purposes.

 

Mr Wright pointed out that the operation of an anaerobic digester plant did not have a significant impact on levels of ammonia as this was mainly due to the spreading of digestate similar to the spreading of slurry.  He advised that regular assessments were carried out by NIEA on the proposed spreading which would take account of emissions impact of the material produced by the anaerobic digester.  He continued that anaerobic digesters only contributed a small portion to ammonia levels.

 

In regards to slurry tanks, Mr Wright pointed out that recent regulations required that all new slurry tanks manufactured after 21 September 2013 were covered with pre-existing tanks remaining uncovered.  Consideration was being given to the issue of ammonia and whilst not directly involved, it was likely that emissions from covered tanks would be reduced.

 

Mr Wright said that whilst he was not aware of any requirements for covered slurry tanks for planning purposes this could be investigated. 

 

Mr Livingstone pointed out that ammonia presented a major issue for the Department and referred to the Ammonia Cross Party Working Group and the DAERA project who were considering the treatment of this challenging problem and the implications thereof particularly in regards to animal waste.  This work was ongoing but Council would be updated in regards to any progress made.  He said it would also be possible to provide a range of experts who could advise on the wider issues pertaining thereto.

 

Mr Wright advised that under the current policy prior to the granting of a licence in respect of anaerobic digester plants, an HRA was carried out to determine the level and impact of ammonia on designated sites. 

 

Councillor Duffy referred to previous Planning Committee minutes wherein it suggested that in accordance with EU monitoring an 80% reduction in emissions from covered slurry tanks was noted.  She enquired if the Department could investigate these findings in order to provide guidance to planning authorities on how to proceed in regards to this issue.

 

The Director of Environment and Regeneration undertook to investigate this matter for the purpose of planning requirements.

 

In response to a query from Councillor McCann, Mr Wright advised that the majority of anaerobic digester plants had been developed during the past ten years and more particularly during the past 5-6 years.  He confirmed that the Department’s policy in regards to the carrying out of HRAs was applied to all applications submitted in respect of an anaerobic digester.  This policy was, however, currently under review and the Department had undertaken to review HRAs in light of any change to policy. 

 

In response to assurances sought by Councillor McCann in respect of the carrying out of HRAs, Mr Wright confirmed that a HRA was carried out for all applications submitted for an anaerobic digester plant.  He reiterated that the anaerobic digester process did not give rise to ammonia it was the storing and spreading of digestates which caused this problem.  These had all been assessed and the locations and practices were deemed as acceptable.

 

Mr Livingstone concluded that this was an extremely complex area.  He explained that anaerobic digester plants requiring a licence were subject to an RHA.  However, there were anaerobic digester plants which did not require a licence.  He stated that anaerobic digester plants designed to take waste or cereal waste required authorisation, however, plants treating only cereal waste did not require authorisation and it was therefore not necessary for an RHA to be carried out.

 

The Meeting terminated at 7.10 pm