The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Rutley)
23 Apr 2019, 1:20 p.m.
It is always a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone, in particular with comments such as that, which do not happen often—thank you very much. I am sure that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) also feels the benefit of your kind remarks.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. She is a formidable spokesperson for her constituency and works hard in the main Chamber and here in Westminster Hall. It is good that she was able to secure this debate on the odour nuisance from waste water treatment works on behalf of the many constituents whom she represents. It is also good to hear the authoritative voice of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) who has, dare I say it, decades of experience. He does not look old enough for that, but he smells sweetly enough to represent those views.
I sympathise greatly with the residents of West Marsh. The issue is clearly unpleasant and, as the hon. Lady described, distressing. It significantly affects their quality of life, and I particularly appreciate the concerns expressed about the potential for the problem to become worse in the summer when residents need to be able to ventilate their homes. Both Members highlighted concern about the summer, so it is important that we get to grips with the problem as quickly as possible.
Statutory nuisance legislation provides the mechanism for communities to raise concerns of this nature with their local authority, requiring it to investigate and, where necessary, to take measures to resolve the issue. Section 79 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 places a duty on local authorities to inspect their areas from time to time to detect statutory nuisances, and to investigate complaints made by local residents about issues that could be a statutory nuisance. Smells from industry, trade or business premises, which include waste water treatment works, are among the statutory nuisances listed under the Act.
To be a statutory nuisance, an issue must either unreasonably and substantially interfere with the use or enjoyment of a home or other premises, or injure or be likely to injure health. It is not essential for local authorities or environmental health practitioners to witness the nuisance themselves—that point was made by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby because, unfortunately, when they came to visit with the councillors, there was no smell—but they need to be satisfied that the statutory nuisance exists or is likely to occur or recur, as seems to be the case with the issue raised by the hon. Lady.
Any decision will take into account a number of factors, including the reasonableness of the activity, the time of day of the occurrence, and its duration and frequency. Local authorities and environmental health practitioners need to decide whether they have enough evidence to justify a view that statutory nuisance exists before they take enforcement action. It sounds as if many of the hon. Lady’s constituents are taking the right steps, and we must ensure that the information is being provided not just to the local authority but to Anglian Water—we will come on to that.
The decision as to whether a particular issue constitutes a statutory nuisance is normally made by the local environmental health practitioner on a case-by-case basis. Section 80 of the Act imposes a duty on local authorities to serve an abatement notice where they are satisfied that a nuisance exists, or is likely to occur or recur in that area. The notice may require whoever is responsible to stop the activity, or to limit it to certain times to avoid causing a nuisance, and may include specific actions to reduce the problem.
It is an offence not to comply with an abatement notice without reasonable excuse. Someone who does not comply with an abatement notice can be prosecuted and, on conviction, in the case of industrial, trade and business premises, fined an unlimited amount. If local residents experience an odour problem that they believe might constitute a statutory nuisance, I urge them to contact their local authority without delay, describing the nature of the odour and providing any other details that might be helpful.
If it should prove to be the case that the odour nuisance that is the focus of our attention now originates from the waste water treatment works, the hon. Lady should be assured that we have strong rules in place not only to protect and improve water quality in England through proper collection, treatment and discharge of waste water, but to prevent unacceptable odour. Certain activities at waste water treatment works are regulated via appropriate environmental permits, depending on the nature of their operations. Conditions attached to the permits include those regarding odour. In 2018, the Environment Agency received 21,600 reports of odour pollution—I am pleased to report that not all of them were in the constituency of the hon. Lady—which were investigated by the agency where it regulated the activity. The remaining cases were investigated by the relevant local authority.
I understand that a significant number of industrial premises in the West Marsh area have the potential to cause odour, including waste-management and fish-processing facilities, and it may therefore not be straightforward to establish the odour origination point, although the hon. Member for Great Grimsby seems to have a pretty good idea of that—she has been forthright in her view. The local authority, in this case North East Lincolnshire Council, is responsible for identifying the sources of the odour that is causing a nuisance in the local area, and for issuing an abatement notice where it concludes that a nuisance is occurring. The Environment Agency has been working with North East Lincolnshire Council and Anglian Water to support improved odour monitoring, including a joint site visit and training for the council staff. The agency has also worked to facilitate effective local communications between the two parties.
The hon. Lady made an important point about reporting mechanisms. Local residents with ongoing concerns about odours associated with the treatment works at Pyewipe operated by Anglian Water Services should contact the main number, 0345 714 5145, in the first instance. If necessary, they may then contact North East Lincolnshire Council to follow up. I trust that Anglian Water is listening to and following the debate. Eight-month delays are completely unacceptable in any public body. It is absolutely clear that any approaches to a complaint and follow-up action need to be transparent and easy to use. I hope, if nothing else comes out of the debate, that it will become clear where the first point of contract should be—Anglian Water.
While being odour-free in all circumstances may not be possible, nevertheless there are many options for abating odour nuisance. I therefore encourage the hon. Member for Great Grimsby to continue to work with the local authority and Anglian Water to establish the exact source of the odour and to ensure that action is taken to mitigate it. I understand that Anglian Water is happy to convene a meeting with the hon. Lady, the local authority and the Environment Agency to discuss the concerns that have been expressed and to identify a way forward. I am pleased to hear that that meeting has been arranged for 1 May. I also gather that there is a desire on all sides proactively to improve communications and to resolve the situation as far as possible in advance of the summer months. The timing is good.
It is not the role of Government to intervene in local nuisance cases of this kind, but I assure the hon. Lady that the local authority has all the powers necessary to tackle the problem. I hope that this debate and my words on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will assist her in her efforts to resolve the issue and to address the concerns of her constituents, whom she seeks to serve well with all her dedication.
Question put and agreed to.