Questions on waste remain unanswered

City Waste, Campsie. (0706PG52)
City Waste, Campsie. (0706PG52)

One of Alex Attwood’s last acts as Minister for the Environment was to announce a “Waste Crime Task Force” to combat “organised waste crime”.

He was responding to the discovery that hundreds of thousands of tons of waste had been dumped illegally at locations around Campsie.

Attwood revoked the licence of the company and around 65 workers, the majority of them Polish, lost their jobs.

One city councillor estimated the likely clean-up costs at “hundreds of millions” of pounds.

At Stormont, Attwood declared that the scale of the operation suggested the involvement of “organised crime.”

Attwood has since been replaced by Mark H. Durkan, who, when he picks up this particular dossier, will find that he has been bequeathed more questions than answers.

Was that clean-up figure of “hundreds of millions” a wild exaggeration? If so, what estimate are the Department and the City Council working off now? Far more modest sums have been known to convulse the Treasury, never mind the Stormont Finance Ministry.

What was Attwood getting at when he spoke to MLAs of “organised crime” and “serious criminality”? Or were these just phrases casually thrown out in a moment of flamboyance?

The “hundreds of thousands of tons” of waste which were dumped “would have filled six Titanics”, apparently. They had been trucked to the site in a daily shuttle since 2009. How can these rumbling convoys have gone unchecked for so long? Did no official of the City Council or the Environment Department or the NI Environment Agency ever call out to the company’s Campsie offices to confirm that everything was as it should be? Whose duty was it to ensure this was done?

And incidentally: whatever happened to the inquiry ordered by the NIEA into the disposal of waste from the demolition of the former Hamilton Shirt Factory in January 2012? The factory, part of our industrial heritage, had been reduced to rubble with Attwood’s approval after the collapse of an internal wall was said to have left the rest of the building unsafe. Six weeks after the demolition, the NIEA announced that it had set up an inquiry into disposal of the waste. This inquiry continues. And for as long as it does, says the NIEA: “We cannot comment on the nature of the waste or where it may be disposed of.”

Derry City Council said at the time that while it had approved a recommendation to demolish the factory, demolition and disposal was the responsibility of the “private property owner, their professional advisors and their contractors.”

Does the council know now where the remains of the factory were dumped? Who supervised this operation on behalf of the people?

These are not abstract considerations. Plans are afoot to build an incineration/gasification plane at Campsie (What do all these people have against Campsie?) to dispose of waste over the next quarter of a century and more. What credibility will we be able to attach to assurances of the safety of the proposed new facility while questions relating to demolition and landfill dumping remain unanswered?