Extension to hazardous waste site
The site near to Fineshade Wood is known as the East Northants Resource Management Facility (ENRMF).
It is operated by Augean PLC and in 2019 they issued the following press release:
Augean, one of the UK's leading specialist waste management businesses, has acquired an option to purchase approximately 90 acres of land adjacent to its existing East Northants Resource Management Facility landfill site near Peterborough. This option is Augean's preferred choice following their investigation of a number of alternative solutions to provide long term key infrastructure, aligning with the national need for hazardous landfill and soil treatment in the South of England. With appropriate planning and permitting consent, the extension that has been optioned would prolong the life of the ENRMF site until the mid‐2040s. ENRMF currently generates revenue of over £15m per annum and operating profit of over £8m.
However, the proposed site would sever the fragile connection between two important species-rich woods. Friends of Fineshade believed there iwas an alternative location which would not have the same dire effects in biodiversity.... read on!
In January Augean were granted planning permission by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. All those who contributed to the earlier consultation were informed by email.
The Augean webpage gave brief details.https://augean.co.uk/2023/01/25/enrmf-future/
By the end of July the northern field had been fenced off and construction was well under way
Augean in a nutshell
A few facts about Augean PLC and the existing site
The company obtained planning permission for hazardous waste landfill in 2006 and subsequently applied to dispose of low-level radioactive waste at the site. There were strong protests from local communities, and the county council rejected the plan. However, Augean appealed to central government and in 2011 Eric Pickles, the Secretary of Sstate, approved the plans.
The company claims that ENRMF is "a nationally important facility for the safe, secure and well-regulated treatment and disposal of wastes that require specialist handling."
As well as many other types of hazardous waste, ENRMF is allowed to bury Hazardous and Non-Hazardous Low-Level Radioactive Waste and Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material. This waste comes from the Nuclear, Oil and Gas Industries, and from the Defence, Clinical, Mineral Extraction and Construction sectors, etc. www.augeanplc.com/waste-types/
Predicted Augean profit for 2019 is £16.5 million before tax augeanplc.com/2019/10/16/trading-update-oct-2019/ The ENRMF site alone currently generates revenue of over £15m per annum and operating profit of over £8m. (Press release - Augean South Landfill Option)
Under Landfill Tax legislation, Augean is required to pay tax (currently £94 per tonne) on the material buried in the site. Up to 6% of this levy can be distributed through the Landfill Communities Fund to support projects which either improve the life of communities or aid nature conservation. This process is managed by GrantScape, with support from the Kings Cliffe Environmental Association. Grants of approximately £500,000 per annum are provided.
Present view of ENRNF from Fineshade Wood. The silos are part of the soil processing plant
One of the current "cells" showing the depth of clay that helps to make this site suitable
Which fields were threatened?
This map shows the proposed extension on two arable fields (diagonal shading). The existing site is partially shown by the rectangular area on the right, with clay pits and the soil processing plant top left. The buildings in the bottom centre of the rectangle are farm buildings serving Howard Farms.
The green area on the left is the northeast corner of Fineshade Wood, whereas the wood top right is the National Nature Reserve (Collyweston Great Wood, with its hidden area of derelict MOD bunkers, formerly part of Wittering Airfield)
Crossing the proposed fields provides engineering challenges: a high pressure gas main, a large diameter water supply pipe linking to Rutland Water, and elevated electricity cables will all have to be diverted
What about wildlife?
Both Collyweston Great Wood (SSSI and NNR) and Fineshade Wood (on the list for SSSI designation) have a rich diversity of wildlife and have many unusual and threatened species. For example, there are small populations of Adders in both woods. There are also Dormice, newts and many unusual insects and plants. Currently the two arable fields provide a means (albeit imperfect) for some of these populations to interact.
Friends of Fineshade have long wished to see the two woods linked more firmly, but the proposed deep pits filled with hazardous waste would separate the two important woodland areas much more completely. It will be decades before the pits are filled, capped and the top surface restored to natural habitat: by then it may well be too late for some of these locally threatened species.
A public consultation
As the law requires, Augean ran a public consultation on their proposals from 2020 until February 2021 and many of the Friends of Fineshade contributed. No less than 67 responses raised the issue of loss of wildlife connectivity .
Another 33 asked for land to the south of the existing site to be investigated for suitablility. These fields have the same landowner as the two that were proposed, and using them would be far less damaging for wildlife, as it would avoid further fragmentation of the woodland areas.
We realised that extending to the south could lead to the the two western fields being left "stranded", with no connections to the rest of the farmland. Therefore we proposed that Augean buy all four fields, converting the two western ones to woodland or wood-pasture, making a significant new wildlife area in mitigation for a profitable southern extension to the landfill facility.
Our arguments are summarised below
This is the wrong location for an extension to the landfill site.
Augean should be using their opportunity to connect the two species-rich woodlands now, not to separate them by deep pits and steel fences
The disconnection would create a significant biodiversity loss
The proposed restoration plans look good, but it won't come about until 2046, by which time it will be too late for threatened species.
There was an alternative: the fields to the south of the existing site, need to be properly assessed.
Existing site which will be restored by 2026.
Augean's proposed extension, completion by 2046
An alternative extension that should be considered
The effect of the consultation
During the summer of 2021 Augean moved to the next phase of the planning process, filing a Development Consent Order (DCO) to the Secretary of State. Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects such as this are decided by central government and not by the County Council.
We were pleased to see that Augean's plans had changed a little, particularly taking on board the importance of the connectivity to the two woodlands. Their plans for restoration had also improved. Once the pits are full, Augean guaranteed to create the type of rich habitat that will meet requirements for the site to be adopted as a Local Wildlife site, meeting several of the Northamptonshire Biodiversity Action Plan habitat creation targets. There will be a mosaic of woodland with shrubby edges, meadow grassland, ponds, scattered trees and hedgerows. Both Natural England and the Wildlife Trust BCN have been working closely with Augean’s ecologists to maximise this potential and that is reflected in the latest version of the plans. In due course there will also be a new footpath and carpark, enabling public access from the east to and from Fineshade.
Most important, Augean are now proposing to phase operations so that the northern field will be the first to be worked and the first to be restored. Their projection is that restoration there will be completed within 7 years of the start of excavation work i.e by 2030.
However, Augean had repeatedly claimed that the alternative of development on the fields south of the existing site was not an option because the current landowner would not make that land available. In fact it was clear throughout the public consultation that Augean never seriously considered it as an alternative - not only would they need to buy twice as much land, but there would be considerable time lost while a full assessment of those southern fields was carried out.
Restoration plan for the northern field
The planning application was scrutinised by an Examining Inspector who recommended that the Secretary of State should grant permission for the extension to go ahead. That permission was granted in January 2023. Augean started work during the spring, fences were erected leaving wide margins around the edge of the surrounding woodland. By July a deep hole had been excavated and it was being carefully engineered so that it was lined with thick clay.
Some former views
Below is the more northern of the two arable fields showing the proximity of Fineshade Wood (left) to the National Nature Reserve (right).
View across the northern field towards ENRNF showing heaps of clay and the phase-1 works.
View across the southern field towards ENRNF showing the phase-1 works. The photo was taken from a Public Right of Way through Fineshade Wood. The extension will bring operations close up to the Oak tree in the foreground, about 200m away from the public path.