Whittlesey waste boss fined for abandoning wood leading to fires

Fire crews at the Lattersey Hill Industrial Estate
Fire crews at the Lattersey Hill Industrial Estate
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The boss of a waste company which stored thousands of tonnes of wood incorrectly leading to large fires has been ordered to pay thousands of pounds at court.

Lee Reynolds was the sole director of Biomass Products UK Ltd which owned the illegal business at the Lattersey Hill Industrial Estate in Whittlesey.

In just two months 3,000 tonnes of processed mixed waste wood was stashed in a warehouse before being abandoned some time before March 2015. A month later the first of three significant fires broke out.

Reynolds (36), formerly of Eye Road, Peterborough pleaded guilty to operating a regulated facility, namely a waste operation for the deposit and storage of waste, without being authorised by an environmental permit .

Biomass Products UK Ltd was unlawfully operating the site without an Environmental Permit. In pleading guilty at Peterborough Magistrates’ Court (14 February), Reynolds accepted that the offence was due to his consent, connivance or attributable to his neglect as director of the company.

He was fined £1,356 and ordered to pay £5,000 costs and a victim surcharge of £135.

Wendy Foster, prosecuting for the Agency, told the court Reynolds had a ‘flagrant disregard for the law’ and had deliberately run the site illegally or allowed it to be run illegally.‘From January 2015 there can be no doubt that Reynolds was expressly aware that the activities were illegal and posed a significant fire risk,” she said.

She told the court that the site, a steel framed warehouse, was leased by Reynolds in October 2014 for five years from a pensions holding company. The building’s use was restricted to warehousing or workshop with a specific condition of the lease that no waste should be stored there. On the same day, Reynolds opened a business bank account stating he would use the building for storage, chipping and onward sale of waste wood.

Miss Foster said that deliveries were made only in the evening or at weekends and soon neighbours noticed a bad smell coming through the wall, which was reported to the landlord. The Environment Agency was alerted to the site in December 2014 and gained access early in January 2015 when it was found that the unit had been stacked from floor to ceiling with processed mixed treated wood. The unit was 7m high.

Reynolds was told he was operating without an environmental permit and was potentially committing an offence and that operations should stop immediately and the waste be removed. Waste transfer notes were also requested. The waste was not moved and no transfer notes handed over.

At a site meeting two weeks later temperature readings in the waste pile were so high that Reynolds was told the site was a fire risk and the waste needed to be removed imminently but despite a following enforcement notice nothing was done and the site abandoned.

Following a fire, a multi-agency emergency action plan, put together two months before, was put into action and two-thirds of the waste wood was removed from the building, co-ordinated by Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service and paid for by the Environment Agency. Four fire service appliances remained at the site for 12 more days leading to significant financial and logistical demands on the fire service.

Miss Foster said the building was structurally damaged and the remaining third of the wood inside had to be cleared by the landlord at their cost. The adjoining building was also damaged.

Reynolds told investigating officers that he had made all the decisions about the operation, had no experience of waste and had only intended to store the wood until it could be shipped abroad.

He claimed he had not been paid to take the wood and a man he had met in a coffee shop said he could buy it off him and ship it abroad for power supply.

He said he did not know he needed an environmental permit, hadn’t looked at waste transfer notes and handed the keys back to the landlord before the first fire assuming they would deal with the waste.

He said he had been an estate agent for 10 years before starting the business.

Miss Foster said: “Research carried out by Mr Reynolds before starting the business was grossly inadequate and the activities that followed were reckless, if not a flagrant disregard for the law.”

She said the failure to retain transfer notes for the wood was ‘highly suspicious’.

After the hearing Environment Agency officer Emma D’Avilar said: “This individual has put his own gains before the environment, and the businesses and people who have to live and work on the industrial estate. His story does not add up and the court has seen through his fabricated story.

“Companies that deal in waste are governed by extensive legislation and controls so that situations like these do not occur. It was a sham operation from the outset that had to be cleared up by the Environment Agency, Fire and Rescue Service and the landlord which put great pressure on already limited resources.”