The Averies Waste Fire burned for two months, choking the air with smoke and fumes, meaning local residents couldn’t open their windows, and local businesses had to close their doors. The fire may be over but the flames of anger in the community will burn on for a long time.
They deserve answers and that’s why we need a proper inquiry into the Averies Waste Fire. I am pleased to have worked with all Councillors to secure an inquiry at last nights Council meeting.
First we need to understand how the Averies site was allowed to get into the state it did. This is not the first time there has been a fire at the site. Averies have been subject to repeated enforcement notices from the Health and Safety Executive and the company stacked compacted rubbish into piles 30 feet high.
We need to find out if the site operated according to its Environmental Permit; whether the Council through its planning control and Environmental Health functions could have stepped in to stop this happening; and why the Environment Agency did not step in earlier to suspend Averies Permit and stop the site from becoming dangerous.
Second its vital that we examine how the emergency was handled. In particular we need to ask why the Council said that dumping waste at the Groundwell Park & Ride site was the ‘least worst option’ – when the Environment Agency had the powers to force Averies to move waste to a proper waste management facility.
I want to thank local Councillors and the local community for the great work we did together. I have no doubt that had we not organised the protest on August 7th and public meeting on August 8th. then we would currently have waste piled up on the Park & Ride.
And it was our 10 point action plan that gained the full support of the community at the public meeting on August 8th and provided the quickest route to enable the Agency to get the waste moving and the Fire Service able to tackle the fire.
Finally we must ensure lessons are learned so that a problem like this does not happen again in Swindon. On the 3rd September there was a key debate in Parliament on fires at waste sites. The Averies Fire and Swindon was mentioned heavily – by Nick Smith, the MP for Blaenau Gwent. Nick Smith’s debate revealed some key issues that need action, including the need for proper enforcement to stop sites becoming dangerous, and the need for mandatory insurance for waste sites to cover the costs of clean up. I think these are important proposals that we should examine.
Together with the local community we stood up for residents when they needed our help, we showed the leadership that this issue needed and we took action and resolved the crisis. Now we must ensure hold a proper inquiry so that an incident like the Averies Waste Fire is never repeated again.
On behalf of the residents of Swindon, I worked with all Councillors to ensure we can now hold an inquiry and get answers that residents deserve.
Cllr Mark Dempsey
Swindon Labour Group Deputy Leader