Letter to Lord Smith re Environment Agency

Dear Lord Smith,

I wanted to draw your attention, as head of the Environment Agency, to what I regard as unacceptable behaviour from your agency.

I have been campaigning against the extremely damaging expansion of Southend Airport since 2008, as it turns out, unsuccessfully. The local authorities (Southend Borough Council and Rochford District Council) have done everything they can to suppress public engagement in the planning process and ignoring the will of the people proceeded to grant planning permission for an extended runway at the airport in 2010. Following completion of the runway extension, the aerodrome has been operating as a passenger airport for EasyJet and other low-cost airlines for the last two years.

Discharge of de-icer into local watercourses

It turns out that during that two year period, the airport has been knowingly allowing up to 360 cubic metres of de-icer per day to run off into local watercourses (see http://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/11192160.Airport_washing_de_icer_into_brook/ ). I understand from local councillor Peter Wexham that an Environment Agency officer investigated a pollution incident last year and reported that run-off would have to be collected and taken off site by tanker for disposal. However, following that incident, no storage pond has been created and I understand that de-icer continues to be allowed to run off into Prittle Brook and Eastwood Brook in large quantities.

As quoted in the Echo article linked to above, the Airport says now that the run off is part of a trial agreed with the Environment Agency and the EA “reports little or no impact on water courses and wildlife”. This is at odds with what I have heard regarding the pollution incident that the EA investigated and contrary to the EA’s own Pollution Prevention Technical Information note, a copy of which I attach below, which shows that all de-icers are environmentally damaging in one way or another. I fail to see why the Environment Agency has so far not acted to prevent this pollution. Please advise what action will be taken against the airport.

Environmental permitting application process

The airport is now applying for an Environmental Permit to continue allowing large quantities of de-icer run-off to flow into the watercourses (reference EPR/HB3790ND/A001) and it is the EA’s handling of this application (and, it appears, all such applications) that forms the basis of my second complaint. I only became aware of the application as a result of the Echo article above. Had it not been for the reporter’s investigative work, it would be entirely possible that no-one locally would have become aware of the application and would therefore not have been able to object.

Furthermore, it appears that the process for commenting on applications is being made deliberately hard by the fact that in order to view the application documents, one is instructed to book an appointment and visit the Environment Agency’s Public Register office in Peterborough. I phoned the EA’s National Customer Contact Centre on 03708 506 506 yesterday in the hope that I could have the documents emailed to me and was advised by the agent I spoke to, Jason, that this was not possible and I would have to visit the office in person to obtain a copy of the documents. Since then, another local resident called them and I learned from them that it was possible to email enquiries@environment-agency.gov.uk to request an electronic copy of the documents. I have now done this and a copy of my email is included below for reference.

Having investigated further – by looking at the application advertisements for other environmental permits – the instructions are very similar for all such applications – requiring an appointment to go and view the documents at one of the EA’s Public Register offices. I see a note at the top of the “Environmental permitting: notices of applications made” page at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/environmental-permitting-notices-of-applications-made that says:

If you can’t get to a local office to see the application documents you can contact the Environment Agency to ask for a copy on CD or paper.
No mention is made of being able to receive the documents by email, which is a much more sensible approach than sending them through the post.

Two Government policies are cited on the metadata page for the Environmental permit application advertisement at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ss2-6yf-environmental-permit-application-advertisement :

  • Giving people more power over what happens in their neighbourhood
  • Improving the transparency and accountability of government and its services

In the spirit of these policies, I would expect all the application documents to be published on the web so that they are freely available for anyone wishing to comment on an application. Please advise what will be done to improve the advertising of applications and accessibility of application documents.

Regards,


Denis Walker
South East Essex Friends of the Earth
http://www.seefoe.org.uk

Begin forwarded message:

From: Denis Walker <denis@seefoe.org.uk>
Subject: EPR/HB3790ND/A001 – Environmental permit application for Southend Airport
Date: 9 May 2014 12:09:17 BST
Cc: Jon Fuller <jon_n_fuller@hotmail.com>

Dear Sir/Madam,

I learned yesterday of London Southend Airport’s application to discharge up to 380 cubic metres of glycol-based de-icer per day into local watercourses, reference EPR/HB3790ND/A001
The advertisement for this permit application at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ss2-6yf-environmental-permit-application-advertisement/ss2-6yf-environmental-permit-application-advertisement advises that the documentation relating to this application can be viewed by visiting your offices in Peterborough by appointment. This was confirmed in a phone call I had with your call centre agent, Jason, yesterday. This is not a practical proposition for two reasons: your opening hours being 9:30am to 4:30pm on weekdays, when I am working; and your offices are a two-hour drive away. However, I understand that I can obtain the documents electronically by emailing you and would appreciate it if you could send me them as soon as possible.
Given that the deadline for comments on the application is 20th May, please ensure that I receive the documents well in advance of this date to allow me to read them before responding.
I note that the metadata page for the advertisement at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ss2-6yf-environmental-permit-application-advertisement lists two related policies:
  • Giving people more power over what happens in their neighbourhood
  • Improving the transparency and accountability of government and its services
This being the case, it is rather surprising that you don’t make a copy of the application documents available on your website and instead make people go to your offices to get them.
Please regard this as a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 if and only if you would otherwise not comply with the requestAs indicated above, the deadline for comments is 20th May and so I clearly need these documents in advance of that deadline. If the documents are only provided after the deadline, I expect the deadline to be extended to allow me to respond on an informed basis.
Thank you,

Denis Walker
South East Essex Friends of the Earth
http://www.seefoe.org.uk
Attachment: PPTI_De_Icer[1]