IN THE MATTER OF:
THE ENVIRONMENTAL PERMITTING REGULATIONS(ENGLAND AND WALES) 2016
AN APPEAL BY DAY GROUP LIMITED AGAINST THE REFUSAL OF AN ENVIRONMENTAL PERMIT FOR AN INSTALLATION TO TREAT INCINERATOR BOTTOM ASH AT AVONMOUTH, BRISTOL
CLOSING STATEMENT OF IAN ROBINSON
I would like to open the closure of my arguments at this inquiry by reaffirming my desire or if preferred, my wish or wishes for you, acting in the capacity of Inspector, to deny permission to the Day Group to start operations at the illegal and unlawful structure that is currently dominating the skyline at the northern end of Avonmouth Village and ruining our amenity. I can no longer see ships docked with the sun setting behind them or, as I understand it, ever sit in my garden again without smelling ‘fresh’ plaster should you permit this further abrogation of my rights.
Further, I call on you as Inspector to require its demolition and the site cleared and returned to a good order and surface at the expense of the Day Group. I charge you sir, upon your office and the oath I’d expect you to have sworn when accepting this case as a public servant or commencement of your employment, licensed and empowered, to respond formally and upon your liability in these matters to the points below, encompassed and explained fully within your written judgement.
The point has been highlighted – and stressed by the appellant’s representative and their experts – that I have not expressed myself clearly or failed to grasp the meaning of a word in my submission of documents to this inquiry. I apologise for my misuse of the English language and my inability to transcribe my thoughts into suitably acceptable Legalise, as I understand the term, bastardising and twisting the English language into the language of contracts where words actually mean different things to what common folk understand.
I’m pleased to say my life, in the main, has taken me in a different direction than the law. That is until I was forced to gain a rudimentary understanding of the lies, half-truths and machinations of public servants by moving next to the Port and discovering, to my cost, the flexible nature of ‘law’ when applied to the rich and poor. Rich people get to attend inquiries, apologise and get forgiven for oversights; poor people get bankrupted and or prison and their lives ruined.
As these proceedings seek to legalise illegal and unlawful acts to which I am not party and derive no benefit from and in the interests of avoidance of doubt: I do not accept the Day Group’s assertion that they have the right, or permission to build this plant. I do not accept the Environment Agency claim for jurisdiction in granting a permit or Bristol City Council’s claim to have issued any form of permission which has been subsequently admitted as unlawful.
Just how – what I shall now refer to going forward as ‘the monstrosity’, or if you prefer – the ‘cube of doom’ came into being, seems to be a subject that the fantastically qualified and, I’d imagine, the eye-wateringly expensive David Elvin QC took great pains to try to keep out of the inquiry by opening his case referencing this very subject. For those that follow comedy and are familiar with the work of Frankie Boyle, I believe this is the legal equivalent of ‘the racist door’. Not being one to waste an opportunity, I thank him for letting me step through it.
Bristol City Council in 2014 granted a lawful use of land certificate to the Day Group which, subsequently, was withdrawn in 2015 after BCC and I had a discussion about ‘permitted development rights’ at the Port. The Day Group were informed by the North Bristol Planning Manager Mr Chick that the erroneous and, as I see it, without any force in law certificate did not provide permission for the construction of the ‘cube of doom’. The Day Group chose to ignore this advice and started construction whilst, as I understand things, ‘operating at their own risk’ in 2016. This was the second such permit issued ‘in error’ by planning officers for the site.
I contacted BCC and my MP Charlotte Leslie in October 2016 to request action. As, I had identified – between dust storms and explosions – that the permitted development rights enjoyed by the Port did not extend to industrial operations. Subsequently BCC issued a Planning Contravention Notice to the Day Group. The fact that BCC chose not to act further against the Day Group after serving the planning contravention notice for erecting the plant highlights the complicity of BCC officers and therefore the council. They assisted not just an entity that they had a statutory duty to prosecute a case against, but also an entity that just – co-incidentally – was a tenant and lessee of a corporation that they own shares in and upon whose board sits a Cllr serving as non-executive director.
Many questions arise that need answers around the timeline of contract negotiations with the Port, BCC and the contractors that gave birth to this bastard child of greed and entitlement, which now squats on my skyline. We need these answers before the Day Group should be able to claim any form of liability against the taxpayer for any costs of construction, or loss arising from their egregious manipulation of preferred partners, public representatives and the frameworks of both common law and modern statutes to achieve their aims. Despite – and in spite – of any impact to myself and the wider community of Avonmouth.
Questions, incidentally, that have not been answered in this inquiry. Essentially the Day Group, I believe, have acted without good faith and are liable for their own costs in all of their dealings regarding their development.
The Day Group and the Environment Agency conspired to end these proceedings before they had even begun. Sending out a communication at 7:30pm on Monday 27th stating that as far as they were both concerned there was no need for the public to be afforded the courtesy of examination of their little business venture and we should all just go home. Especially me, it would seem, as upon arrival into this building – after skillfully dodging the ‘gatekeepers of the poor’ in the car park and witnessing the spreading of ‘poor person itch horror’ amongst the staff and besuited denizens of this beautiful structure – I entered the inquiry room to find I was expected to sit on the floor or in the public gallery.
After finally being afforded the courtesies extended to the other parties, Mr Levin QC opened his case by intimating that the Inspector could, should he so wish, just save us all some time because the big boys have had a nice little backroom discussion and between themselves had carved things up very nicely indeed thank you. To your credit, sir, you recognised that this really wouldn’t be on or indeed cricket and decided that we could continue. Albeit with a reduced focus on the activities between the Day Group and the Evading Agency as they are known in circles aware of, and impacted by, their woeful and inept attempts to regulate the markets they create. Primarily, it would seem, to facilitate nice sensible gals and splendid chaps, sourced from approved institutions, entry into the highly lucrative public sector industry of drain cover painting and water quality testing at some of the most beautiful and expensive parts of their ‘jurisdiction’.
Immediately it was mooted and decided that the members of the public – who had booked leave or wasted a day of their weekend and had undertaken tortuous journeys across the city via our laughable public transport or by other means to, probably, the most inconvenient and remote part of the city (far removed from the community the ‘monstrosity’ impacts) – had to basically shut up and bugger off until Thursday 30th before they could speak. This despite the point being agreed at the pre-inquiry meeting and subsequently published to the residents of Avonmouth and the wider area that that day one would be utilised for public comments. I could argue that these factors diminished the attendance of the public and the engagement of the community of Avonmouth and therefore negates the lawfulness of the inquiry. If the inquiry had been held local to Avonmouth then the public would have been able to pop in between school runs, zero hour contracts and doctors’ appointments for treatment to their boils, rickets, lice and suchlike to keep up with developments and express an opinion on the matters at hand.
I believe the Inspector should take these points back to the adminisphere for further processing so that the public are not as effectively silenced and their views completely ignored as they have been under the guise of the expediency of this inquiry and resulting in the detriment of mine and the public’s interests and rights.
Further I’d recommend that inquiries going forward should have provision for hearing loop users, full wheelchair access, monitors to display the complicated maps and tables discussed for members of the public to view and braile support. This inquiry failed to do most of these things. This has led to an avoidable incident whereby a person who attended this inquiry with significant hearing issues requested a witness to speak up and was curtly informed that the testimony was loud enough for one of the parties and the citizen rudely directed that they should stand further away. All documents should be hosted in a portal for electronic access by citizens to browse and interrogate without the need for small forests to be razed.
The case at hand highlights perfectly the issues we have as ‘service users’ when dealing with EA and BCC around developments at the Port. Jurisdictions are blurred and each agency claims or denies responsibility when either accepting a fee or responding to a justified complaint. The public gets handed between agencies and nothing gets resolved. This matter was taken up by Charlotte Leslie when a serving MP dealing with ‘Flymaggeddon II’ which made national news and resulted in questions in Parliament to David Cameron when he served as Prime Minister. Charlotte highlighted both the public and her own frustration at being passed between agencies with no individual entity owning the problem, no accountability of officers for either their actions or inaction and no method or instruments for redress for the affected parties.
The investigation ended after myself and other residents met with the then Sec State For Environment Liz Truss. She assured us that she took on-board our collective concerns and that the government and the Local Government Association would work together to appoint a lead agency to manage problems going forward. She also said that the Environment Agency would take seriously and mitigate any concerns affecting or impacting the public from waste treatment operations at the Port and within the wider community and, lastly, that BCC would be held to account for planning issues.
Liz didn’t quite get to the level of passion and engagement that she exhibited in her speech on cheese, yet she managed to clearly identify herself as incapable of anything but finger painting and story time. None of the promises that she or David Cameron made, agreed with the agencies and public representatives, have been delivered to date and pollution has gotten worse where I live.
The assurances of the EA that they will robustly manage issues with the operation of the monstrosity going forward carry no weight with the community of Avonmouth, or indeed it would seem with any community where their management frameworks exists. No liability is attached to any officer directly if acting Ultra Vires or without due diligence. None of the enforcement action makes any tangible difference to the problems experienced. None of the fines are distributed to the people impacted. None of the officers involved live day in and day out with the impact of their omissions or oversights.
The Day Group made much of the fact that the problems highlighted in my submissions with regard to dust emissions were nothing to do with the Day Group and were on a different site with a different operator. Testimony presented to the Inspector has highlighted that this, in fact, is a half-truth and the answers to my questions regarding Boomeco and the issues arising from their operations on the site concerned have shown that the Day Group were aware of problems. The public had reported them directly to senior management; had identified that the tenant had breached their agreement or – as I’d describe – contract for use of the land and yet no action was taken to correct this breach that the Day Group are prepared to substantiate. This calls into question the Day Group’s fitness, willingness or capacity to operate a facility of this type in the unique locale of Avonmouth Port and their compliance going forward. Agencies’ willingness, capability or capacity to manage any issues experienced must also be questioned.
BCC’s shameful performance in enforcement of the law regarding the unloading and loading of ships providing feedstocks to the Port, which are outside of the EA’s claimed jurisdiction, give effective legal wriggle room. This allows the EA to claim responsibility only for the Day Group site and not the end-to-end journey of the product. This approach, illustrated by submissions from expert opinion, takes no account of the ‘product journey’ from ship to shore. The Day Group’s expert Dr Cockroft seems to think that lorries thundering up and down the road at 3:30 am with the associated noise of loading and unloading has no impact on people sleeping 50 metres away. My full, personal liability and expert opinion – not the testimony of a limited liability organisation – should take precedence in the Inspector’s consideration of these matters. I am a live person, a human being and not a corporation. The Day Group, EA, BCC and Port are not providing any individual prepared to accept personal liability for the plant’s operation and therefore have no rights.
The Port itself uses antiquated and unsafe methods to load and unload ships. This gives rise to pollution from both a noise and dust perspective. Regular shipments of thousands of tonnes of dusty cargo is moved via grab or bucket grab to lorry using the ‘best available technique’ (BAT) of dropping from a great height utilising the freely available force of gravity, without any form of mitigation, on a dockside regularly blasted with stormy winds and rainfall. The collective ‘we’ are not aware of the strengths, variability or historical patterns of weather affecting the dockside at Avonmouth. This is utilised by BCC, EA the Port and their lessees and tenants when making applications. Their experts will present data sourced from other elevations, aspects and even counties to generate models that bear no relation to the actual conditions on the ground. These models are then accepted as baselines from which other fantastical creations are calculated, pop into being and are relied upon as truth within the caveat of ‘variabilities’ and excluding liabilities.
As I understand things, BAT should encompass the size, resources and profitability of the organisation making the application in relation to the task or problem at hand before consideration is given to other factors thus deriving BAT from the whole. As the Day Group seem to have a hand in deciding BAT through their relationship with the regulator and their membership of the professional bodies and associations seemingly advising the regulator I’d suggest that a re-evaluation of BAT, in this case by an independent working party that reflects the justified concerns of residents, be undertaken before any permits are granted.
The residents and members of the public who have shared their statements with you have given accounts of the huge impact that the cumulative effect of the individual registrations based at the Port and surrounding areas have on the health and wellbeing of people who live here. Harrowing accounts of constant chest infections and breathing problems in the young and the old, noise problems that impact across the face of the clock and not just site licensed hours and the dramatic effect these problems have on individual mental health. We do allegedly have protections within Article 1 of the first protocol: 1998 Human Rights Act and I dare say under lots of other acts and statutes and the framework of common law, which must be enforced by the various authorities due to the UK’s undertakings. However these ‘rights’ seem negotiable when the Port is involved and the purposefully toothless regulators have to extract a digit and cease polishing the seats of their chairs.
The cube of doom has generated more input from all sections of society and the self-styled political classes than any application I have experience of. The public at large, residents, local Cllrs and even the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, have written to oppose the construction and permitting of the structure. The weight of public opinion far exceeds the numbers of people able to respond to the whims of the Day Group and various agencies pushing for its acceptance and I have been genuinely moved by some of the messages of support and promises of action should this plant go ahead. Civil disobedience is the duty of citizens who have no other remedy.
Do not permit this activity. It’s in the wrong place, not wanted and has been constructed illegally.
I’m done, soon to be dusted.
Ian Robinson, resident, representing 140 souls, Avonmouth Community Action Group.