The landfill site in the quarry at Houghton-le-Spring
FAMILIES on Wearside say they are worried for the safety of their homes if blasting starts again at an old quarry.
People living near Houghton Quarry at Houghton-le-Spring have been warned that blasting work could begin soon at the controversial site, which is now used for landfill.
Waste management company Biffa have also hinted to residents they want to carry on tipping there for another quarter of a century.
In April this year, 150 local residents held a public meeting protesting about the blasting work which Biffa wanted to carry out in the quarry.
Biffa said blasting the rocks was “essential” after a health and safety inspection identified a section of rock face as unstable and in “imminent danger” of collapse.
But people living in streets nearby say previous blasting – in the years when the quarry operated – used to cause their house walls to crack, belongings to fall and shatter, and tiles and chimney pots to topple from their roofs.
They also accused the company of simply wanting to blast away the rocks to make more room for tipping. After the meeting, the blasting plans were shelved pending further discussions with Sunderland City Council.
But last week, residents in Newbottle were suddenly told the work could start any day, potentially continuing until November 7.
Biffa also sent a leaflet to handful of houses in streets nearest the quarry suggesting it wants to extend its planning permission and continue tipping at the site for up to another 25 years, adding up to 20ft more waste.
Families living near the site say the plans could mean many more years of smells, noise and dust in their homes.
It is understood the company’s planning permission for the site runs out in February, and no extension has yet been granted by the council.
Earlier this year Biffa was fined £27,000 for persistent odour problems at the landfill site, after admitting two charges of failing to comply with environmental permit conditions. A local campaign group, Residents Against Toxic Site (RATS), has campaigned against the site for many years.
RATS secretary Coun Sheila Ellis said: “In April the blasting was called off because of public opposition. Then last week a few areas received letters from Biffa saying they were starting blasting this week. We do not believe their planning permission allows blasting at the site.
“The letters also made plain that Biffa wanted to continue tipping on the site, and we have discovered they have already applied for a permit from the Environment Agency that would allow them to tip for 20 years or more. This tip is slowly poisoning our little town. The nearest habitation is only 20m from the tip boundary. It should never have been allowed to be built.”
A spokesperson for Biffa said the letters had been sent out to warn residents about the possibility of work starting, but a decision on the use of blasting on the rockface is yet to be made. She said that decision was due to be taken in the next few days.
Colin Clark, head of land and property at Sunderland City Council, said: “The council has been approached by Biffa in relation to a proposal to stabilise an unsafe quarry wall by blasting. There is a condition in the current planning permission that seeks to preclude blasting in relation to normal day- to-day activities, but following specialist advice this is not considered to apply to works necessary in the interests of health and safety.
“Notwithstanding this, the council has yet to agree the location of the blasting in relation to the planning application boundary and Biffa have suspended their plans until such time as this has been agreed.
“Biffa’s planning permission entitles them to landfill non-hazardous waste and restore the site in accord with an agreed restoration scheme. One of the conditions of planning permission is that tipping operations are completed within 15 years, which expires in February 2012.”
RATS is holding a community meeting about the blasting tomorrow at Newbottle Community Centre at 11am. For details visit www.houghtonrats.org.uk