Farington Waste Technology Park has kicked up a stink ever since it opened – literally. It sorts waste from across Chorley, South Ribble and beyond but has been at the centre of complaints about nasty smells being released into the atmosphere. Charlotte Wareing spoke to the man in charge of the firm responsible - Global Renewables Lancashire.
When David Brewer signed up with Global Renewable Lancashire just four months ago, he might have been mistaken for thinking he was stepping into a relatively easy role.
But the 41-year-old, who was made CEO in December, has been caught up in a baptism of fire since smells began to emerge from Farington Waste Technology Park at the start of the year.
The plant, the size of around 14 football pitches, started its operations in September, taking waste from all over South Ribble and Chorley.
Just 80 metres from houses at its nearest point, it has been highly controversial since its inception in 2007.
And residents’ worst fears came true in January when the plant’s bio-filters – peat beds filled with smell-eating bugs – started to fail.
Mr Brewer said the 400 staff at the facility are ‘just as disappointed as the public’ at the smells which have been pouring out of the place.
He said: “We were just getting to the point where people were starting to say it is not as bad as they thought it was going to be.
“Then this happened. We are not trying to take away from the odour issue at all because we realise how important it is to people.
“We were running ok up until January and then it did become noticeable. We had quite high levels in the first week of February and the second week in February we really had our peak.
“Odour levels have reduced dramatically since then but it is still not where it should be.”
Mr Brewer said he is confident the problems will be fixed by the second week in April, when bugs in the biofilters will have multiplied and are able to handle the 700 tonnes of waste that will eventually be taken from bins across Lancashire every day.
At the moment, it is running at less that 50 per cent capacity.
He said: “It is so disappointing because the whole ethos behind us is about environmental standards, and the last thing we want is to be causing concerns for our neighbours.
“It has been really difficult for us in terms of working through that issue but we are absolutely committed to getting it sorted.”
Mr Brewer refused to comment on speculation the company could face fines of up to £2,000 an hour, but he did say: “There are fairly significant fines if we don’t meet our performance objectives. We are in breach of our conditions around odour.”
They have also been in talks with a professor from Manchester University to allay fears from people living nearby that the smells could be hazardous to health.
He said: “Because we don’t do anything with the waste, like burning in incinerators, the smells won’t be any more hazardous than normal waste in your bins. We are very confident but I do understand why people would be nervous.”
Mr Brewer, who lives in Preston, says the company are now looking to rebuild their reputation after the incidents as not just a waste centre, but a teaching facility. He said: “We are confident that the fundamental design of this is right. This is a temporary issue.
“We have nine full-time teachers at the site with 300 class visits a year and one of our main objectives is to work with children and hopefully change their parents’ attitudes towards waste too.”
He says their sister site, at Thornton, near Blackpool, has not had any problems with odours, and has only had two complaints since opening in May, which related to traffic.
Mr Brewer, who has more than 20 years of experience in environment and engineering, heading up waste operations for Heathrow Airport, which ‘produces as much waste as a small town’.
He also did various work with Tarmac and BAA, but says he was glad to move north to take charge of this operation.
He said: “I think this facility is a fantastic achievement and a lot of people have put a lot of years of their lives into this facility. That is why they are disappointed.
“76 per cent of the people we employ at the site live in the area. We are working hard to make sure we use local people wherever possible.
“This part of the world has always been at the leading edge of engineering generally and this is a great example of Lancashire being at the forefront of things once again.”
The latest public meeting was held on Monday to discuss the ongoing problem of smells.