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August 21, 2013, 08:13 PM

Did an Edwardian demolition in Sheffield break the law?

By Thornton Kay

Jessops Hospital - waste hierarchy being ignored? [photo Dave Johnson

South Yorkshire, UK - An Edwardian wing of Grade II listed Jessop Hospital was a building which Sheffield University had permission to demolish. However that permission was subject to the 2011 Waste Regulations which makes reclamation and reuse a legal priority over any other means of disposal, provided a market exists for the salvage. Failing to do so is an offence under the 2011 Waste Regulations.

Howard Greaves, Vice Chairman of Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society, wrote a letter to the Sheffield Star which was published on 17 August asking if the hospitals features had been salvaged for reuse:

I note with interest the indecent haste with which Sheffield University demolished the Edwardian wing of Jessop Hospital once they had been given the thumbs up.

This was presumably in case another injunction preventing demolition was in the pipeline, as building work for the 'pyramid' is supposedly not going to commence until later in the year. Normally, when such important buildings are demolished, they are slowly and carefully dismantled and not swept away.

Major features are usually retained for posterity and possible re-use elsewhere. Jessop possessed many such features both externally and internally. It had a magnificent staircase, parquet floors, curved skirting-boards and other salvageable features.

As Thomas Jessop (who must now be turning in his grave) kindly built this building for the citizens of Sheffield, I'm sure that they would like to know if an attempt has been made to salvage some of these top quality features which he used.

Perhaps the University Estates Department would like to issue a statement with attached list telling us where these fine features have ended up.

Here's their chance to prove their alleged sympathetic custodianship of our architectural heritage and perhaps more importantly their 'green' credentials.

Howard Greaves, Vice Chairman

Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society

Failure to carry out their statutory duty of care to abide by the UK 2011 Waste Regulations and the EU 2008 Waste Framework Directive is an offence which carries the following penalties (from Environmental Services Association website):

For the UK Government (and where relevant the devolved administrations such as Sheffield University) failure could mean infraction proceedings against the UK, potentially followed by fines of up to 500,000 per day.

For local authorities, the Localism Bill provides for fines incurred by the UK Government because of a local authorities' failure to manage their waste to comply with the EU targets, would be passed on indirectly to residents, as local authorities would have to recoup the fines through Council Tax.

For companies, such as demolition companies, failure to comply with their legal duty of care can lead to a penalty of up to 5,000 if convicted in the Magistrates Court or an unlimited fine if convicted in the Crown Court.

Earlier this year Salvo contacted the Environment Agency (EA) and asked if it would act when breaches of the waste hierarchy were observed, with the answer categorically yes. The EA states that notices requiring compliance or prohibiting an activity are also available to require compliance with Reg 12(1) and Reg 13(1) of the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011, duties in relation to the waste hierarchy and the collection of waste.

Dr Dominic Hogg of Eunomia wrote:

The waste hierarchy: it's your duty

Organisations have a clear mandate to apply the waste hierarchy within their operations, but many are failing on this front. I had a bit of a shock the other day. I saw an aluminium can in one of our company's residual waste bins. You might think I'm being a little melodramatic, but in my view, that type of behaviour is not acceptable.

It's pretty simple - basically, follow the waste hierarchy. However, my reaction was not just due to my ecological principles being offended; if I don't take steps to stamp out this behaviour, my company and its directors are, as far as I see it, breaking the law. When the Waste (England & Wales) Regulations 2011 entered into force, regulation 12 made it abundantly clear that:

'An establishment or undertaking which imports, produces, collects, transports, recovers or disposes of waste, or which as a dealer or broker has control of waste must, on the transfer of waste, take all such measures available to it as are reasonable in the circumstances to apply the following waste hierarchy as a priority order.'

Let's look at the words here. My company is an 'undertaking' in the legal sense of a business, and it produces waste. 'Establishment' is a broader term with no strict legal definition. The regulation speaks of something we 'must' do: this generally implies an obligation, or a duty. And what must we do? We must apply the waste hierarchy, or at least take all measures 'reasonable in the circumstances' to do so. To my mind, the efforts we make to separate our waste is part of what is 'reasonable'.

Regulations 12(2) and 12(3) allow for some departure from the priority order, which reflects the same waste hierarchy as in Article 4 of the Waste Framework Directive (WFD). However, for most recyclables, the environmental impacts of recycling compare favourably with all forms of residual waste treatment. It would seem difficult to demonstrate that circumstances make it reasonable to depart from the hierarchy for these materials other than exceptionally.

To help clarify matters, Defra has issued its own guidance on application of the hierarchy, in line with regulation 15. This elaborates what the expected course of action in applying it should be. It also sets out some instances where management of waste should deviate from the priority order established in the hierarchy, notably anaerobic digestion of food waste and energy recovery over recycling in the case of lower grade waste wood.

The guidance adds further confirmation that the application of the hierarchy is no longer a voluntary option, but a duty. It even proposes text which can be used on waste transfer notes in line with regulation 35 of the regulations: "I confirm that I have fulfilled my duty to apply the waste hierarchy as required by regulation 12 of the Waste (England & Wales) Regulations 2011."

So there we have it: a clear and unequivocal duty to apply the waste hierarchy. The duty to follow the waste hierarchy ought to be far more effective in promoting better waste management. The problem is, we seem to have allowed everyone in the land to carry on as if the WFD changed nothing. It did.

The issue is one of enforcement rather than law. The Environment Agency is empowered to issue a compliance notice requiring that steps be taken to ensure that the non-fulfilment ceases. It can also issue a stop notice prohibiting an activity until relevant steps have been taken.

Failure to comply with one of these notices can lead to prosecution and a fine. To concentrate minds, regulation 44 says that if a body corporate is found guilty of a breach, the individuals responsible for the offence may also be guilty. All this seems pretty clear to me.

Since the Duty of Care to comply with envrionmental legislation passes up the chain of ownership and cannot be absolved, Mr. Greaves should ask each tier of responsible party, starting with the Chancellor of Sheffield University and stopping with the man driving the demolition machine, to sign the following statement: 'I confirm that I have fulfilled my duty to apply the waste hierarchy as required by regulation 12 of the Waste (England & Wales) Regulations 2011.' If they refuse, they may be breaking the law.

If Mr. Greaves has reasonable grounds for believing that reusable building materials for which a market exists are not being reclaimed on the demolition site then he should contact the EA with a request to put a stop on the demolition until compliance is observed.

If the EA refuses to act, then the UK government is in breach of its duty of care under the EU Waste Framework Directive,

Please note: I am not a lawyer, so please take legal advice before attempting the foregoing, or try Dr. Hogg at Eunomia who seems to know quite a lot about the enforcement of the waste hierarchy.

Campaign for planning conditions to save demolition materials

Salvo campaigns for reuse as a planning condition

Salvage for which a market exists should be sold and reused

What to reclaim and reuse from the demolition of tower blocks

The waste hierarchy cannot be ignored after urgent demolition

Reuse incorporated into 2011 waste regulations

Edie: The waste hierarchy: it's your duty
EA: Waste hierarchy FAQs

Story Type:  News

ID: 77465

Date Modified: August 22, 2013, 08:59 PM

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