In the courts – company fined for not having Environmental Permit
We have been helping a Bradford Poultry Slaughterhouse submit a late Environmental Permit application, after they had a scary visit from the Environment Agency pointing out that they required one.
Food sites are different from chemical factories, because there is a 50 tonne per day or 75 tonne per day threshold (depending on type of food produced), before a permit is required, so it is easy to get over the limit almost without noticing. Chemical companies of all types are required to hold a Part A permit if they manufacture by reaction, whereas formulators (ie only physical mixing) are exempt form EPR unless they come under other conditions such as having more than 50 cu m per day effluent.
Despite submitting an application as quickly as possible, the EA gathered evidence from the site records to show that our clients had been running over the permit limit for several months. As a result they were taken to Magistrates Court and fined £9,000 plus costs, reduced to £6,000 plus costs on the grounds of economic hardship. For details, see http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/news.
This outcome was considerably better than potential penalties, which are:
Magistrates Court; maximum £50,000 fine and/or 6 months imprisonment
Crown Court; maximum unlimited fine and/or 2 years imprisonment
It is understood that the reasons for a comparatively low fine were:
As the breach had occurred in the previous year, when the maximum fine was £20,000 at Magistrates Court, this figure became the starting point for negotiations between the barristers acting for both parties
It was a technical breach of the regulations, and no actual environmental harm had been caused
As soon as the breach had been pointed out by the EA, we were hired to help them write an urgent Environmental Permit application; and in fact they had already received their Permit by the time of the Court Case
Our clients have co-operated with the EA at every stage of the investigation
If any of our readers are in a similar position to these clients, i.e. that they think they might need an Environmental Permit, the worst thing you can do is try to avoid the situation. Sooner or later, you will be caught, and the longer you’ve been without a permit, the more severe the penalties are likely to be (“pour encourager les autres”).
We recommend that anybody who might be in this situation should check Schedule 1, Part 2 of the Environmental Permit Regulations, 2007, at http://www.opsi.gov.uk. For companies who are in the chemicals or dyestuffs sector, a rule of thumb is that if you are a REACH registrant for manufacturing, you should also hold an Environmental Permit, because eligibility under both regulations depends on making chemicals by reaction.
If you think you might need a Permit, and have missed the original PPC deadline for application, you must either stop manufacturing immediately, or contact the Environment Agency on 0870 8 506 506 to talk to the Pollution Inspector for your area.
In the event that you do need to have a permit to operate, you will definitely need to obtain one as soon as practicable, and it is probable that you will be prosecuted and fined, but there may be mitigating circumstances which will allow the Inspector to exercise discretion.