Waste fires in Wales prompt calls for tougher rules

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Media caption,

Recycling waste fires - are regulators tough enough?

A spate of major fires at waste recycling sites in Wales has led to calls for tougher regulation.

There have been 13 serious incidents in the last four years - with Natural Resource Wales (NRW) reporting a total of 123 waste fires since 2012.

The Welsh Government's regulator, NRW said it had brought in more stringent rules for new waste site applicants.

But experts and those affected by the fires said more needs to be done.

Vale of Glamorgan businesswoman Sharon Evans told BBC Radio Wales she felt the regulator seemed powerless to crack down on operators found to have breached fire safety rules.

She had to close a caravan park and a race circuit at Llandow for 20 days in March, after 2,000 tonnes of waste at the neighbouring Siteserv Recycling site caught alight.

Mrs Evans claimed hazards there were identified during inspections prior to the fire.

"NRW knew the risks," she said.

"In the reports that I've seen, they warned about the risk of fire and they didn't do anything about it."

Natural Resources Wales said it was preparing a compliance notice for Siteserv Recycling Limited when the fire occurred.

The company had its permit to bring waste to the site suspended for several months, but has since resumed operations.

Media caption,

Flashback: March 2017 and fire rips through a Llandow recycling plant

Siteserv Recycling had another waste fire near Llandow in 2013, and a related company, Siteserv Limited had one waste fire that year, three waste fires in 2014 and one waste fire at a site near Cowbridge in 2015.

BBC Wales has approached the companies to comment.

NRW said an investigation into the March fire is continuing and it is working with Siteserv Recycling on a fire prevention plan.

The regulator said it was trying to "use the powers" available to deal with sites "falling below compliance".

But it is not just businesses that have raised concerns.

The cost to Welsh fire and rescue services has been put at an estimated £1.8m since 2012.

Information obtained by BBC Radio Wales indicated that firefighters were called to deal with 68 of the 123 recorded waste fires - expending almost 22,000 person hours to extinguish the flames.

Mark Andrews, who is the lead on waste fires in Wales and England for the National Fire Chiefs Council, said increased rates of recycling mean more waste, and more fire risks.

He called on regulators to take a "more robust line" with operators who fail to comply with what he called "common sense" practices, including not stacking waste too high and leaving space between piles so firefighters gain access if a fire does start.

The Welsh Government said it gave NRW more funding to work directly with the fire services to prevent waste fires.

NRW said it now has three officers from fire services in Wales working to develop fire prevention plans for all permitted sites.

Conservative spokesman for environment AM David Melding said the risk of fire was so high that proper regulations must be "one of NRW's most important duties".

His Plaid Cymru counterpart, Simon Thomas, said NRW has lost nearly 40% of its total budget over the last three years.

"Those are significant cuts to deal with," said Mr Thomas.

"I think we have to examine if the regulator is fit for purpose, not so much in their management, but in their ability to do their job."