by Leith Links Community Councillors Eileen Simpson & Jim Scanlon
Leith Links Community Council (LLCC) attended a ‘Stakeholders’ Meeting’ held on Friday 19 May at the Seafield Waste Water Treatment Plant. These meetings take place 2-3 times a year. The group is made up of representatives from:
- Veolia (the French-based multinational company who manage the plant, on a PFI contract)
- SEPA (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency),
- Scottish Water (publicly owned statutory corporation providing water and sewerage services across Scotland),
- City of Edinburgh Council officials
- Elected politicians – local councillors and MSP (Chair)
- Local interest groups (LLCC and Leith Links Residents Association (LLRA)).
The role of Leith Links Community Council is to speak up for, and to fight for the local community, by working together with others to end the disgusting smells and potentially toxic emissions from the sewage plant, that local residents have had to put up with for years. Along with LLRA, we champion the rights of local residents and try to hold to account the companies and the Council that have so far failed to remedy this odour nuisance situation.
Attending these meetings for several years, we have listened again and again to past and present operators explaining plant and management failures that have caused the terrible stench. However, at this meeting, because there had been so many of your complaints about the dreadful smells for over a fortnight in late April-early May 2017, there was– unusually, for once – no attempt to suggest things were OK or improving, and the Veolia Senior Site Manager, who does not normally attend, started off with a major apology, acknowledging that Veolia failed the community (and has commercially suffered with reputational damage as a result).
These were the main outcomes of what was a challenging meeting. The first is the most significant:
- The ‘Good Housekeeping’ approach was agreed to be inadequate
It was finally acknowledged that the smells cannot be eliminated or even minimised just by ‘good housekeeping’ – which has been the official position until now. It was publicly admitted that the plant is out of date and prone to problems, and needs significant new capital investment. Getting to this stage is a major achievement.
- Burning rubber smells
Acknowledging that these were caused by a separate leakage of toxic gases, and that there have been recent recurrences of this, Veolia has now invested in a new ‘Vent Air Burner’ for the filter which was causing the leaks. This will be fitted in July and we are assured that there will be no more emissions from this filter. (But if you smell it, report it right away!)
- Sludge spillage smells
SEPA took enforcement action against Veolia Water for spilling sludge (again!) and causing the noxious odours in the community in April-May. However, there was no financial penalty associated with enforcement. City of Edinburgh Council could have taken their own Enforcement Action but didn’t. Officials said that they had written to Veolia informing them that they would have taken action had SEPA not done so.
It is disappointing that no stronger action was taken by either SEPA or the Council, after the recent protracted series of terrible odour emissions.
It was highly ironic that as we left the building after the meeting, we noticed smells! And later in the day (2pm-8pm approx) these became extreme. However it is heartening for us to hear that the Council received very many calls from local people about this, and sent out a team to respond. We wait to hear if any enforcement action takes place.
Complaint calls result in specially trained Council officials visiting home owners and using the ‘sniff’ test. If they record a smell as ‘strong and persistent’ (which, informally, on many visits they have admitted to us that they do perceive it as) it should be classed as a ‘statutory nuisance’. Will the City Council take any action this time?
- Scottish Government Review
We knew that a Review of the Code of Practice covering Seafield was in process, and had been led to believe that local representatives would be able to contribute to this.
However a letter to MSP Ben MacPherson from Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, made it clear that the review process was already complete, and that reviewers found that:
(plants are)‘…well run, and incidents which give rise to malodour are very rare’.
And that ‘there are a low number of incidents and enforcement is available when required’.
These findings definitely bear no relationship to the smelly reality we all experience! Ben MacPherson MSP has now arranged a meeting with the Minister to discuss this and has asked for community representation. We hope to be able to clarify how wrong the findings are, in no uncertain terms, and to press for urgent capital investment in the plant.
But who will pay for this is likely to be the ‘big question’….
- Easier reporting
In the meantime, Council staff are working on putting in place a more straightforward method of reporting smell nuisance, and this should be available very soon after the general election.
Ben MacPherson MSP has established that a new Expenses and Funding of Civil Litigation Bill will be introduced at Holyrood in this Parliamentary year. The Bill will include provisions to allow for the introduction of a multi-party action procedure in Scotland. If that gets voted through, it means that, for the first time, members of the community affected by the Seafield smells may be able to seek legal redress against those responsible. Interesting…..
Meanwhile – Keep Complaining!
Even though you may all be tired of complaining, please be assured that is definitely not pointless: the overwhelming number of complaints in recent weeks (far more than in the whole of the previous financial year) is having a significant effect. Complaint calls and emails are the main way by which the Council assesses the level of smell nuisance.
So it is VITAL that we all keep reporting every smell we notice from Seafield, using the following numbers/email address. It is particularly important that any burning rubber smell is reported immediately (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Thank you for taking action. We will continue to fight on your behalf.