Court backs environmental permit for Leeds quarry restoration project

The Court of Appeal has come down on the side of an aggregates firm in a legal row over the distinction between waste 'recovery' and 'disposal' in relation to the restoration of a quarry site in West Yorkshire.

London's Royal Courts of Justice
London's Royal Courts of Justice

Tarmac Aggregates was granted planning permission to extend its quarrying operations at Methley Quarry in 2007, subject to tight conditions for site restoration. More than 430,000 tonnes of soil was to be extracted from the site over a two-and-a-half year period.

The local authority approved Tarmac's plan, following completion of quarrying works, to transform the site into two stretches of open water, divided by a public footpath raised on an embankment.

As part of the restoration project, Tarmac proposed using almost 70,000 tonnes of spoil from the quarrying works as backfill. With that in mind, it applied to the Environment Agency for an environmental permit on the basis that the scheme would involve recovery, rather than disposal, of waste.

The court heard that recovery of waste involves a much less onerous regulatory regime than disposal and that using inert backfill material generated by the quarrying works would be considerably more cost-effective than having to import primary non-waste material.

However, the agency took the view that the use of surplus soil as backfill did not constitute a waste recovery operation and refused to issue the requested permit.

Following a public inquiry, an inspector appointed by the secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs agreed with the agency in January this year. Tarmac's judicial review challenge to that decision failed. 

In allowing the company's appeal, the Court of Appeal found that the inspector had erred in law and reached an irrational conclusion. It ruled that remodelling the physical contours of the quarry site was a binding condition of the original planning permission and necessarily required backfilling.

The underlying objective of the scheme was to secure substantial ecological improvements to the site rather than the disposal of waste, the court held. On that basis, it concluded that the backfilling proposals should have been classed as a waste recovery operation and directed the agency to accede to Tarmac's application for a permit.

R (Tarmac Aggregates) v Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Others. Case Number: C1/2015/2871

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