Welsh Ministers refuse to disclose legal advice about landfill school
|Author: Steve Rawlings||Published: 25th February 2012 17:00|
the need for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
(photo: Dave Yates)
Campaigners have been informed that the Welsh Government will not disclose the legal advice it received about the construction of Glan Usk Primary School and a proposed housing development on top of the Glebelands toxic waste tip in St Julians ward .
Disclosure of that legal advice was requested by the Glebelands Alliance - a campaign group that is trying to understand why this development on a hazardous waste landfill was granted development consent without being subject to Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) .
In September of last year, the Glebelands Alliance asked the Welsh Government to make an EIA screening direction for the development at the Glebelands landfill in St Julians, Newport . The ‘screening' of a development project is an essential first step in the EIA risk management process because the outcome determines whether a project should be subject to environmental impact assessment.
The call for a screening direction received support from Pippa Bartolotti, Leader of Wales Green Party; Gareth Clubb, Director of Friends of the Earth Cymru; Jocelyn Davies AM; and Lindsay Whittle AM. As a result, local campaigners were expecting the Welsh Government to issue the long overdue screening direction, and hence resolve earlier failures to carry out a screening exercise for the Glebelands development. However, the request to screen the project was turned down by Welsh Ministers even though Newport council has failed to properly screen the development for EIA - either at the outline planning stage, or prior to granting development consent  .
The exasperated campaigners then submitted a formal Request for Information in an attempt to understand why the Welsh Government had refused to make a screening direction in this case . However, the Welsh Government also refused to release the legal advice that it had received, claiming:
" . . . release of the legal advice [that is] the subject of this request is likely to cause substantial harm to the public interest in retaining the confidentiality of legal and policy advice to Ministers." .
But campaigners are keen to point out that this unfinished development is a particularly complex project because the landfill site is contaminated with a wide range of hazardous substances including arsenic; asbestos; mercury; and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Even though radiation has been detected on the site, the source of the radioactive contamination was never followed up by either Newport council or the developers. And campaigners are outraged that even the rudimentary land remediation scheme that was agreed for the site has still not been completed.
Steve Rawlings, a researcher at Chepstow Friends of the Earth said:
"As well as the history of the site, and its use for a primary school and proposed residential housing, several other factors make this an environmentally complex development, including the proximity of the landfill to residential areas; to productive fruit and vegetable allotments; and to the River Usk Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
"In addition, an unlined drainage ditch crosses the contaminated site and empties directly into the River Usk, which, in turn, flows into the Severn Estuary. Both these sites have been granted the highest level of legal protection currently possible under the Habitats Directive."
Due to the size, nature, and location of the development site, the Glebelands Alliance believes that the public interest in disclosing the legal advice received by the Welsh Government outweighs the public interest in withholding it.
Steve Rawlings says that he doesn't understand why Ministers would want to withhold the legal advice they received if their handling of the request for a screening direction was completely lawful, adding: "It seems likely that Ministers were advised that they were acting unlawfully by not making a screening direction for the Glebelands development."
Dave Yates, Newport Friends of the Earth commented:
"The UK authorities have a legal obligation to issue a screening decision for the Glebelands development, but have failed to do so. The EIA process fell at the first hurdle.
"Pollution or harm from hazardous waste sites and associated developments may take many years or even decades to become apparent - and even longer to assign responsibility and to initiate clean up operations. This is why it's important to know the circumstances under which EIA legislation may be circumvented in Wales, and why there are strong public interest arguments favouring release of the requested information."
The Glebelands Alliance has now asked the Welsh Government to reconsider its request to release the legal advice received by Ministers . Campaigners are currently awaiting the Government's response.
 Letter to Mr S Rawlings, Glebelands Alliance from Mr C Litherland, Decisions Branch, Planning Division, Welsh Government, 17 January 2012
 Letter to John Griffiths AM, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development from Mr S Rawlings, Glebelands Alliance, 17 December 2011
 Letter to John Griffiths AM, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development from Mr S Rawlings, Glebelands Alliance, 28 September 2011
 Letter to Mr S Rawlings, Glebelands Alliance from Mr C Litherland, Decisions Branch, Planning Division, Welsh Government, 28 October 2011
 Letter to Mr S Rawlings, Glebelands Alliance from Ms S Jones, Decisions Branch, Planning Division, Welsh Government, 12 December 2011
 Letter to Mr C Litherland, Decisions Branch, Planning Division, Welsh Government from Mr S Rawlings, Glebelands Alliance, 17 February 2012
 Glebelands Alliance web pages