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LEGAL DEFINITION OF WASTE SOUGHT AFTER EAST ANGLIAN FIRE

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A massive fire at a Thetford plastics recycling plant left surrounding land contaminated 'with an inch-and-a-half o...
A massive fire at a Thetford plastics recycling plant left surrounding land contaminated 'with an inch-and-a-half of dioxin', London's high court heard.

In a case which raises critical issues on the legal definition of 'waste', Norfolk CC is trying to resolve a legal wrangle over who should pay the £150,000 clean-up bill.

After the October 1991 fire which burned for four days, the CC issued an enforcement notice against David Switzer requiring him to clean-up the site.

The council alleges he allowed unlicensed waste onto the site but Mr Switzer firmly denies the charge. He insists that the estimated 1,000 tonnes of plastic at the plant at the time of the blaze was not waste at all but valuable raw material.

Richard Daniels, for the council, said the plastic recycling plant was no longer operating and Mr Switzer was now 'financially embarrassed'. His financial position meant the council's efforts to make him pay for the clean-up operation were 'unlikely to proceed', he told the court.

But he said the exact definition of what is and is not 'waste' was of vital importance if similar contamination was to be avoided in Norfolk in the future.

'This was the biggest fire ever in East Anglia. It burnt for four days in October 1991. The site is now covered in an inch and a half of dioxin. It is combusted residue of waste material which was brought onto the site,' Mr Daniels alleged.

'Someone is going to have to grasp the nettle of who is going to pay the £150,000 to clean it up. This is not just an academic issue. We want a finding that in these circumstances the plastic was waste and needed a licence.

But Mr Daniels said the council is acutely aware that a protracted legal battle against Mr Switzer, who is legally aided, could have 'enormous implications' for the public purse.

He asked Mr Justice Pill instead to adjourn the case for hearing by the two-judge divisional court on the issue of the legal definition of 'waste'. At the full hearing, the council will challenge Norfolk magistrates February 1992 finding in Mr Switzer's favour that the plastic on the site was not 'waste'. Mr Justice Pill adjourned the case which will almost certainly return to be heard by the divisional court in the future.

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