Questions have been raised over who will foot the bill for fighting a huge fire at a former storage site in Lancaster.
A fire at the Supaskips waste storage building began in early December and burned for almost three weeks, authorities say. But activities around the site and elsewhere continued for longer. While those involved in tackling the blaze have been praised and thanked by the city council, there are now concerns regarding its financial impact on the area.
It has been suggested proceeds of crime powers may be relevant by some on Lancaster City Council. Emergency authority meetings were held. including with chief executive Mark Davies, to allow council cash to be used for building demolition work, to create better access for fire fighters.
The final bill could be £900,000. Talks have been under way with agencies and government representatives to consider who will ultimately meet the costs.
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At the latest full city council meeting, Green Coun Gina Dowding praised all those involved from fire fighters and other emergency organisations to council staff and councillors. She said: “On December 3, our worst fears were realised when a major fire was deliberately started. Since then, there has been a major multi-agency operation to tackle the blaze. And the effects are still continuing. This potentially catastrophic incident was tackled at significant expense to the council. This action ended the fire much earlier.
“Councillors Mandy Bannon, Nick Wilkinson and I are all Marsh ward councillors. We want to thank the many responders involved including Lancashire Fire Service, the county council, police and Environment Agency.
“Firefighters have been on-site 24 hours a day. And a special team came from east Lancashire to take water from the River Lune to dowse the blaze. I spoke to some fire-fighters who fully expected their Christmas leave to be cancelled.
“The demolition contractors, L & W Wilson, have been on-site almost every day. And important work has also been done by the structural engineers, R G Parkins.
“On behalf of councillors, I also want to thank council staff and chief officers who went above and beyond to rise to the challenge of an extremely difficult situation. They worked extra hours and continued with their ordinary duties too. All this effort went into protecting local residents and businesses.”
Labour Coun Phillip Black, the city council leader, added: “I want to thank Gina Dowding for her speech and shining a light on the good work done by the council and other agencies. We also have our own hero too, Councillor Matthew Black, who is a fire fighter and has been at the Supaskips fire.”
Councillors applauded everyone involved.
FINANCIAL IMPACT AND PROCEEDS OF CRIME
In questions, Green Coun Sally Maddocks said: “Regarding Supaskips, what steps are we taking to recoup the money from our reserves used for work tackling the fire, which I agree with, and also with proceeds of crime?”
Coun Black said: “There have been ongoing changes to the government department with a different minister. We know conversations are happening. We are prodding Cat Smith MP to get updates because we are still in an emergency situation. The Supaskips sight is much-more manageable than it was, but it is yet to be stood-down. I’ll need to give further details in writing.”
Lancaster City Council does not have any direct responsibility for the Supaskips site, which is privately owned. Responsibility rests with the owners, who are currently in administration, according to recent council reports.
The Environment Agency has an ongoing criminal investigation into activities at the site, including previous operations and waste storage. As a result of the fire, there will be further consequences for the owners, according to a city council cabinet report in January.
ENFORCEMENT POWERS LINKED TO LAND AND BUILDINGS
Coun Sally Maddocks also asked about proceeds of crime powers at the latest planning committee meeting. Councillors there received a report on various powers in a new Local Planning Enforcement Plan.
Enforcement and proceeds of crime powers are linked to planning regulations and public interest issues. If a building or land is deemed to be used in a way which breaches regulations or conditions, action can be taken.
Action can include requiring people with land or property to identify their names, addresses and extent of their property interests; planning contravention notices, enforcement notices, breach of condition notices, untidy land notices, listed building enforcement notices, stop notices, injunctions and planning enforcement orders.
But guidance also says many breaches are lower-level and can be resolved informally through talks. Breaches can also happen by accident or by misunderstanding. Enforcement must be in the public interest rather than an inflexible, automatic route.