Seafield stench ‘wrongly policed for decades’

Rob Kirkwood. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Rob Kirkwood. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Residents campaigning against the notorious Seafield stench have hailed advice by a legal expert which they say means their complaints about the sewage works have been mishandled for decades.

Rob Kirkwood of Leith Links Residents Association says the water law specialist told the city council at a recent meeting of stakeholders that it had been misinterpreting the code of practice on sewage plants by insisting there must be proof of odour nuisance before an enforcement notice could be issued, whereas all that he says is required is evidence of non-compliance with the 
code.

Mr Kirkwood said: “It means our council has been letting us down and has allowed Seafield to get away with murder for 40 years. It’s unbelievable.”

The smell from the sewage works has frequently meant residents over a large area nearby have been unable to open their windows or sit out in their garden on hot days in the summer. Despite some improvements in recent years, the problem has not gone away.

The residents have always argued the “odour nuisance” test is far too subjective.

And Mr Kirkwood said the new interpretation would mean a major change in the way Seafield is policed.

He said: “There is no longer a need for a council nose to be in the right place at the right time.

“Serving an enforcement notice can now apparently be based solely on observing septicity in the tanks. In the past septic sewage has been observed floating on top of the tanks but no notice was served because the odour was not defined as a nuisance.”

Mr Kirkwood said officials at the meeting had been “dumbstruck” by the comments from Ian Cowan, a former legal adviser to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency for over ten years.

“There was complete silence You could see the fear in the eyes of the managers.

“If this is accepted, it is a game-changer – and I don’t see how it cannot be accepted because the lawyer pointed it out in the code of practice.

“The implications are enormous. It means the council has been policing Seafield in the wrong way for decades.

“Why could they not see what this environmental lawyer saw? Was it a deliberate evasion of their responsibilities?

“Up until now it was always said we had to prove there was an odour nuisance. That’s why we never get enforcement notices.

“Mr Cowan says notices can be served when there is non-compliance and that included septicity in the tanks – in other words, if an officer can see septic sewage floating on tanks.

“Observation is far less subjective than smelling.”

A council spokeswoman said: “A number of comments were made during the most recent stakeholder meeting, which will be fully considered by the council.

A Scottish Water spokesman said: “All our activities in running waste water services are strictly regulated and any legal interpretations of regulations are a matter for our regulators.

“Working with our PFI partner Veolia we remain committed to ensuring this essential asset for the capital city is operated to the required standards, being ever mindful of the risk of environmental impact including in relation to odour.”