Rugby Cement could be forced to shut down its UK Lawford Road plant if a High Court judge rules in favour of anti-tyre burning campaigners. The stakes for the beleaguered company were raised considerably on the second day of the judicial review about the Environment Agency’s controversial decision to allow the firm to burn tyres as fuel, which opponents reject on health grounds. Expert environmental barrister David Wolfe of Cherie Blair’s Matrix Chambers, changed the focus of the case by calling into question the ordinary permit for the plant during his submissions.
This argument, which goes beyond the ongoing row about the tyre trials, centres on the allegation that Warwickshire County Council did not fully investigate the environmental repercussions before granting planning permission for the expanded plant. It also emerged that legal representation for Warwickshire County Council had been invited to appear at the case to argue the allegation, but had declined. Mr. Wolfe said campaigners had not ruled out further legal action against the Council over the issue. If the judge backs the claim and quashes the permit then it would technically be illegal for Rugby Cement, which was recently taken over by Mexican firm Cemex, to make cement on the site until a new permit had been applied for - a process which could take months.
Central to the prosecution’s argument is the allegation people taking part in the public consultation stage of the application were not given the full facts about the environmental ramifications of allowing the permit. The defence strenuously denies this, saying that the consultation process was actually much more intensive than it needed to be by law. As the case continued through four days of long and complex legal argument, Rugby Cement’s barrister, Stephen Tromans QC expressed the firm’s dismay at the new - and potentially catastrophic - development. He told the court: "The way that this claim has been conducted is, to say the least, most unsatifying. The claim has been changed in a way which has raised the stakes for my clients rather dramatically. It’s impossible for the court to come to any decision about any deficiency in the process of Warwickshire County Council granting the planning application, almost a decade ago. The possible defendant in a case about this would be the County Council and not the Environment Agency who is the defending party in this case.
"Rugby Cement is in no sense seeking to brush this matter under the carpet. But it’s inappropriate to try and join in a semantic critique of these decisions as the claimant’s counsel is trying to do. Rugby Cement is not blameworthy. They got their permit and then acted upon it to go about their business as they would be reasonably expected to do."
Claimant David Edwards, who has got legal aid to fight the case, campaigners, councillors and representatives of Rugby Cement and Rugby Borough Council’s environmental health department packed the public gallery to hear the details of the case, which only went ahead after Rugby residents donated UK£7500 to cover additional legal costs. Judge Mr. Justice Lindsey has been given thousands of pages of evidence from both sides in the case, which will sit again to hear closing arguments tomorrow (Friday). He is due to make his ruling later this year.