Sheffield Council has explained its decision to ban the public and press from a special meeting on its recycling performance saying the public ‘cannot just turn up’.
Coun Denise Fox, chair of the economic and environmental scrutiny committee, responded to a request by Coun Douglas Johnson, leader of the Sheffield Green Party, for a risk assessment ahead of the meeting which, unusually, is to be held at the waste incinerator on Bernard Road where councillors will be taken on a tour.
Coun Johnson said he was concerned for his Green Party colleague Coun Paul Turpin, who sits on the committee.
In an email he sent to the council’s policy and improvement officer, he said: “I am writing with an urgent request for details of the health and safety assessment for the E&E scrutiny meeting next week.
“I am informed there is a health and safety risk so that members of the press and public can’t attend. I presume this is because it is being hosted at Veolia’s premises at the incinerator.
“Has there been a risk assessment? It’s important that we know what our members are to be exposed to.
“Should this meeting be moved back to the Town Hall, which would be a far more appropriate venue anyway?”
He added the tour should be held at a different time as it could reduce the time allowed for public questions.
In response to his request, Coun Fox said: “The committee requested to visit the Energy Recovery Facility.
“The published papers for the committee rightly refer to health and safety reasons as to why the public and press are not allowed to attend this facility. We took this approach on the papers to explain that members of the public and press are not able to participate in the visit.
“To clarify, the site has a health and safety protocol in place for all visitors. Visits are pre-arranged, with appropriate briefing and issue of PPE, a protocol that is used on open days. Thus the H&S protocol is nothing special or new. Members of the committee will be briefed accordingly and issued with PPE.
“The ERF is a restricted access site, and as you would expect is a highly regulated plant in terms of operating safely. I understand some areas of the site are work permit areas only and only trained personnel are permitted to access. There are health and safety risks associated if visitors are not accompanied and briefed. Therefore, all site attendees have to undergo an induction and be issued with PPE, and it is this approach we have adopted for the visit to ensure appropriate health and safety of the committee.
“Meeting facilities are limited, and the site is not able to accommodate an open public meeting.”
Councillors are to discuss how much waste is being recycled in Sheffield as part of the agenda.
“We can, if required, change the approach to the recycling performance item and consider again at future meeting of Economic and Environmental Wellbeing Scrutiny and Policy Development Committee held in public,” said Coun Fox.
“You may be aware Veolia do host public open days and these are at a weekend. HGV movement is minimised and Veolia bring in additional staff to host and accompany batches of visitors up to a maximum group limit. The induction briefing and PPE issue continues for each batch of visitors. The open day is also by appointment only, and public cannot just turn up at the site.”
Questions from members of the public must be sent in advance of the meeting to firstname.lastname@example.org via email.