Trago Mills, the West Country superstore and leisure park chain, has been ordered to pay almost £200,000 in fines and costs for illegally dumping thousands of tonnes of waste.
The company had aimed to avoid the cost of responsible disposal even though in 2008 – the year before the offences came to light – it had turned over £85m and made a pre-tax profit of £4m. In addition to the fines it has now also had to pay almost £500,000 for the clean-up of the dump sites.
Appearing before Torquay magistrates last week, the retailer pleaded guilty to five offences of illegally depositing and disposing of waste at the sites near two of its four stores, in Newton Abbot and Liskeard.
In 2009, officers from the Environment Agency visited the Newton Abbot store and discovered that waste materials including plastics, electrical goods, concrete, packaging, pots of paint and chemicals had been illegally landfilled.
Also dumped were unsold stock, former shop displays, office equipment, and hazardous materials including adhesives and timber preservatives. A larger area of landfill, containing an estimated 6,000 tonnes of waste including 200 sheets of asbestos, was found on an adjoining part of the site.
In the same year, video footage taken from a helicopter showed a large stockpile of waste 1km from the flagship Liskeard store. The dump was hidden from the public in a woodland valley – adjacent to what Trago’s website describes as its “original Cornish site in the picturesque wooded Glynn Valley”.
The dump contained substantial amounts of rubble, cardboard packaging, pallets and furniture.
During a visit later in the year, agency officers found the remains of a huge fire, where the illegal burning of materials including plastics, tyres and treated wood had taken place, producing polluting and toxic smoke. In some places the ash was waist deep.
The Environment Agency’s Dave Brogden said: “Trago Mills uses its location in the unspoilt Devon countryside to market its out-of-town stores and leisure parks. You would think such a company would do all it could to protect these locations. Instead, it dumped thousands of tonnes of waste and showed an unacceptable disregard for the environment.
“From our investigations it was clear these illegal operations had taken place over a lengthy period of time and involved thousands of tonnes of waste. The company had recycling schemes in place, but avoided costs by illegal dumping.”