The pile of rubbish that's been attracting Salford's plague of flies
One aspect of the summer that people don't tend to romanticise are the vast swarms of insects flying around shitting and vomiting on everything. However, if you don't live or work somewhere that is situated near a gigantic, illegal mountain of rubbish and waste, the shitting, vomiting insects are probably something you can tolerate. If you do, there's a chance you're one of the Greater Manchester residents who spent the warmer months massacring thousands of flies in the name of hygiene and sanity.
The pile of waste at an overflowing refuse site in Salford has attracted an infestation so large that it has affected local residents' homes and businesses. The flies have forced them to constantly sterilise everything and invest in industrial fly traps; the smell has made workers from a nearby factory vomit on the job. On the 14th of August, the Environment Agency banned the site's owners, Land Restoration (Northern) Limited [LRNL], from depositing any more waste but the addition of more rubbish isn't the problem; the flies won't disappear until the rubbish mountain is shifted. For now, the five-storey high shit pile just continues to sit there.
The drop in temperature has provided a welcome respite from the flies, but life must be pretty depressing when you live in Manchester and you're dreading the arrival of summer.
Local resident Graham English's film about the repulsive fly plague
The story was originally picked up after local resident Graham English made a short video of the flies that had invaded his house and posted it to YouTube. Later, he and a friend sat down and counted the number of flies they had killed: "At the end of the day, my mate got 217 in the kitchen," he told me. "It was unbelievable. I mean, I’ve worked in Bangladesh and Africa, and my wife is South African. [I've seen fly infestations in those countries], but nothing to the extent of what we've had here."
Graham continued: "There's something very strange about what's going on here. The first contact I had with the Environment Agency was at the start of the summer, in the warm weather, when we suddenly became infested with flies. I put in a complaint and I got directed to an environmental officer, who confirmed to me in an email that the site was fly infested and that they had done something to minimise the flies. But on the second visit he made, it was infested again."
The fly trap left outside Graham English's home, showing the extent of the problem
Fly strips, electric catchers and sprays proved ineffective in tackling the swarms, so residents asked the powers that be to intervene. However, each authoritative body – from the Environment Agency to local government – seemed unwilling to engage with the problem, possibly because it is simply too nauseating to contemplate.
Every day, Graham sends the Environment Agency an email, but to no avail. "They don't answer me," he said. "But they issued, ironically, a flysheet to us all, telling us what they were doing and that they were having a meeting. We need some authority to [tell the dump's manager], 'Oh, you can't do that.'"
I arranged a meeting with local councillor Stephen Coen in Manchester town centre. One morning, he told me, he turned up at the dump in his cycling gear to ask a security guard what exactly the situation was with the colossal pile of waste.
"I said there had been complaints. And when asked who I was, I said I was a concerned local person," Stephen said. "I was then told, 'It's got F-all to do with you.' I told them that, as a local councillor, it did have something to do with me." Unfortunately for Stephen and the residents whose corner he was trying to fight, his remarks were shut down with the response: "Councillors don't ride around on bikes with shorts and a vest on."
After speaking to various people who are involved in trying to shut the site down, I went to visit it myself. Towering above the car park of Salford University, the enormous mound of rubbish is impossible to miss, but it's hard to tell what exactly it's made up of. When Graham contacted the council to enquire, they told him it wasn't domestic waste, but "only landscape and industrial". Graham speculated that it could include "menstrual-stained sheets and stuff", before noting that "whatever's there, it's doing well with the flies". Approaching the tip's entrance, a guy in a security booth turned to me and joked, "You come here to shut it down?" I wish I had, it was clear that the site was no longer in operation, just left to stand and house the gigantic heap of waste. I left my contact details with the guard, explained I was press and told him it was in the company's interests to explain their side of the story.
A couple of days later, I received an email from the owner's solicitors, who agreed to pass on any questions. A statement came back in which LRNL apologised for their massive fly zoo and promised that: "Going forward, there will not be the same issue." I also contacted the Environmental Agency for comment several times, including the individual who oversaw the complaint from Graham English, but they have yet to provide a statement.
To find out how the infestation was affecting local business, I went to The Crescent, a Grade II listed pub said to be the one-time watering hole of Karl Marx and the closest business to the site. Gerry Bane, the pub's landlord, told me, "Last May or June – with the hot weather – you couldn’t sit outside, so we had to put fly nets out. During the height of it, we couldn’t use the outside area. It stopped us from reopening our kitchen for a couple of weeks after some refurbishment work."
It's difficult to trust LRNL's vague promise that "there will not be the same issue" when the sunshine returns. The spokesperson for the company claims that, since the Environment Agency issued their notice in August, they have moved almost 100 tonnes of waste per week. However, during a town meeting in September it was revealed that the Environment Agency have no record of any waste being removed from the site, and the huge odious pile is still very much a huge odious pile.
If the mound isn't dealt with by LRNL, the responsibility to shift it will fall on the landowners, the Canals and Rivers Trust – but it has "limited funds". The suspension notice demands that the waste must be reduced to five metres in height and no more than 100 tonnes by the 31st of November. That's still quite a lot of waste to shift in a week and with the Environment Agency keeping quiet, several of the residents I spoke to were worried about the next bout of hot weather and another plague of shitting, vomiting insects confining them to their sweltering homes, windows locked, streets surrendered to the clouds of flying pestilence outside.
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