Odour and the law: the legal regimes for the control of odour emissions

Tilling, S., Burges Salmon LLP, UK



The control and management of odour is a key issue for waste handling facilities, water treatment plants and other industrial sites and it is important for operators to understand the legal regimes for the control of odour emissions.  In 2011 we have already witnessed record criminal fines for odour pollution, new Agency guidance on odour emissions and a landmark judgment on the interaction between private nuisance and environmental permitting for waste sites (Barr v Biffa).  This paper explores the legal regimes for the control of odour and the interaction between these regimes.


The control and management of odour is an important issue for many industries such as water, waste, chemicals, food and many forms of manufacturing.  Companies are facing increasingly robust regulation, increasingly vocal neighbours and a proliferation of claimant litigators offering class actions on a “no-win no-fee” basis.  Criminal sanctions are also getting heavier, with a recent Court penalty for odour emissions reaching £150,000 in fines and costs.  Against this background there have been two important developments.  In April 2011, the Environment Agency released horizontal guidance H4 on odour management[1] which explains how the Agency intends to regulate odour under the environmental permitting regime.  In the same month, the High Court handed down its judgment in the landmark Westmill Landfill group litigation, Barr v Biffa Waste Services[2].  It is therefore an opportune moment to revisit the legal mechanisms for the management of odour and consider the implications of these most recent developments.

[1] H4 Odour Management : How to comply with your environmental permit, The Environment Agency, Bristol, March 2011

[2] Barr and ors v Biffa Waste Services Limited [2011] EWHC 1003 (TCC) aka “the Westmill Landfill Group Litigation

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