Mobuoy dump: Millions spent making polluted site safe

The site is a former recycling plant near the city
The Mobuoy site, located on the outskirts of the city, is a former recycling plant

A large illegal dump near Londonderry has cost millions of pounds in public money to keep safe, BBC News NI has learned.

More than a million tonnes of waste was illegally dumped at the Mobuoy site before it shut in 2013.

Since then, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) has spent more than £4m managing the risk to public health from the site.

But officials have still not decided the best options to make it safe.

The contaminated Mobuoy dump is beside the River Faughan, which supplies a significant proportion of Derry's drinking water.

Northern Ireland Water (NIW) and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) both told BBC News NI there have been no breaches in water quality since the scale of the illegal dump came to light.

Daera described the water as "safe".

Landfill gas

However, the department said surveys of the site have shown that up to 1.16m tonnes of waste could be buried there - including a mixture of construction and demolition material, metallic and domestic waste.

There are also thousands of gallons of contaminated water on the site and issues with landfill gas, according to a Daera report from 2017.

Between 2013 and 2018, the NIEA - which is part of Daera - spent more than £1.2m to remove ground waste and assess how to manage the risk to the public and its staff from pollution in the short term.

In 2018, it took on responsibility for managing the pollution risk and came up with plans to stop further environmental damage.

These included:

  • £1.8m on staffing costs

  • £444,000 on site works and surveys

  • £248,000 on support from Stormont departments, including the Department of Finance

  • £349,873 on information technology

Work undertaken at the site includes extensive environmental monitoring, maintaining site access and security and working with agencies on remediation options.

The River Faughan runs past the illegal dump
The River Faughan runs past the Mobuoy dump

In 2020, the then-environment minister Edwin Poots ruled out a public inquiry into Mobuoy.

He said his focus was on implementing the recommendations of an independent review of the waste sector.

The Mills Report, commissioned after the dump was discovered, found it was "on a scale not previously encountered" in Northern Ireland.

In March 2023, a team of consultants appointed by the NIEA recommended several options to make the site safe.

These included digging up and removing some of the waste and biologically capping large parts of the site to contain a further risk of pollution.

'Astronomical' costs

Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) MLA Mark H Durkan - a former Stormont environment minister - said it was unlikely a business case could be signed off without a Stormont Executive in place.

There has been no functioning executive at Stormont since February 2022.

"When we look at all the proposals, the costs are astronomical," he said.

"This is something that needs a cross-departmental commitment to resolving it.

"We need full executive approval for something of this scale. I don't know how far we are from approval from being required, but nor do I know how far we are away from having an executive."

'It will not be a quick fix'

Dean Blackwood, director of the River Faughan Anglers and co-founder of the campaign group Environmental Gathering, said the group first raised environmental concerns about Mobuoy in 2008.

"We would not be surprised if we are still sitting here in 10 years' time arguing about how much waste is in there and how big of a risk it is," he said.

"The problem is that the longer it sits there without remediation the bigger the risk it continues to pose."

Daera has confirmed a business case will have to be approved by Stormont before any such work can begin.

The overall cost is likely to run into tens of millions of pounds.

A Daera spokesperson said the work is expected to take a number of years to complete, adding: "The size and complexity of the Mobuoy waste site means that its remediation will not be a quick fix."

In September 2022, two men pleaded guilty to a string of charges linked to the unauthorised disposal of waste.