Landfill Directive - handicap or opportunity?

The pervasive influence of the Landfill Directive, in respect of the new hazardous waste disposal regime, which extends right across the waste management sector, posing a potential threat to ELV recycling (see page 8), is being blamed as a negative influence on brownfield development by the RICS. However, there is more reassuring news on regeneration from English Partnerships and from a specialist in the remediation of polluted land, as our special feature (pages 29-32) on contaminated land illustrates. Editor Alexander Catto reports

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has issued a strong warning that the new legislation under the Landfill Directive that came into force on 16 July "could force developers to reduce housebuilding as brownfield sites in some areas of the UK become less viable and more expensive to build on."

As the RICS points out, the Hazardous Waste Provisions set out in the Landfill Directive have put an end to the co-disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste. The chartered surveyors echoed the gloomy forecast made by the waste management industry over a potential severe shortage of hazardous waste sites, saying "This will reduce overnight the number of landfill sites across England and Wales allowed to take contaminated waste from 250 to 10."

These figures have been disputed by the government which maintains that sufficient capacity will continue to exist to handle hazardous waste. However, the RCIS argues that the new situation will have "huge implications for housebuilding on brownfield land. Developers will be faced with escalating remediation costs and the probable difficulties of finding suitable landfill sites. They may be forced to turn to greenfield land as an alternative."

Threat to brownfield target

RICS spokesperson Myles Kitcher says: "This is about as far from joined up government as you can get and developers, the housing market and the environment will suffer". He declared: "A cut in the supply of brownfield land will mean the government miss their 60% for residential development on brownfield land. "The big projects may still go ahead, but it is the smaller developments which will suffer. Sites such as old gas works in former mill towns will not be redeveloped. This amounts to regeneration neglect.

"Also," Mr Kitcher continued, "pressure will increase on greenfield land. We predict an additional area equivalent to the size of a typical market town may need to be brought under development."

The RICS says the problem will be particularly acute in the South East, because none of the 10 approved landfill sites are in this area. The institution adds a further argument to strengthening its case, saying "Despite the fact the South East is the focus of the Government's recently announced Sustainable Communities house-building programme, the mileage that contaminated waste travels will soar and pressure on already crowded roads will increase."

The RICS sets out key points that it believes will result from the new Landfill Directive provisions:

  • make it almost impossible for the government to achieve its 60% residential development on brownfield land target from 2005
  • reduce the supply of brownfield land getting on to the market
  • introduce barriers to the house building targets set out in the Communities Plan and backed up by Kate Barker's recent review of housing supply
  • significantly increase pressure on prime greenfield land which will become economically viable as costs escalate for brownfield remediation
  • add to the pressure of housing price rises by cutting supply to the market
  • create a dangerous climate for the illegal disposal of waste, particularly fly-tipping
  • increase hazardous waste disposal charges for developers by up to five-fold
  • significantly increase lead-in times as in-situ remediation is a more time intensive process than traditional dig-and-dump
  • not be met by suitable alternative treatment and disposal technologies
  • significantly increase haulage or waste miles

    Myles Kitcher adds: "The Government must act now to limit the damage. The development industry has been sending huge levels of hazardous waste to landfill in order to complete disposal by the 16 July deadline. This means that the real decrease in the amount of brownfield land coming on to the market will not really be visible for another six to 12 months."

    The RICS says that many developers will find it almost impossible to clean up marginal brownfield land and decontamination of certain sites will cease to go ahead.

    The chartered surveyors suggest that Landfill Tax monies should be used to assist; by helping them meet remediation costs, incentivising the development of new remediation technologies and providing state aid to compensate developers. The institution's belief that house building on brownfield land in England will be reduced is based on house building levels in England for 2000/02 and total area of brownfield and greenfield sites used for residential development 2000/02, average five year densities to 2003 from Land Use Change in England Residential Development to 2003 ODPM 2004.

    RICS Research, Can the waste planning system deliver? , published in April 2004, highlighted the serious lack of disposal capacity in all waste streams across the South East. The RICS believes that the waste planning system must be reformed so we are able to build the facilities we urgently require.

    English Partnerships upbeat

    Despite the apocalyptic forecasts of the RICS, it's not all gloom and doom on the regeneration front.

    In its recently published annual report, English Partnerships, the government's national regeneration agency charged with delivering high quality, sustainable growth in England and which also acts as the government's adviser on brownfield land, has reported a year of rapid growth with an 80% increase in its investment development programme for the year, to £410 million. The agency achieves its goals by developing its portfolio of strategic sites.

    English Partnerships' Chair, Margaret Ford, commented, "This has been a year of significant progress and rapid growth for the agency. Our results speak for themselves: an 80% increase in our programme and a transformed position on the outputs we deliver to meet the Government's objectives, especially the Sustainable Communities Plan."

    During the year English Partnerships' programme delivered:
  • 378 ha of brownfield land reclaimed and/or serviced
  • 232,000 m2 of floorspace for employment use
  • £384 million of private-sector investment levered in to support the development programme
  • 3,085 houses started on site - 1,066 offered for sale at affordable prices
  • 1,903 houses completed - 312 made available at affordable prices

    In his report, Chief Executive, David Higgins, said, "A focus for the year was building capacity within the business to meet our expanded remit. We established regionally based delivery teams within a new management structure and began important work with our partners to develop and enhance skills across the entire sector."

    He added, "We maintained our momentum, reached some major milestones and delivered a range of successful projects across our five core business areas. In doing so we have focused on quality and innovation, by working closely with all our partners and actively engaging with people in the local communities we are helping to regenerate.

    "During this current year our strong focus will be the delivery of our development programme which is planned to expand by a further 30% in 2004-05." Major milestones in the agency's year were:

  • The launch of the London Wide Initiative which is aiming to provide some 2,000 homes for key workers in the capital as part of a 3,500 housing programme centred on a portfolio of sites across London.
  • The establishment of Barking Riverside Ltd, a joint venture between English Partnerships and Bellway which aims to provide up to 11,000 new homes with a mixed-use sustainable community in the Thames Gateway growth area.
  • The creation and maintenance of the Register of Surplus Public Sector Land which is a comprehensive database maintained by English Partnerships on behalf of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Currently the Register has 768 sites of Government-owned surplus land recorded covering some 2,681 ha of land.
  • The acquisition of the former RAF Staff College at Bracknell from Defence Estates which will be used for new and affordable housing as part of the town's regeneration plans.
  • The addition of two sites to the National Coalfields Programme which now brings the total in the programme to 100. English Partnerships has to date invested some £250 million in the programme and levered in a further £250 million from the private sector.
  • Securing planning permission for the Greenwich Peninsula developments which over time will deliver a 20,000-seat arena, entertainment, retail and leisure facilities in the Dome itself together with a regeneration scheme which will accommodate some 10,000 homes and 376,000m2 of commercial space and a hotel.
  • Investing £6 million in helping with the further regeneration of Allerton Bywater Millennium Community near Leeds.
    Information on projects and programmes can be found at www.englishpartnerships.co.uk Positive view

    Also taking a more optimistic view of the post 16 July situation is clean-up specialist, Churngold Remediation which says that the Landfill Directive "may not mean doom and gloom for everyone in the remediation market."

    The company's Managing Director, Craig Sillars, said that 16 July seemed to be regarded by many "as some kind of judgement day."

    He commented: "We have been bombarded with negative articles in the press about how the new legislation will be to the detriment of us all, but, as I see it, we have known about this for long enough, and, by having prepared effectively for the potential outcomes, this should be seen as an opportunity."

    Churngold says that the ban on co-disposal in landfill sites will result in an increase in the price of traditional "dig and dump" methods of pollution clean-up. Mr Sillars considers that Churngold's experience in working with a variety of technologies will put it ahead when offering effective and good value alternatives to the client.

    He adds: "We have been developing and applying a range of technologies for a number of years, including biological, physical, chemical and thermal techniques to treat contaminated land and groundwater. While others have remained reliant on 'dig and dump' in the run up to 16 July, we have anticipated its decline and invested in developing alternatives."

    There could, indeed, be a silver lining under the new regime for remediation specialists, but many of those involved in the waste management sector will be looking anxiously ahead to see if the Government's reassurances over the continuing availability of hazardous waste sites for landfill hold good, or whether the RICS prediction that there could be a delayed time-bomb, in terms of a reduction in brownfield development, will confound the official optimism in the longer term. As LAWE has commented before on this contentious issue, it's a question of "watch this space - only the space is dwindling."


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