Your legal queries answered

Paul Rice, a partner at leading solicitors Pinsent Masons, answers topical questions on legal issues surrounding environmental and waste management

When was the WEEE Directive implemented into UK domestic law and what does this mean for local authorities ?

After suffering a number of false starts, the domestic regulations which will collectively implement the provisions of the WEEE Directive are the Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations 2006 (which implement most aspects of the WEEE Directive in the UK); and the Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment (Waste Management Licensing) (England and Wales) Regulations 2006 which deal with the site licensing and WEEE treatment requirements of the WEEE Directive.

These came into force on 2 January 2007 and 5 January 2007 respectively. With the implementation of both sets of regulations and a date set for compliance, it is expected that there will be a flurry of activity.

Producers of electrical and electronic equipment will have until 15 March 2007 to register with a relevant compliance scheme and until 1 July 2007 to ensure they are fully compliant with the regulations.

From 1 July, all producers will be responsible for the cost of and are obligated to either provide in-store take-back facilities or a service (at no cost to the domestic customer) for WEEE to be collected or deposited at designated collection facilities - which are likely to be based at civic amenity sites.

As such, local authorities should be now liaising with their waste contractors to ensure that sufficient infrastructure is in place to deal with the demand for WEEE disposal.

Additionally, while producers start to look around for suitable compliance schemes to register with (prior to 15 March 2007 deadline), it is likely that the number of planning applications for authorised treatment facilities being submitted will increase in order to meet future demand. While government guidance to accompany the regulations has not yet been published, it is expected early in 2007.

Did the Barker Review have any implications for a local authority's determination of waste management facility applications?

In 2006 Kate Barker was commissioned to conduct a review of the planning system to determine how it could contribute more productively to economic growth in the context of globalisation and sustainable development goals. On 5 December 2006 her conclusions were published under The Barker Review of Land Use Planning.

The Barker Review recognises that waste management facilities, for which the planning applications are primarily determined by unitary authorities in two-tier areas at the county level under the Town & Country Planning Act, face very strong public opposition which can lead to delay.

Although it has been revealed some 90% of waste applications are granted, there is anecdotal evidence that a number of waste applications never come forward at all. In view of this, the Barker Report made a number of suggestions to ensure that sufficient waste management facilities are provided nationally, and delay in processing such applications is kept to a minimum. Such suggestions include that regional planning bodies and local planning authorities should reflect national waste strategies and government policy when drafting their regional spatial strategies and waste plans (which should include identifying new sites for waste management facilities).

Waste management facility applications (the need for which have not been identified nationally) could remain with the local planning authority. For those applications which, due to their specialist waste management need and likely throughput, are critical to national waste management provision, a body other than the local planning authority should determine the proposals.

Applications for energy-from-waste proposals could be referred to the proposed Independent Planning Commission. The recommendations made in the Barker report will now be considered by the Treasury and we await the response to this review.

This column does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken before acting on any of the topics covered.

Paul Rice heads up the environmental practice of Pinsent Masons

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