New waste powers pave the way for super sites

Local authorities have been granted powers which will make it easier for them to team up on waste management, allowing them to make the most of economies of scale.

There are already many examples of neighbouring authorities, particularly urban boroughs, linking up to share collection and disposal duties but the new powers announced on Tuesday by Ben Bradshaw, the Minister responsible for waste, set up a framework allowing councils to transfer management to a Joint Waste Authority.

The stated aim is to achieve better integrated and cost effective waste management but by promoting the idea of JWAs, Government is encouraging councils to think big and reflects Whitehall thinking that regional specialism and a small number of 'super sites' processing waste is a more attractive prospect than hundreds of smaller sites replacing redundant landfills (see related story).

Any group of two or more authorities will be able to apply to the Government to voluntarily transfer waste disposal, collection and/or street cleansing functions to a statutory Joint Waste Authority.

While any authority with waste management duties can consider teaming up with its neighbours, the powers are thought by Government to be particularly useful to rural and semi-rural authorities where low population densities make sharing the cost of a new generation of infrastructure a more pressing concern.

The scheme is completely voluntary but while Government may not force councils to link up, market forces might.

Launch of the new powers is likely to rekindle the debate over the future of waste managment in the capital, where London Mayor Ken Livingstone is fighting for a single waste authority covering the whole city but boroughs are content to continue alone or working in small groups.

"The days of local authorities burying all our waste in landfill are gone," said Ben Bradshaw.

"Joint working on waste is becoming ever more important, to help authorities to invest in new, more sustainable waste facilities at affordable cost. It is particularly important in shire areas to ensure waste collection and disposal activities are joined up.

"Authorities are already developing innovative ways of working with their neighbours to improve their waste services, and this amendment will increase the range of partnership working options available to them."

A report by a group of high-performing local authorities called for legislative changes to make joint working on waste easier, and estimated potential savings of £150 million in shire areas alone.

Sam Bond



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