Planning overhaul leaves waste hanging in the balance
Waste facilities could still prove difficult to get off the ground despite the introduction of a new, simplified planning process.
The final version of the Government's National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published yesterday (March 27) and places sustainable development at the heart of the system through five guiding principles.
These include living within the planet's environmental limits, achieving a sustainable economy, using sound science and promoting good governance.
While green groups have broadly welcomed the reforms, concerns persist around the lack of detailed guidance on waste infrastructure which won't emerge until the Government publishes its National Waste Management Plan.
The plan itself might not materialise until the end of 2013, and industry groups are fearful this could hold up the delivery of crucial facilities such as energy recovery plants.
The Environmental Services Association's planning advisor Stephen Freeland warned that a "hiatus in waste planning approvals" could result from the lack of clarity.
He said: "Waste management infrastructure has a pivotal role to play in meeting the Government's objectives for sustainable development by supplying renewable and low carbon energy and delivering carbon savings through recycling.
Freeland urged local authorities to attach weight to relevant NPPF policies when planning for and determining waste management development in the interim.
The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) also has serious concerns about the impact of the current reforms on waste planning.
CIWM's chief executive Steve Lee said he would have liked to have seen waste infrastructure acknowledged as a "strategic priority" within the framework as it has a critical role to play in sustainable development.
"In spite of some welcome clarification regarding transitional arrangements, including the 12-month grace period which means that many existing local plans and policies remain effective, confirmation that the National Waste Management Plan could be delayed until end of 2013 is a serious concern," he warned.
He added: "In the meantime, the NPPF is a now material consideration ... the Waste Planning Policy Statement will remain in force, but it is difficult to predict whether this will provide enough certainty to enable essential waste infrastructure to be successfully delivered."
Meanwhile Veolia Environmental Services' executive director Robert Hunt said that encouraging investment in key infrastructure such as waste plants was "essential, not optional" especially if the UK was to compete with its European neighbours.