Constantly evolving technology, increasingly stringent waste targets combined with static funding might, on a bad day, make some local authorities feel as if they’re chasing after ever-changing goalposts. And this is hopefully where the Waste Modelling for London project comes in.

The two-year project has just published a report, which has produced individual models for LAs in the capital. The LAs can use this to strategically plan the structure of their future waste disposal services, as well as an amalgamated London-wide model. Various disposal options are outlined as well as the targets that they are likely to meet, and the costs involved.

Supporters of the project include the Greater London Authority (GLA), the Association of London Government, London Remade and Grantscape. The research for the report was carried out by consultants Mouchel Parkman and Cranfield University.

For an LA to produce its own individual model, it should expect to pay between £50,000 and £60,000, as the London Borough of Southwark – which has just completed this task – will testify. To summarise, the report found that London needed to spend £5.2 – £5.8 billion on waste management over the next 15 years to meet its waste targets (see News, p5, LAWR May).

While focused on London, the debate on how the capital moves forward should be informative to LAs around the country as they also work to meet government targets. More importantly, argue supporters of the model, the figures produced should illustrate to the government that much more funding is needed if LAs – not just those in London – are to meet EU directives.

Waste on a par with transport

At the report’s launch in London this April, Shirley Rodrigues, head of environment at the GLA, said that London needed to “secure a funding package akin to the funding package for transport in London”. In other words, long-term and secure. Yet, while LAs that LAWR spoke to took the line that the report was “the best information on waste in London available”, many wondered whether it was detailed enough.

Stephen Didsbury, waste and recycling manager from Bexley Council, fed 2005-6 data into the model, which predicted a £2 million LATS shortfall – or a shortage of 14,666 tradable permits. However, in reality the borough actually had a surplus of 7,000 permits. “This is a rather large margin of error, especially if everyone is out by 30%,” he points out.

While Didsbury thinks it unlikely that such huge discrepancies will be common across authorities – he believes his council’s joint partnership working as opposed to contracting-out skewed the model’s results – he does feel that it illustrates the need for more detailed work to be done.

This view is echoed by Will Gardiner, resource programme manager for Southwark Council. Gardiner, who gave a presentation at the launch, told LAWR that he would like to see LAs resubmit more accurate information and for this data to be updated regularly – which at present there are no plans to do.

Concerns over data quality

Keeping the information up to date is something that London mayor Ken Livingstone should be “directing us to do”, according to Gardiner. The crux of his argument, and one which many LAs seem to be in agreement with, is that: “The quality of the information that’s gone into the model isn’t sufficient to make the multi-billion pound investment decisions that need to be made.”

The information gathered from LAs has gone into several influential works concerning future waste disposal. One such work is the mayor’s scoping paper for a London single waste authority. But, while it may prove to be beneficial for the capital to have a single waste authority, Gardiner argues that basing such an expensive decision on patchy information isn’t a good idea.

In addition, both Gardiner and Didsbury don’t believe it was made clear to LAs at the time that the information they supplied would be used to inform the mayor’s proposals. As a single waste authority for London would take responsibility for waste services away from LAs, understandably this has angered some councils.

Other criticisms levelled at the model included: omission of investment costs and uncertainties surrounding the new technologies involved; land costs (which were pegged too low for some); failure to tackle how LAs might obtain funding; and the high cost of purchasing LATS permits.

That said, any information that LAs feel is wrong, or assumptions that have had to be made due to a lack of detailed data, can be replaced by the individual authority concerned. So, while the detail may not be perfect, it does at least provide a good starting point for LAs to start planning their future waste services.

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