Complying with EU Law on Waste: Can the Planning Process Deliver?

Wayne Laramee is Head of Parliamentary Affairs at the Environmental Services Association. Here he explains how the Government must seize the upcoming opportunity to put in place a planning framework to deliver the new waste management facilities the UK needs.

The United Kingdom stands on the cusp of a revolution in the way it manages waste as EU legislation is requiring resources to be used much more efficiently.

Thousands of new waste treatment and processing facilities will be needed in the UK over the next decade. The Environment Agency estimates two thousand, ESA believes it could be more than three thousand. In addition, sufficient landfill capacity will need to be available, to manage, for example, waste following treatment and processing.

If the UK’s waste management industry is going to meet this immense challenge and be enabled annually to invest hundreds of millions of pounds in new facilities fit for the twenty first century, an effective and efficient planning process is critical.

The Government claims that the planning process is “doing a good job” despite it not actually measuring the additional waste management capacity that is granted. The Government simply does not know if the planning process is consenting waste treatment and processing infrastructure sufficient to enable the UK’s compliance with its legal duties. In addition, neither the Government nor the Environment Agency have real-time data on waste flows.

ESA’s Members experience a planning process that acts more as a barrier to development rather than facilitating the necessary step change in waste management. Risks are high, certainty is low and delays are common. It is unlikely that the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act will significantly improve performance.

The Government has two key opportunities to put in place a more effective land-use planning framework. First, there is the review of Planning Policy Guidance Note 10 (waste) expected this year. Second, next year, the Government will review its own waste strategy.

To set the scene for these developments, ESA has published Land-use Planning for Sustainable Waste Management: How the UK can become more Resource Efficient. This sets out key land-use planning issues at national, regional and local levels and suggests how they can be addressed now to achieve more sustainable use of resources.

Amongst the report’s recommendations to the Government is a call for stronger leadership and clearer guidance in defining the environmental outcomes that need to be achieved to comply with EU Law on waste, and the waste management capacity that will be needed. The Government needs to advise local authorities on the scale of change that is required.

ESA urges the Government to help local authorities efficiently to prepare Waste Development Frameworks by developing and disseminating model policies. Such policies would serve as a resource available for local authorities to use rather than as an example of central determination.

The Government needs to seize these opportunities to review the fundamental principle and application of Best Practicable Environmental Option (BPEO). Currently, the application of BPEO creates more problems than it addresses and is rapidly becoming a huge obstacle to increasing the UK’s resource efficiency. It may even result in the worst environmental option: inadequate waste and secondary resource management capacity.

BPEO applies specifically to the waste management sector even though an Environmental Impact Assessment is required for many waste management facilities. In addition, local authorities will shortly be subject to the Strategic Environmental Assessment Regulations and the application for a Pollution Prevention and Control (PPC) permit requires the applicant to demonstrate that the facility proposed will operate according to the Best Available Technique.

Clusters of compatible environmental industries, such as renewable energy production, waste and secondary resource management and material reprocessing could generate localised environmental supply chains. Such clusters might be encouraged by identifying “environmental business planning zones” which could help to regenerate areas of the United Kingdom, reduce traffic movements and provide wealth creation opportunities with local, regional and national benefits.

ESA’s report also makes recommendations to regional and local planning bodies. For example, it offers advice on the interpretation of key planning principles such as the proximity principle and the waste hierarchy, and outlines ESA’s views on the operation of the planning process relating to issues such as integration of the land-use planning and environmental protection regimes and consultation of local businesses and residents.

Given that a number of different players are involved in planning decisions, successful delivery of new infrastructure will require a partnership approach. Partnerships tend to succeed when the role and contribution of each partner is clear. ESA has suggested that ODPM and DEFRA together should secure an agreement during 2004 with the Local Government Association and ESA on a schedule of achievements the planning system must deliver to secure the diversion targets required for 2010 by the Landfill Directive.

Of course, a planning process that provides certainty for investment and efficiency in decision- making will not, on its own, deliver the UK’s compliance with EU Law. Funding for the management of the municipal waste stream needs to double to enable the UK to improve its resource efficiency. In addition, the regulatory framework has to provide certainty on the standards that need to be achieved by waste technologies and to direct waste to regulated infrastructure with zero tolerance of illegal waste management activity.

Nevertheless, over the next few months the Government has an opportunity to put in place a planning framework able to deliver the new waste management facilities the UK needs. Hundreds of millions of pounds of investment are dependent on this and the Government simply cannot afford to miss this chance.

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