Crunch time for London waste debate

With Parliament looking set to turn down Ken Livingstone's request for a single authority to manage the capital's waste, the war of words between the boroughs and City Hall is hotting up and the Mayor has vowed to fight to the final whistle.

The debate over whether Londoners would be better served by one organisation planning how best to reduce and dispose of waste than it is under the current system – with individual boroughs taking responsibility for the waste produced within their boundaries – has been rumbling on for well over a year.

On the one hand, the Mayor’s office argues that a single waste authority would lead to a more co-ordinated system, make use of the economies of scale and favour more environmentally sensitive solutions such as installing combined heat and power plants before opting for electricity-only energy from waste incinerators.

On the other, the boroughs are vehemently opposed to the idea saying they are more than capable of finding local solutions to local problems and the proposals for a single authority are a straightforward, unnecessary power grab (see related story).

As edie was due to be published, MPs were set to vote on a raft of new powers for City Hall, among them whether or not to alter the way waste is handled.

The Government’s proposed GLA act does not put forward the waste provisions Mr Livingstone would like to see, but Karen Buck MP has tabled an amendment which would see them included.

London Council’s, an umbrella group which represents all the boroughs, claims the Mayoral argument that the city if failing and approaching a waste crisis does not hold true as the recycling rates in the capital cannot be compared with other regions in the UK.

A better measure, they say, would be to look at the waste-per-person sent to landfill which puts the city in a favourable light, with a below average figure.

Chairman of London Councils, Cllr Merrick Cockell said: “All urban authorities struggle to achieve high recycling rates, but London’s boroughs are rising to the challenge and improving year on year.

“Local understanding is key to meeting the many challenges faced in the capital – understanding that would be lost if waste powers are transferred from boroughs to the Mayor. I urge the Mayor to drop his call for a single waste authority and engage with the Government’s proposed London Waste and Recycling Forum. The challenges faced in London cannot be met by one man alone but need us all to work together in a considered and effective way.”

Speaking to the press on Tuesday, however, Mr Livingstone said that if his campaign failed in the Commons, he would lobby the House of Lords and follow every possible avenue to ensure the city got a single authority.

With that in place, he argues, the city could be strategically steered away from mass-burn incineration – the current solution on the table to cope with lack of landfill space – and towards techniques and technologies higher up the waste hierarchy.

“Climate change means we don’t have the luxury of getting this decision wrong. The current GLA Bill proposals for waste from DEFRA are wholly ineffective,” he said.

“London is choosing old technologies to dispose of its waste and is therefore still missing opportunities to cut emissions and take advantage of the opportunities to create renewable energy from waste, making it even more essential that an amendment is made to the GLA Bill to create a single waste disposal authority for the capital.”

Sam Bond

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