Developers and planners: Delivering waste mamagement facilities through the planning system

With increasing demands on the planning system from Waste Strategy 2000, planning authorities are being asked to make finely balanced judgements on complex decisions against a backdrop of ever increasing public scrutiny. Alan Potter, Technical Director of the Waste and Resources Management Group at Golder Associates, outlines how waste management companies can make the planning procedure easier for both themselves and planning officers.

Step 1: Understanding the Proposal

There are many types of waste management facility. To understand the impacts associated with different facility types, the waste type and facility size needs to be considered.

Waste Type

Wastes can be grouped by origin or characteristics. For example commercial and industrial waste may include putrescible canteen waste and hazardous materials as well as relatively clean packaging waste. In terms of impact it is both the characteristic and the source that can have effect since it will influence the method of delivery as well as the behaviour of the waste on the receiving site. The condition in which the waste is delivered to a site will also have an influence e.g. containerised, bagged, loose, sorted.

Facility Size

Each type of facility makes generic demands on the environment regardless of size. However it is often size and the capacity of the local environment, that determines the real burden in any particular case. Facilities of a capital-intensive nature may require substantial minimum tonnages to be economically viable. However emerging technologies such as anaerobic digestion can provide greater flexibility. In-vessel systems can be developed on a modular basis and there is a move towards smaller Energy from Waste (EfW) plants that serve more local catchment areas.

Step 2: Scoping out the Issues

Land Use Issues

Waste management by its very nature presents generic impacts such as traffic movements or land take. The next tier of impacts is largely attributable to the nature of the waste being received and managed. For example putrescible waste has the potential to give rise to odour, attract vermin, flies and scavenging animals, and may generate pathogens. The next tier of impacts relates to the particular type of facility. For example landfill gives rise to landfill gas which is unique to the landfill process. The size of the facility will also have an important bearing particularly with respect to the actual inputs to a site, and the site design capacity. The final tier of impacts is the conditions within and surrounding the particular facility. This defines the risk potential and pathway and is the point at which mitigating measures primarily come into play.

Thus the following hierarchy can be arrived at to classify the land use issues:

  • Generic
  • Waste Type Specific
  • Facility Type Specific
  • Facility Size Specific
  • Location Specific

The negative and positive impacts of specific waste management facilities can be weighted by identifying issues such as:

  • sphere of influence or ‘footprint’ e.g. the wider impact spatially;
  • duration e.g. are impacts limited to a particular phase in the facility life?
  • reversibility e.g. the wider impact over time;
  • potential for cumulative effects; and
  • indirect and secondary considerations e.g. property values, services capacity.

Facility Location

Facilities such as landfill are relatively fixed in location – in relation to the presence of quarries or despoiled land with suitable geology away from aquifers requiring special protection. Land raise provides a greater degree of flexibility but requires a significant area of land that is sited away from sensitive receptors and within a landscape that can accommodate it. In contrast Material Reclamation Facilities (MRFs) can be sited within a range of locations, for example in converted council depots sited in urban areas, for example, Kensington & Chelsea, based at existing landfill sites – generally semi-rural and rural, for example, Mason’s near Ipswich and sited on industrial estates generally urban fringe, for example, Colnbrook near Heathrow.

Siting of a range of facilities including MRFs, such as Mason’s, and EfW sites, such as Capel in Surrey, on existing landfill sites is a growing trend which offers distinct benefits of not having to go to greenfield sites. However, it can extend the duration of amenity issues such as continued traffic beyond the expected life of the landfill. Location in turn will influence size via land availability and infrastructure capacity, which in turn will have a bearing on the burdens associated with transport of waste.

There is an interplay involving the three variables to identify the optimum size and location for a particular facility within the development constraints that exist in any given situation.

Public Perception

Almost all proposals for waste management facilities encounter public opposition. Waste management facilities are generally regarded as ‘bad neighbour’ development and the importance of analysing the significance of the public’s concerns and extent to which they should be taken into account cannot be underestimated.

Public attitudes towards waste management facilities have a major influence on the progress of applications through the planning and pollution control permitting process. Not only can concerned members of the public object to proposals and influence their passage, but if sufficient weight is gained, can bring pressure to bear on elected councillors – who act as decision makers at a local level – to the extent that applications for permission are refused – even against officer advice. The widening of public consultation procedures for pollution control permitting is opening that process – which has previously been essentially technical – to similar pressures.

In addition to public concerns about primary impacts there is a precedent towards an acceptance that the fear of potential impacts alone can be regarded as a material consideration in a planning decision. This started in 1997 with the High Court judgement Newport BC v Secretary of State for Wales, which involved the proposed construction of a chemical waste treatment plant. The proposal gave rise to substantial public opposition. One of the LPA’s reasons for refusing permission was that it was “perceived by the local community to be contrary to the public interest generally and their interests in particular.”

“The Court of Appeal held that the perceived fears of the
public were planning considerations capable of amounting (perhaps rarely)
to a good reason for refusal of planning permission. That being so, the
Inspector should have accepted that the perceived fears of the public, even
though they were not soundly based upon scientific fact, were a relevant
planning consideration. He should have then gone on to consider what weight
to give that concern…” [Brady m. (1999) material considerations. Planning
Inspectorate Journal, issue sixteen, autumn 1999]

This means that planning authorities and developers need to understand the causes of public concern and the planning authority must be capable of gauging the appropriate weight to attach to these concerns. The processes by which these concerns develop are subtle and often deep-seated and usually will not simply be resolved by reducing the physical impacts of a facility. The public finds it hard to grasp the concept of risk assessment since the implication is that there is an element of risk associated with proposals, as there is with most activities in life. Whilst this is accepted and understood by waste management professionals, the public still seek assurances of absolute safety.

The public must be engaged in the decision making process, educated about the options available and the true impacts of each and be given the opportunity to influence the development and operation of the facility if permission is granted. The Human Rights Act, the Aarhus Convention and other international obligations, which require the planning system to be increasingly responsive to the public’s wishes and concerns, reinforce this.

The Government’s stated commitment to public participation in the planning system is set out in the recent Green Paper on the reform of the Planning System which proposes that the “Local Development Framework should contain a Statement of Community Involvement, setting out how the community should be involved in both the continuing review of the Framework and in commenting on significant planning applications. The Statement will set the standard for good practice in engaging those with an interest in proposed development. “… In the case of large developments, we propose that compliance with the terms of the Statement and its requirements for engaging the community, should be a material consideration supporting a planning application.(emphasis added)

Step 3: Mitigation of Potential Adverse Effects

Adverse effects can be addressed either through physical mitigation measures or through the imposition of conditions that restrict the operation to the extent that the source is eliminated. The efficacy of measures intended to ameliorate any negative effects needs to be established.

It is possible to devise a hierarchy of mitigation actions as follows:

1. Prevent the adverse effects occurring at the source   Replace reversing alarms with visual warning
2. Reduce the effects at source   Use silencers
3. Create a break in the source/receptor pathway   Construct noise bund
4. Reduce the effects at receptor,   Provide double glazing
5. Repair effects, compensate or enhance   Provide recreational space to compensate for loss of
quiet space

There is usually a range of mitigation techniques available in relation to each level of action for each material consideration and the following issues may be considered to determine which to select:

  • the conditions under which each may be most appropriately deployed;
  • the expected benefits in terms of proven or demonstrable reductions in impact;
  • the costs of deployment; and
  • any practical issues to be overcome, such as reliability.

An important consideration here is where the baseline of effectiveness of mitigation is set. Also of major significance is the extent to which any measures are reasonable and in proportion to the size of the development. The baseline is constantly changing as operators strive to improve standards voluntarily or in response to regulatory pressure, and thresholds of acceptability change – generally downward. Accepted practice needs to be clarified so that additional burdens associated with adopting particular practices can be clearly understood. In this way a proper understanding of the relative costs and benefits of different measures can be fully appreciated. This has a close parallel to the process of identifying the Best Available Technique under the Polution Prevention Control (PPC) regime.


The process of understanding the full implications of siting of waste management facilities is complex and requires sophistication and sensitivity to a wide range of issues. The industry and planning authorities are developing their approach, but this can tend to be on a piecemeal basis in response to concerns and may be very site specific. The ability of waste management professionals to work together, building on the positive experience and successes within the sector will help to move the debate forward, creating a platform from which progress towards more sustainable waste management can be achieved.

This article is based on a framework document prepared with the input of the following experts: Trevor Lindley, Bob le Clerc, Mike Brown, Phil Longhurst and Peter Radmell. Acknowledgements are due to all these contributors.

Golder Associates

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