Speaking at a London seminar organised by the Chartered Institute of Waste Management on Monday, Defra’s head of waste policy and process, David Mottershead, spoke about the importance of consultation when trying to get across anything from the message that recycling is important to the necessity of building new waste facilities.

“Waste is a communications business, not just a logistics business,” he said.

Mr Mottershead outlined how life was a lot easier with the public on-side and gave advice on a number of ways to engage residents, convince them that consultation was a worthwhile, wo-way process rather than a tick-box exercise and explain to them the necessity of changing waste collection services or new technologies to replace landfill.

“Involve people early on with whatever it is you’re trying to do and before decisions are set in stone.

Do it early and do it a lot, that’s very important – people don’t like being handed fait accomplis,” he said.

Considering different channels of communication is also important, he said, and relying on the same old leaflet drop every time you want to get a point across is going to mean you don’t engage a significant number of those you wish to consult.

It is vital to be clear on what is open for consultation and what is already decided – and explain why some things are not up for discussion. In the case of the siting of a new waste treatment facility for example, it is worth explaining that due to legislation and landfill is no longer an option and waste needs to be dealt with in a different way, but the exact technology and location are still up for debate.

In the case of alternate weekly collections of recyclables and non-recyclable waste, people needed to be told the reasons behind the change.

“In some places the public have got it into their head that AWC is simply being introduced as a cost cutting measure and that something is being taken away from them,” he said.

“The trick is to convince people it’s an environmental measure as experience shows that where it’s explained, it’s been successful.”

When consulting, people need to believe they will be heard and that it is worth their time and effort to get involved.

“Say how the consultation will be followed up so people don’t think they’re pouring their ideas into a black hole,” said Mr Mottershead.

He said it was easy to shy away from confrontational meeting with those adverse to a particular plan, but grasping the nettle was often the best route in the long run.

“Some of the local authorities which have been particularly successful with their waste strategies are those that do this,” said Mr Mottershead.

“They’ll admit privately to having some very difficult meetings, sometimes involving the police, but the results are worth it.”

Efforts must also be made to hear the voice of the silent majority, he said, as a lot can be learned from listening to those in the middle ground.

Internal communication is also key, he said, as waste management officers often complain that the planning system is working against them.

“By and large the planning policy framework can work if the right people talk to each other at the right times,” he said.

“Waste officers need to talk to planning officers. It’s very simple what needs to happen – waste people need to make sure planners know they are going to need this number of plants by such and such a date and planners need to help deliver that.”

At the end of the day, he said, it was also important to recognise that while different authorities would face different challenges it was always better to have an informed, involved public who were given the change to participate and felt they had a degree of ownership of any proposed development or change.

Sam Bond

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