Localism versus planning: uneasy bedfellows?

In the context of the Localism agenda, will the Waste Review do enough to secure the delivery of future infrastructure? Rebecca Eatwell attempts to find out

After a year of evidence gathering, Defra’s Waste Review has finally been published. One area which many were interested to see feature in the review was the development of new infrastructure.

The planning process is considered to be one of the main barriers to delivery of new infrastructure. The Government’s localism agenda, which looks to devolve power to local communities, is considered by many as a further challenge to delivering local planning consents for, often controversial, waste planning applications.

The review recognises “the barriers to the development of waste infrastructure” and outlines how developers can “promote community acceptance”. The Government calls for the waste industry to engage with the whole community to develop solutions for managing their waste and ensure that “those most impacted should benefit most” from any incentives.

Many would argue that this is already happening. Full and effective community engagement and community benefit funds are already common place. Whilst this is not to say that we shouldn’t be looking to continually improve the way we communicate and consult with local communities, it is unlikely that this alone will overcome the challenge of local politics influencing waste proposals.

As the review highlights, “localism imparts greater responsibility on local politicians to make decisions” and the Government expects that local politicians will take responsibility for difficult planning decisions. However, we are unlikely to get away from politicians adopting a populist approach, particularly in the run up to a local election.

The Government is calling for a more informed and less polarised debate around planning applications. Effective and early engagement with local communities is key to ensuring a broader understanding of what is being proposed and minimising concerns.

One of the positive outcomes of the review is Defra’s commitment to publishing a guide on energy-from-waste (EfW) technologies to ensure complete and comprehensive information is available to the public. ‪Given the wealth of misconceptions and fears about EfW from local communities, this will be welcomed.

There are no plans to provide a more strategic route for waste planning applications, with the Government maintaining that the majority of EfW applications will be excluded from the major infrastructure planning process, with the threshold remaining at 50MW.

The Government has made a clear statement on its support for EfW, recognising the role it can play in contributing to the UK’s renewable energy generation. Previously it has focused on anaerobic digestion in its discussion of energy recovery from waste.

This stronger line on all forms of EfW represents a willingness to support more controversial technologies and replicates recent ministerial statements supporting the role incineration technologies can play.

In summary, whilst the review says little which is new or groundbreaking, it does provide some opportunities. Rather than hiding behind localism, the Government has openly declared its support for more controversial waste technologies.

Whether this is enough to influence local decisions and ease the planning process for developers remains to be seen, but it is likely that any central leadership on this issue will take some time to filter down to the local level.

Rebecca Eatwell is head of waste & resources at PPS Group

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