The way forward

Elaine Coles, head of research at IMS Communications Group, asks whether the Landfill Directive is acting as a barrier to brownfield land redevelopment

The Landfill Directive has been in force since last July – yet debate, uncertainty and further legislative changes still surround it. Not only is there ongoing disagreement about the extent to which it can deliver on its aim of significant reductions in the waste stream, there is also serious concern about its potential adverse impact on the government’s ambitious brownfield regeneration goals.

During 2004, the directive dominated the contaminated land debate with many warning that its introduction could lead to fly-tipping of toxic waste, extra business costs and a slow down of building on brownfield land – a debate which shows no signs of running out of steam.

The government’s aim is to build at least 60% of an estimated 4.4 million new dwellings required in the UK by 2020 on brownfield land. With targets for more than 1,000,000 new homes in the South East alone over the next 20 years, major developments like the Thames Gateway Strategy, which aims to regenerate the largest area of derelict land in Europe, look like being the only way forward.

Separate and distinct problems

But has the new regime provided the conditions to deliver? Many people are raising serious questions about what they perceive to be a lack of joined-up thinking on the part of government and the difficulties of reconciling approaches to the separate and distinct problems of dealing with hazardous waste and brownfield regeneration.

The ongoing enquiry by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs into aspects of waste policy, particularly those relating to the requirements of the Landfill Directive, is highlighting these concerns. The committee has received a significant number of written submissions and is currently hearing oral evidence. Proceedings to date make for interesting reading.

In the select committee hearing on 15 December, committee member Alan Simpson commented that at an earlier hearing environment minister Eliot Morley had taken a sanguine view. “The minister’s claim is that & the waste minimisation strategies are working. It is not waste that is clandestinely being shipped about and dumped in the dead of night; it is no longer being generated.”

Appearing on behalf of the Environmental Services Association, Peter Jones, director of external relations at Biffa, begged to differ. “What was alleged to be 2.5 to 3 million tonnes has suddenly evaporated. Some of that is in part due to the fact that there may be stockpiling, but nobody knows. Some of it is due greater management control – that instead of just throwing it all into a 35 yard container, developers are being far more punctilious about just sending the contaminated bit. There could be soil blending going on. What we know is that that 2.5 million tonnes is not arriving at our members’ landfill sites.”

Significantly, Jones went on to say: “First of all, the crunch point will not be now, because the developers are not starting up major new, brownfield redevelopment sites. Traditionally that does not happen at this time of the year. The crunch will come when you start seeing large-scale development of brownfield sites, depending on the state of the property markets.”

Masked impacts

A similar view has been expressed by many in the property sector, who take the view that the impact of the directive has been masked by companies that brought work forward with the specific aim of avoiding its impact, and that it will only really start to bite in 2005-6.

Some property developers feel that the way in which the directive has been implemented will act as a barrier to the reclamation of brownfield land, with insufficient infrastructure currently in place to cover the shortfall in landfill capacity. It is feared this will have the ultimate effect of significantly increasing the costs of remediation and restricting opportunities to redevelop brownfield sites.

Given that contaminated soil is thought to be the largest source of potentially hazardous waste to landfill, what is the way forward? Developers and property owners alike are looking to remediation technologies to help them minimise the risks of dealing with contaminated material in order to bring back such land into profitable commercial and public use. However, many technologies are unproven and there are continuing problems with licensing and standards. While the remediation sector is rising to the challenge, it too is battling imperfect and contradictory government policy.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie