Light regulatory touch for site waste plans

The Environment Agency and local authorities will have the power, but not a duty, to inspect new mandatory site waste management plans for major building projects, according to draft regulations issued by the Environment Department (DEFRA) in April.1

The draft regulations set out the regime for mandatory site waste management plans (ENDS Report 366, pp 16-17 ) in England. They were originally due in 2005 after powers to introduce them were included in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005.

The government hopes the requirement to produce the plans, which could be in place by April 2008, will force the construction industry to reduce waste, and its associated costs, as well as help cut fly-tipping and amount sent to landfill.

The sector produces 109 million tonnes of waste each year, including a significant amount of unused materials. The potential for greater resource efficiency is "considerable".

The consultation says site waste management plans should be a statutory requirement for all construction projects worth more than £250,000 rather than the £200,000 previously suggested.

Plans will have to specify the volume and types of waste a project expects to produce and how each will be managed. As projects progress they will also have to show where waste was sent.

Responsibility for upholding the waste duty of care regime will rest with the main contractor. This should ensure waste is removed by registered waste carriers and not fly-tipped.

Projects worth over £500,000 will have to meet more detailed requirements, including keeping copies of all waste transfer notes and registration details of waste carriers used.

Although the principal contractor will complete the plans, responsibility for this will also lie with the client.

Powers will be given to local authorities and the Agency to check plans because, says DEFRA, there "needs to be a regulatory regime in place to ensure compliance from the outset".

However, local authorities and the Agency will not have a duty to check plans and will have "full autonomy in determining the level of resource they wish to allocate" to enforcement.

The regulatory bodies will not receive more funding for enforcing the requirements because DEFRA says the plans should reduce fly-tipping and its associated investigation and clean-up costs.

The proposals include new offences relating to failing to make or keep site waste management plans, not keeping them up to date and failing to produce them on request.

Offenders would be liable, on summary conviction, for a fine of up to £5,000 and up to three months in prison. Fixed penalty notices could be issued for failing to produce a plan on request.

Large construction firms had argued that the requirement should apply to smaller firms if the aim was to reduce fly-tipping (ENDS Report 366, pp 16-17 ). But, DEFRA says the benefits of site waste management plans only start to outweigh the costs at around £250,000. This means the proposals would affect a quarter of projects - just over 20,000 - and some 2,700 small firms (see table).

Non-statutory guidance explaining the requirements will be issued when the regulations come into force.

The consultation runs until 9 July. Wales is expected to consult on similar proposals later this year.