Controversy over plans to beef up regional waste planning powers

Government proposals to require regional planning bodies to allocate tonnages of waste requiring management to local planning authorities are strongly supported by the Environmental Services Association. But Friends of the Earth is concerned they could fail to take account of waste minimisation measures and new assessments of the rate of waste growth.

The need to update waste planning guidance is driven partly by the fact that waste strategy 2000 must be revised this year, and also by changes linked to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

For most aspects of land-use planning, the 2004 Act abolished development plans at the county level. But county-level waste and minerals planning survived, with waste local plans and minerals local plans now replaced by a single "waste and minerals development framework".

Proposals to replace the Government’s guidance on waste planning (PPG10) with a planning policy statement (PPS10), together with draft guidance on joint municipal waste management strategies, were included in a package of papers issued by the Environment Department (DEFRA) in December (ENDS Report 359, pp 45-46 ).

  • Apportionment: A key proposal is that the Government would periodically give advice to regional planning bodies on forecasting waste arisings and capacity needs. The new regional spatial strategies would "apportion" the annual waste management capacity required in each of its waste planning authority areas, and identify the "pattern" of necessary waste facilities.

    In its response to the PPS10 consultation, the Environmental Services Association says it "supports the principle of apportionment of waste management capacity but not of waste management facilities as this approach would be too rigid, restrict the choice of the waste planning authority and constrain the ability of the private sector to innovate."

    The guidance should set a deadline, of perhaps six months, by which apportionment should be agreed, since "the process could be delayed because of the political attention apportionment is likely to attract," the ESA adds.

    The association is also concerned that the completion of minerals and waste development frameworks could be delayed until all of the regional spatial strategies have been published. This is "not expected until December 2006 at the earliest."

    Overall, while PPS10 is an improvement on PPG10, the ESA does not believe it provides a policy framework sufficient to enable England to meet the biodegradable municipal waste diversion targets of the landfill Directive.

    Friends of the Earth, however, is concerned that the requirement for regional bodies to "apportion" specific tonnages of waste to local planning authorities will result in a "predict and provide" approach to waste and over-provision of capacity.

    The group is seeking reassurance that the Government does not wish to see a regional authority prevent a local planning authority from progressively decreasing waste arisings or to propose a pattern of waste facilities that will lock councils into contracts that will constrain movement up the waste hierarchy.

    Instead of suggesting that it would be unhelpful to "reopen consideration of…the annual rates of waste to be managed", the guidance should allow ongoing discussion between planning authorities and regional authorities about predicted waste arisings.

  • Abolition of BPEO: Another significant change is that the Government is proposing to remove the concept of best practicable environmental option as an underlying principle for waste planning and municipal waste strategies because it is "hindering effective delivery on the ground".

    Instead, argues the Government, the need to identify technologies that offer minimal environmental and health risks at reasonable cost is covered by the new requirement for all planning documents to be subject to strategic environment assessment (SEA), and for sustainability appraisals of regional spatial strategies and local development documents.

    The proposals are welcomed by the waste industry, planning bodies and the Environment Agency, all of which have seen the need for waste local plans and individual facilities to pass the BPEO test as a major hurdle.

    "Retaining BPEO," says the Planning Officers Society, "would add no value to the plan preparation process and unnecessarily frustrate well conceived and appraised proposals."

    The Agency welcomed "the use of the plan-led approach and sustainability appraisal to replace BPEO," together with "examining alternative options and locations at the strategic scale."

    The ESA warns that unless guidance provides clear advice on undertaking sustainability appraisals and SEA, "the problems associated with the BPEO assessment process could continue." PPS10 should "explicitly state that an applicant will not be required to demonstrate the principles of BPEO/SA/SEA at a facility level."

    But FoE "remains unconvinced that SEA and sustainability appraisal will adequately replace all the important principles and methodologies previously enshrined within BPEO."

    For example, although the proximity principle seems to be safeguarded, "draft PPS10 does not emphasise the need for regions to take full responsibility for the vast majority of their waste streams."

    Also, it is not clear, says the group, whether the requirement for SEA to include consideration of alternatives includes alternative technologies and processes as well as alternative sites.

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