Continuing backlog of waste licence appeals

The Department of the Environment (DoE) is still struggling to meet its 12-month target for determining appeals relating to waste disposal licences, according to statistics given in a parliamentary answer by Environment Minister Robert Atkins.1 With the grounds for appeal about to be widened under the new waste management licensing system, responsibility for handling some appeals is to be transferred out of the DoE.

The time taken by the DoE to determine licence appeals under section 10 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 has been a bone of contention with the waste management industry for some years. The number of outstanding appeals rose from 35 in mid-1989 to 60 in mid-1990 and 74 by early 1991, when 26 had been awaiting decision for 18 months or more (ENDS Report 193, pp 27-28).

The current number is 60, according to Mr Atkins' reply. Of these, five date back to 1990 or before, four to 1991, 14 to 1992, and 29 to last year.

The responsibility for this state of affairs does not rest solely with the DoE. Sixteen of the outstanding appeals, for example, are in abeyance because negotiations are taking place between the parties involved or are awaiting resolution of planning issues.

However, of the 18 appeals for which written representations or hearings have been completed, 14 were lodged more than 12 months ago - the target determination time established by the DoE in 1988 - and five of these date back to 1989-91. Only ten appeals were determined in the 12 months ending 28 February 1994.

The introduction of the new waste management licensing system under Part II of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 on 1 May will considerably widen the scope for appeals. Under the 1974 Act, appeals could be made against a waste disposal authority's rejection of an application for a licence or a modification, against licence conditions, or against the revocation of a licence. Under the 1990 Act, appeals can also be made against an authority's decision to suspend a licence, to reject an application to transfer or surrender a licence, and to disclose in public registers information which the person concerned believes to be commercially confidential.

In a circular on the new licensing system, the DoE says that the effect of the statutory guidance given to local authorities - in particular that they should aim to determine applications relating to licences within the statutory deadlines laid down, thus averting the need for appeals against non-determination - should be that "proportionately fewer appeals" will need to be made than under the 1974 Act. There are unlikely to be many outside the DoE who are so optimistic.

The DoE has safeguarded itself against a possible flood of appeals by passing responsibility for administering those to be handled by written representations to its "arms' length" Planning Inspectorate from 1 May. It is not yet clear what targets have been set for the Inspectorate.

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