HL Deb 03 February 2003 vol 644 cc14-20

3.15 p.m.

Report received.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause—

"TRANSPORT OF WASTE (1) The Secretary of State shall by regulations make provision for waste disposal authorities in each area to reduce, from year to year, the threat to the environment from the transport of waste. (2) Regulations made under subsection (1) shall—

  1. (a) make provision for the steady decline in the number of miles travelled per tonne of waste taken to landfill in each of the following categories—
    1. (i) inert waste,
    2. (ii) hazardous waste,
    3. (iii) biodegradable municipal waste: and
  2. (b) make provision for the steady decline in the quantity of emissions harmful to the environment released through the transport of waste to landfill, particularly—
    1. (i) carbon dioxide,
    2. (ii) particles,
    3. (iii) benzene,
    4. (iv) carbon monoxide.
(3) Regulations made under subsection (2) shall specify for each area—
  1. (a) the starting point from which the decline in miles travelled will be measured;
  2. (b) the level of decline in miles travelled to be achieved by each target year;
  3. (c) the starting point from which the decline in emissions will be measured; and
  4. (d) the level of decline in emissions to be achieved in each target year.
(4) Regulations made under subsection (2) shall provide for the supply for the financial year 2004–05 by each waste disposal area—
  1. (a) the miles travelled and tonnages of waste in each category listed in subsection (2)(a) transported to landfill, and
  2. (b) the emissions produced during that process.
(5) The Secretary of State must consult the devolved authorities before specifying the quantities under subsection (3).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we all produce an enormous amount of waste and, having produced it, our interest in it ceases. I make no comment on the fact that I am waiting for Members to leave the Chamber, but this subject, which is essential to the whole of society, generates little heat in normal political discussion.

The first group of amendments relates to the transport of waste. If the producing and disposing of waste are offensive to people—the nimby attitude is immensely strong, everyone hoping that their waste will go somewhere else—the transport of waste is equally controversial. Transport spreads pollution in all sorts of places. Most waste is transported by road. That leads to damage to country roads and to the countryside, and to the spread of atmospheric pollution. If streams of heavy lorries run through small rural communities, the residents are, not unnaturally, upset. One of the gaps in the Bill—a measure aimed specifically at biodegradable municipal waste—is that it does nothing about transport.

Amendment No. 1 represents my first thoughts on how to tackle this issue. The amendment is very prescriptive and probably too detailed. It is based on a number of recent decisions to which my attention was drawn by a nephew. Sometimes relatives have their uses, and even heredity has its purposes. One decision was a court case; the second and third were the results of planning appeals.

The court case related to a claim brought against Surrey County Council as a result of the council having granted planning permission for an energy-from-waste plant near the village of Capel on the south-western boundary of the county in preference to other sites at Redhill and Guildford. The claimants held that the decision was unreasonable because both Redhill and Guildford were nearer to the source of the waste to be treated.

The case was complex—I am inevitably having to précis pages of report—and involved planning procedures and administrative process. But the judgment was that the grant of planning permission should be quashed. Among the reasons, the judge cited the proximity principle as a significant matter. The proximity principle is part of the European directive at Article 9, and Article 10 follows on from that. The judgment raises that directive and the question of the proximity principle to a matter of significance in dealing with applications for waste disposal facilities.

The second case that I found interesting relates to the Edmonton incinerator, where an application for an extension of the use of the site—again, for an energy-for-waste project—was turned down on appeal to the Minister on the ground that the extension would lead to the importation of waste from outside the immediate area served by the incinerator. I shall not go over all the background details, but it is significant that the decision supports the concerns that we are expressing about the transport of waste and the need to reduce transport distances wherever possible.

The third case concerned a similar refusal of planning permission on appeal—this time in Bedfordshire. In that instance, the main reason for the refusal was that the applicant was relying on importing waste using rail transport, but he failed to show that there were waste sources that wanted to use the rail transport that he was expecting to have provided.

It is a considerable pleasure to report these matters to the House because they show, as so often, that the Government are doing the right thing. In the light of those examples, it might be tempting to argue that Amendment No. 42 and the others in the group are superfluous. However, I argue that they are not. The Bill gives us an opportunity to ensure that we put every incentive on waste disposal authorities and those who have to deal with waste to operate in the most businesslike, economical, efficient and environmentally acceptable way. I am the first to accept that I may not have got the wording of my amendment perfect, but it is the best I can do as a layman's first shot.

Amendment No. 62 contains two subsections, which deal with a particular situation. Subsection (1) says that a waste disposal authority can dispose of waste within its boundaries, as it should, but must use the nearest facility that it can to the source of the waste and should consider the best practicable environmental option. It would be unusual for a waste disposal authority not to do that within its own boundaries, but we are in the business of persuasion. Existing waste disposal practice is not always as rational as we might wish.

Subsection (2) of the amendment is necessary because the present arrangements seem to create an anomaly. Many authorities, particularly in inner London and some other major metropolitan areas, have no facilities to dispose of their own waste. Such authorities can contract to dispose of that waste wherever there is a facility that has the capacity to handle it. They do not need to apply to the authority in the area that will receive that waste. In a sense, there is no consultation in those new arrangements. Clearly, the receiving authority will be aware of the existence of the disposal facility. The planning system would be bound to make the authority aware and environmental monitoring would probably keep it reasonably up to date with what was happening on the site. However, the local authority is not able to express a view if someone asks the facility to take another million tonnes—or whatever—of waste. That is peculiar. I heard of one inner London borough deciding to dispose of its waste in an outer London borough, which had no opportunity to express a view. That is permissible. Subsection (2) deals with that anomaly.

Amendment No. 69 seemed worth putting forward for clarification. I extracted the definition from a regulation. I thought it would be useful to have the wording in primary legislation. Some environmental bodies increasingly tend to equate anaerobic fermentation with incineration. It is not incineration and it is not environmentally polluting, apart from the fact that the waste has to be transported to the site. It leads to the production of green fuels, as opposed to carbon dioxide and so on. I thought it would be useful to put that into primary legislation to kill that argument from environmental lobbies.

Those are the reasons for the amendments. They are well found and are in accordance with what is increasingly becoming general practice. However, I thought it worth advancing the amendments to ensure that these measures were general practice rather than just on the way to becoming so. I beg to move.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

M y Lords, my noble friend Lord Greaves is ill. Until about midday he was going to lead on this Bill, but he is now unable to do so. I shall try to make the best of it. I was going to act in a supporting role, but I shall try to comment as I was in Committee on the Bill and know a little about it.

Many aspects of Amendment No. 1 are desirable. It is similar to Amendments Nos. 74 and 76 tabled in Committee. The idea is to reduce the number of miles travelled by waste and therefore reduce the pollution from transport. That would be done by detailed regulations. However, the amendment proposes no penalties for failing to meet the regulations.

The amendment seems almost—I stress almost— like an old-style east European command economy way of tackling the problem, involving top-down state bureaucracy. It is questionable whether that is desirable. Secondly, there are no details of how it would work and how it would be enforced. We do not think that it is practical as proposed. A whole new set of penalties and ways of enforcing them would be needed. Local authorities argue that the ones that the Bill imposes on them as waste disposal authorities are already a great burden.

Thirdly, there is no logic in imposing such a bureaucratic regime on the transport of waste alone. Many other things are transported on the roads. Would such penalties be applied to those materials as well? If the Government want to reduce road transport, they should intervene in the market through taxation, or whatever, to encourage the use of other modes of transport, such as rail.

Amendments Nos. 42 and 62 address the question of a proximity principle. Amendment No. 42 says that waste disposal authorities shall have a duty to apply the proximity principle. Amendment No. 62 says that a waste disposal authority has to take BMW— biodegradable municipal waste—and possibly other waste to the nearest tip if disposing of it inside its own area. It also says that an authority disposing of it outside its area must obtain the agreement of the waste disposal authority in whose area it is being disposed.

Our reasons for not supporting these amendments are, first, that the proximity principle does not appear to be clearly defined in the Bill. Secondly, the amendments refer to BPEO—best practical environmental option—which again does not appear to be defined. Thirdly, instructing a waste disposal authority to use the nearest tip may result in silly operational constraints. For all kinds of reasons, that may not be practicable. In any case, there is no penalty if that is not done and therefore it is not enforceable.

Fourthly, the use of tips outside a waste disposal authority area, which is very common in London and metropolitan councils using tips in surrounding, less built-up areas—I note particularly what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith said in relation to incinerators—is already controlled by planning permission and waste disposal site licences. The proposed new rule would give waste disposal authorities with more tipping space an advantage in the operation of the market in BMW allocations. That could possibly be unfair. It is not a level playing field and could be a means by which such waste disposal authorities were able to increase the market value of surplus allocations they wished to sell to other waste disposal authorities under the Bill.

We have doubts about the amendments. Some of the objectives are highly desirable but quite a bureaucratic administrative series of procedures are placed upon authorities without the possibility of enforcement. We are concerned about that. Certainly, to my knowledge, some large local authorities in England are surrounded by other waste disposal authorities whose operations it is sometimes much more convenient to use because of the distances involved. Although there are provisions within the amendments to tackle those sorts of problems, at the moment we are not wholly convinced that they would work without placing a large burden on waste disposal authorities. That would produce many practical problems.

3.30 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith said, this group of amendments deals with transportation. Like the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, I have some sympathy with what the amendments attempt to achieve. However, I do not believe that they succeed. In any case, I would argue that this is not the Bill for that purpose.

As noble Lords will know, the Bill is primarily designed to implement the requirements of Article 5(1) and 5(2) of the landfill directive. If we add to it this dimension of waste management, then we might also wish to consider many other areas of waste management. It is important that those issues are resolved by more flexible methods than the requirements contained in the amendments.

In any case the amendments are incomplete and flawed. I do not go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, and call the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, a Stalinist, but the amendments are heavy handed in dealing with the flexibility which waste disposal authorities need. If there are restrictions as to which landfill sites authorities can go by definition of the nearest area—not necessarily the nearest landfill—it is not entirely clear how that would be measured. Would it be related to the appropriate roads or as the crow flies? In any case, the decision must be based on the overall environmental benefit not simply on the transport environmental effects.

There is already a cost incentive to restrict transportation. It is not likely therefore that authorities would take a perverse decision in that respect. However, they may need to go to a specific type of landfill site or take a specific route in order to achieve the desirable environmental outcome. We believe that waste disposal authorities should have that flexibility.

The requirement in Amendment No. 62 for a waste disposal authority to use facilities within its geographical area unless it can achieve agreement with either the receiving waste disposal authority or the allocating authority could work in the opposite direction to the first amendment. For example, the nearest suitable landfill site to the source of waste could be outside the waste disposal authority's boundaries. If so, Amendments Nos. 42 and 62 would have directly contradictory effects.

The host authority has means of restricting access to the landfill site in terms of planning permission and subsequent planning permission. Were it to wish to restrict access, then the appropriate way of doing so would be through the planning permission arrangements and not through landfill allowances or the restriction of access to appropriate landfill sites for neighbouring authorities. The right way to manage any waste stream is through best practical environmental options. That will include both going through the waste hierarchy and the assessment of the transportation costs. In that way the proximity principle is covered. Doing that unilaterally on one basis is not appropriate.

Likewise the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, referred to the additional waste coming in over and above what the authority had planned for. But the maximum amount of waste in a site is dealt with in planning permission. If the waste coming from a neighbouring authority is within that figure, then it is not appropriate that it should be denied simply because it is coming from another authority.

The overall principle involved here is that it must make more economical and environmental sense for the waste disposal authorities to take their own decisions in the light of all environmental dimensions and not simply restrict them rather inflexibly on the transportation issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, also referred to Amendment No. 69. That will only arise if Amendment No. 62 is agreed to. As I indicated, I do not accept Amendment No. 62 and therefore, while Amendment No. 69 raises interesting issues, we cannot accept that amendment either. I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue the amendments in this group.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, and to the Minister for their responses even though they are somewhat negative. We are discussing a Bill largely directed at the subject of biodegradable municipal waste. We are discussing neither general waste nor inert waste. Those are quite specific wastes. It is a growing view that there is no longer any need for any of those wastes to be disposed of outside a waste disposal authority's boundary, wherever that waste disposal authority might be. The technological developments in this field make disposable facilities environmentally acceptable and the need to transport such waste is diminishing. Having one specific form of transport that deals simply with waste is an appropriate issue. That is what the Bill is about. If we want other forms of road transport to diminish, that is a matter that can be dealt with somewhere else. We have to begin somewhere.

I hear what the Minister had to say about the complications that my amendments might cause to a waste disposal authority if it were required to use the nearest site, particularly if that site happened to cross a boundary. The amendment refers to the disposal of waste within an authority's own boundaries. I suggest that waste that was not within the authority's boundaries would not be affected. I accept that planning permission is the issue that regulates the size and scope of any disposable facility. The arguments that I used to advance the amendments include an existing case in law and two existing planning appeals. While those matters will unquestionably be taken into account in the future, if we want to encourage good practice we ought to give some legislative assistance. However, the Minister does not appear to wish to do so at this stage. I shall go along with him and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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