Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 500 - 520)



  500. At some point you have to treat that, surely, to get rid of some of the nasties that are likely to be in it?
  (Mr Lea) It is important for the natural breakdown in normal soil, you need the reactions between soils and inerts anyway, because this material contains 30 per cent paper, the worms enjoy the fibres within that paper and are able to turn that material back into a decent compost. There are also other activities taking place in the soil that are quite natural operations within a soil structure.

  501. It only smells for about three or four weeks.
  (Mr Lea) The odours are only occasionally, depending on how you handle this material. It is a quality controlled operation.

Mrs Ellman

  502. Mr Gilbert, could you explain the relationship between the North-West Regional Advisory Body and the North-West Assembly?
  (Mr Gilbert) The Regional Technical Advisory Body actually evolved from an officer Waste Working Group, which certain members of the previous North-West Region Association set in 1993. Strictly the role of RTAB is to advise the North-West Regional Assembly as the regional planning body and give it technical guidance on waste management issues within its region. That is its very basic function. It is actually born out of PPG10, where it advises all regional planning bodies, in this case the NWRA. That is the starting point.

  503. Does that mean that decisions on regional guidance are taken by the North-West Assembly rather than by the officer group?
  (Mr Gilbert) That is correct. The Regional Technical Advisory Body has no independent status. It reports technical information to the Regional Planning Body and the Regional Planning Body itself does not have that statutory power to actually implement the recommendations of the RTAB. It is through guidance only that we are trying to get our technical messages through.

  504. Have you consulted on the formulation of the North-West Waste Strategy?
  (Mr Gilbert) The formulation of the regional strategy is some way down the line yet. We are probably looking at next summer to consult the public on the draft regional strategy. At the moment what the RTAB is doing is compiling a technical report and we hope to consult the public on that in about February. That technical report is a precursor to the full strategy. The technical report is looking at baseline data and making certain calculations and assumptions about growth and waste with the options that we need take to ensure sustainability in waste management within the North-West, having regard to the National Waste Strategy and the Landfill Directive.

  505. What form will consultation take?
  (Mr Gilbert) There is not one. The first part of consultation with the RTABs technical report will be a broad consultation within the North-West, not dissimilar to the list that was used for the draft regional planning guidance—that has just concluded the process of consultation within the region—we will use that mechanism. If required to do so we will go around and talk to organisations about the work of the RTAB. Having done the technical report we will analyse the feedback from the consultation to mould the Regional Waste Strategy.

  506. Would you say that it is fair comment that the Waste Strategy is leaning towards incineration?
  (Mr Gilbert) Leading towards incineration? That implies only incineration. There are a number of options, it is a mix and match. No individual option is likely to comply with either the recycling targets of the National Waste Strategy or the new Landfill Directive targets to divert waste. We are going to have some incineration, there is no doubt about that. There will also be requirements for other management processes, along with recycling that minimisation.


  507. Would you say that proper effort is being made to look at alternatives to incineration?
  (Mr Gilbert) Yes, indeed. What we are looking at at the moment is the best practical environmental options for the waste streams in the North-West. That will take account of all methodologies and current waste management practices. It is a balance between costs, involving transportation, and a balance for environmental protection. If you look at the waste hierarchy, we certainly need to start at the top and encourage minimisation. Our strategy will be a balance between seeking minimisation, reuse and recycling, composting and digesting and energy from waste. The bottom of the hierarchy is landfill. We have to use the waste hierarchy.

Mrs Ellman

  508. You have described the process of policy formation developing from an officer group being advisory to the regional assembly, which has elected representatives, is that pattern repeated in other regions? Do you know anything about that?
  (Mr Gilbert) I am here today to represent the North-West RTAB. The other eight regions in England do have similar structures. I know that we are at varying stages in the setting up of our technical advisory bodies. I cannot answer you precisely as to reporting mechanisms. I know there are regional chambers. One of the difficulties for the RTAB is that we are operating in a vacuum, we do not know the situation nationally. Hopefully that is going to be partly addressed in the setting up of a new national forum for RTABs. We have had contact from the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions. We are hoping to have the first meeting of the new forum in January next year, and this will help us to exchange information about experiences, best practices and, indeed, the structures that are relevant to delivering technical advice in those regions.

  509. Would you say that the Regional Technical Advisory Body is sufficiently related to the wider region in terms of elected representatives in the assembly and social partners rather than being an officer group working in isolation?
  (Mr Gilbert) The RTAB has only just been set up. We are finding our feet, in terms of our networking and relationships within the North-West, with the myriad of organisations that have waste management interests, the collection authorities, the waste disposal authorities, the local waste planning authorities, the industry and the interest groups. We have precise reporting mechanisms. The RTABs reports to the key priority group of the regional assembly, that is a defined path for putting information reports into the domain of the assembly. Of course there are channels to feed information back down and requests for the RTAB team to carry out research.


  510. You just heard Greater Manchester say that they do not need any more incinerators, that is almost a third of the North-West. Do you fully approve of the way that they are coming up with an alternative to incinerations, soil improvement, shaping and extracting a great deal out of their waste?
  (Mr Gilbert) I think their approach is to treat waste through the best practical environmental option, that is what they are doing. They are looking at the waste stream that has been generated sub-regionally, they are looking at the proximity principle and we are looking at the sub-regional proximity, which I find extremely encouraging.

  511. You seem to be avoiding this question of the soil improvement, would you like to see the whole of the North-West covered with the soil improvement?
  (Mr Gilbert) I do not know enough about the process technically, I know it is one of the options. If the product can be reused, that it more favourable than being land-fill. It would certainly be something that we would want to encourage, new technologies and different technologies.

Mrs Dunwoody

  512. Why do you not know much about the process if are you part of the technical advisory group?
  (Mr Gilbert) I have to say that the waste management field is extremely complex in terms of—

  513. That is why you are there.
  (Mr Gilbert) If I can be clear about my role as Chairman of a body, which ostensibly is to look at giving guidance on planning for the locations of facilities, we are not wholly about—

  514. You are not very well informed about what they put there but you know where they ought to go.
  (Mr Gilbert) I think it is too early in the development of Greater Manchester's strategy to say that it is going to be the be-all and end-all of their management of waste. There are too many other options for Greater Manchester to get involved with.

Mr Brake

  515. What efforts are you making to inform the public and educate the public about the need to minimise, re-use and recycle compost?
  (Mr Lea) Obviously we welcome the National Waste Awareness Campaign. However, we as an individual company are promoting our sustainable waste management practices by going out into the community, liaison meetings, the creation of visitor centres. We have just recently completed a major visitor centre in the Bolton area, which is all about environmental education and the link that education will have with waste management solutions.

  516. Is that aimed at both the public and business?
  (Mr Lea) It is across the board really, various businesses have links to waste management and it is very important to inform the business sector, academic organisations, school children, the householders and generally the community at large.

  517. Out of your client-base, so to speak, how many do you reckon have been to your visitor centres?
  (Mr Lea) The visitor centres are fairly new. There is this major one, which we have just completed. There has been an awful lot of interest from various bodies to use that centre, for business all of the way down to school children and local schools coming to visit, to see our process primarily and to understand the environmental problems that we have for the future.

  518. You do not know precisely how many, it is early days. Do you have a target?
  (Mr Lea) The visitor centre is obviously going to increase the demand or, should I say, access for these various different bodies. However, we have a visit virtually every week at any one of our plants or facilities from either the community, business sector or education.

  519. Are you worried at all that the school awareness initiatives are being sponsored by industry bodies? Do you think there is bias if McDonalds are talking about waste awareness?
  (Mr Lea) We are very conscious of the bias. That is why our visitor centres show all our solutions and the opportunity that we have for developing a strategy which will achieve the targets well in advance of 2005. We have tried to isolate the educational part of those centres to be purely financed and supported by the local community.

  520. Thank you.

  Chairman: On that note, can I thank you both very much for your evidence.

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