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



Examination of witnesses (Questions 521 - 539)

TUESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2000

MR PETER TOOMBS, MR BOB LISNEY, MR MARTIN EASTEAL and MR DAVID TUTHILL

Chairman

  521. Can I welcome you to the last session this morning. Can I ask you to identify yourselves for the record.
  (Mr Easteal) I am Arthur Easteal, I am the Chief Executive of Chelmsford Borough Council. I am not an expert on waste but for some reason or another I am also the Honourary Secretary of both the Consortium of Waste Collection Authorities in Essex and the Secretary of the Waste Management Advisory Board of Essex and Southend, which brings together representatives of the districts of Essex County Council and Southend Borough Council as its unitary authority.
  (Mr Tuthill) David Tuthill, Waste Manager, Essex County Council.
  (Mr Toombs) Peter Toombs, from the Local Government Association, Policy Officer on Waste and Environmental Management.
  (Mr Lisney) Bob Lisney, Senior Adviser for the Local Government Association working for Hampshire County Council.

  Chairman: If you agree with each other there is no need for you to repeat yourselves. If you disagree chip in very quickly.

Christine Butler

  522. Mr Easteal, could you describe the recent development of waste policies in Essex and how you see this developing in the future?
  (Mr Easteal) I will do my best, certainly. The fact is that over the last two and a half years in Essex we have had the most fantastic debate about the future of the Waste Management Policy in the county. This was engendered by the publication of the draft Waste Local Plan for Essex and Southend, which received a great deal of comment and criticism in the community generally. Indeed, in terms of objections I believe that that particular plan raised more objections from members of the public than any other.

  523. How many?
  (Mr Easteal) Over 10,000. The objections were concentrated in two areas. One was, was the policy being set out there one which the community at large wished to see pursued, and secondly, let us not be bashful about this, eight major management sites were identified in that plan and, rightly or wrongly, local people thought that that was where an incinerator was likely to be placed. For perfectly understandable reasons it did give rise to a great deal of comment. The District Councils in Essex, which is a collection of authorities, and also, of course, development control planning authorities, also took issue with many aspects of the plan, and that is how the consortium of district councils were set up and we asked consultants to look at this for us. In fact, as I said to start off with, there has been more debate in the county about this subject then I ever remember—I am afraid I have to admit I am an Essex man born and bred.

  524. The consultants looked at this for you and those proposals from that research were fed into, were they not, the Waste Development Authority at a certain point in the strategy and in the plan. What happened then? You see, I am not sure where we are now.
  (Mr Easteal) Am I taking too long to get to where we are now? What has happened to the consortium? When we got to the public inquiry there was a wide measure of agreement as a result of discussions between us. The inspector's report that has been issued subsequently I think, generally speaking, provides in planning terms a fair basis for taking forward a waste management strategy in Essex. Although there are some issues in it that are still outstanding there are those issues the consortium will continue to meet. In the last six months we have established, sorry to sound bureaucratic, this Waste Management Advisory Board, bringing together all of the councils concerned and it is that Board which is now taking forward a strategy. There is a very wide measure of agreement. We have a joint strategy called the Working Together Document, that was agreed last year, which sets out some objectives for us to meet in terms of reduction, and recycling and other matters. There are high diversion trials underway currently in two parts of the county which are specifically to see whether the kind of recycling targets that we have are actually practically achievable or not.

  525. Do you have any further input into the Essex waste plan now? It is very nearly at the end of the road there.
  (Mr Easteal) It is, indeed. The County Council will publish—

  526. I do not care what the County Council do, does the consortium have any further pressures on that? Does it accept the inspector's recommendations?
  (Mr Easteal) We accept, I should think, 95 per cent of the inspector's recommendations, on the other 5 per cent we have made our comments to the County Council already and we have another opportunity to do so when the County Council's proposed modifications are placed on public deposit, which we understand will happen around the turn of the year.

  527. Mr Tuthill, do you feel at one now with the consortium?
  (Mr Tuthill) I think there is a convergence of views.

  528. Right. What are the most significant barriers that you face in implementing local strategies?
  (Mr Tuthill) Poor market for recyclable material, lack of funding to make the investment in the additional infrastructure that is required to have higher recycling, high composting, generally processing waste. Indeed, the revenue budget that will be needed to sustain those schemes.

  529. Do you think there has been an unfortunate bias in previous waste strategies coming from central Government inasmuch as there have been subsidies and fiscal incentives to go down the route of municipal waste for incineration but nothing much coming forward, until recently, to do with waste separation at the waste collection end of it? Do you think that more movement is needed there and, if so, can you put a figure on it? What does waste collection need to actually separate out these waste streams?
  (Mr Easteal) We need money more. We do not need more technical assistance.

Chairman

  530. How much more money?
  (Mr Easteal) So far as the districts are concerned we look at this extremely closely and we have looked in detail at individual district plans. Over a five year period our estimate is that we need 35 million in capital and five million in revenue.

  531. Let us finish this now because we need to move on.
  (Mr Easteal) 35 million in capital and five million in revenue. If I may continue for one moment, the important thing about that is it is essentially transitional. What we have to do in terms of waste collection is to make a step-change from what is still primarily, not totally, a traditional method of collection to one that allows us to have kerb-side collection. With that kind of money we can do that. As far as most of the waste collection authorities in Essex are concerned, my own authority included, one can see a position over the end of a four or five year period where you are still having much the same revenue costs as we do now. What we are talking about is having a collection every other week of recyclables and putrycables so that everyone will still have one collection a week, so the main charge will be the same. What we need help on is to get us from one method of collection to another.

Mr Blunt

  532. To follow up both those issues, what proportion of the 1.1 million provided to local authorities for environmental, protective and cultural services, including waste, will actually be spent on waste management; of the 1.1 million announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review?
  (Mr Easteal) That covers all the expenditure of district councils. If you take my case as an example, we have been safety-netting for the last three years, we have not had any real increase. My councillors will do their best to see that priority is given to waste management. There is a very significant number of other things that we deal with which also need that money. We shall certainly do our best to see that the increase that has been made is passed through to change this collection method, as I have described it, because it is a political priority for councils in Essex so to do.

  533. Is there going to be enough money to achieve this step-change you need to take?
  (Mr Easteal) Not at the moment, no.

  534. How much of the step-change in the public's attitude to waste collection, because the public have a very important role to play here, is being helped in Essex by the fact that your draft waste local plan, which named eight sites, was then described as shadow planning, and that the population around those sites has been mobilised to achieve targets of recycling ahead of anybody else in the country? How important is that shadow planning, if I can call it that, or that draft waste local plan in initiating this debate and convincing the public of the requirements for them to act?
  (Mr Easteal) It has been incredibly important in having a debate in putting waste management and the future of waste management almost at the top, if not at the top of the political as well as the administrative agenda. It has been tremendously important. I would just like to say, from where I sit we are pretty good with the technical answers, I can tell you how many lorries and that kind of business, however winning the hearts and minds of people is tremendously important. That is why more money probably needs to be spent. The question I am asked more frequently than anything else is, "Why are we not having a recycling collection in my street?" In Chelmsford and in other places people do have a large plastic bin, to which they are rather wedded.

  535. Given the experience you had in Essex, do you think it would be sensible for all local authorities to shadow-plan for an incineration facility, in case it is needed, whilst attempting to press ahead with a recycling and composting strategy at the same time?
  (Mr Easteal) I think legally we are really required to do so and that was, at least, in part what the County Council was doing in its plan in Southend. There is not any doubt, at least in our part of the country, that the threat, if I may put it like that, of the incinerator has concentrated people's minds. So far as the Waste Management Advisory Board for Essex is concerned I think all the politicians are agreed that they do not want an incinerator. That has given a very welcome added boost to all of these other things we are now trying to do.

  536. Finally on this issue of incinerators, there is a range in public subsidies for incinerators from NFFO'S to private finance initiatives and exemption from the Climate Change Levy. How much is that driving the county council, in your judgment, towards an incineration strategy, based on the economic imperative as far as your rate payers are concerned?
  (Mr Tuthill) Because of the number of subsidies which have in the past brought down the gate fees of incinerators the industry has the view now that the level at which they have to bid is now so low that it is a commercial enterprise and the number of subsidies could disappear without affecting the market. In terms of PFI, PFI is available to all capital investment in respect of waste. Obviously if incinerators were built that would be the largest piece of capital investment, but equally sophisticated composting recycling plants, anaerobic digesters, that everyone looks at, requires capital investment, for which PFI subsidy would be extremely useful. In Essex alone I estimate that the capital requirement could be of the order of £150 million, which compares with a nationally available figure of some £70 million to £100 million per year. It would be very welcome, but the likelihood of getting adequate PFI funding is quite small and it certainly does not influence our thinking.

Mrs Ellman

  537. To the Local Government Association, what would you say are the key strengths and weaknesses of the Government's report?
  (Mr Lisney) There is no doubt there is quite considerable strength in the fact that we have an integrated waste strategy. It is a pity it has to be called waste strategy, because there should be a presumption that it is a resource and waste strategy, perhaps the primacy on the resource side. It is certainly comprehensive and covers all waste, and in that sense it meets the EU Directive for Waste Planning. It does focus a lot on recovery and looks at the roles of all sectors, and those are quite considerable strengths. It is probably also linked to the sustainable development trail, because an awful lot of what has to be dealt with under the concept of waste and recovery is interlinked with other areas, like transport and general sustainability issues. Those are good strengths. On weaknesses we could probably say it was shorter on the behaviour and social society stages of implementation. One of the issues that we looked at in terms of other countries is how long it takes them to achieve high levels of resource recovery and infrastructure. It is generally quite a long time. Canada has taken 20 years to get where it is, for example. In those areas, without wide support for the national waste awareness initiative that is the sort of thing that might underpin some of the collective behaviour changes that are going to be needed, certainly from now on and certainly within the next five years. We have a much shorter period of time to implement the strategy. We think that is a weakness. You have been talking about money, clearly money is going to be needed as well.

  538. What is the LGA doing to ensure there is implementation of the scheme?
  (Mr Toombs) That there is full implementation?

  539. Yes.
  (Mr Toombs) Can I first mention on the funding, this question was asked a bit earlier, the question about whether there are sufficient funds? Under the EPSC block that is much more than just waste management. The actual agreed sum for the three year period forms not much more than about a third of what the LGA calculated was appropriate for that block. The point that was made beyond that was that individual authorities have the discretion to determine how that money is then spent.


 
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