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



Examination of witnesses (Questions 540 - 559)

TUESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2000

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

Chairman

  540. The LGA always say there is not enough money, however the local authorities always muddle through.
  (Mr Toombs) The local authorities are very inventive and very enthusiastic. Going back to the point about implementation, there are a variety of initiatives that we are involved with, particularly in the exchange of best practice and such like. Our sister organisation, the Improvement and Development Agency, of course, have been involved in work in forming a database of good practice that local authorities can tap into and exchange information. We are also looking to set up a best value waste network jointly with the Department of the Environment very shortly. There will be the launch of that, which is aimed particularly at overcoming the need to work jointly both between different types of authorities and the private and voluntary sectors. The network will be launched on 12th December and it will encourage people to disseminate good practice.

  541. Can you give us one example of where it has really been done outstandingly well in this country?
  (Mr Toombs) Sustainable integrated waste management. We always hesitate because we seem to come up with the same sort of answers, quite often we cite Project Integra in Hampshire. I know there is a lot of work going on in Hampshire at the moment to move to the next stage, through the evolution of their joint waste strategy. Perhaps it would be appropriate for Bob Lisney to say a few words on that.
  (Mr Lisney) The Project Integra has achieved the government target of 25 per cent recovery, that is for a population of 1.5 million and it has kerb-side collections for 85 per cent of the population. It does have 13 local authorities, which is eleven districts and waste collection authorities and two unitaries. The County Council are working together in conjunction with the private sector contractor, the main contractor and other contractors as well. We also said that we would like to think that our partnership is partly in conjunction with the community. It has been very much a decade worth of discussion and engagement in the community and a gradual implementation over that period of time. The total infrastructure will be an integrated waste management system, because that was what was initially planned way back in the early 1990s and will be in place by 2003, it has taken that long to put in place. That should recover 40 per cent material recycling, that includes composting, 45 per cent energy recovery by incineration, and the residual should be taken up with anaerobic digestion and a very small amount to be landfill. The future direction we are taking is to move to a more formalised management arrangement of a joint board to run the organisation, which is now quite mature, leaving a major focus on waste minimisation and recovery. As we get more and more materials from the domestic waste stream we see quite a lot of synergies, when what we can also do as a local authority is not just have a waste disposal authority but through the area of economic development create a wider supply and demand link with the materials generally.

  542. Most of the authorities are talking about up to three per cent growth in waste per year. Presumably Hampshire being so successful is talking about a reduction in the amount of waste generated from house waste.
  (Mr Lisney) The figures for the last twelve months are slightly less than three per cent. We have been experiencing variable changes in the last five years, some of them are as a result of making the access easier from a household waste recycling centre and indeed kerb-side collections. We are getting a lot more information, which is also something that we need in waste management, about the behaviour of people, the different demographics and social mixes, even the physical infrastructure all have a major impact on how waste comes out of that stream. In minimisation terms, it is very difficult to call. We would have to spend a fair amount of time in educational awareness, it is a difficult call and our growth has been less than the country's average growth, but only marginally.

  543. The Local Government Association's written evidence says there is a need for brave national leadership. Could you give me some examples of what such leadership would do?
  (Mr Toombs) When we wrote that we were very mindful of the difficulties that are presented by some of the planning permissions that are required for things like incineration, material for recycling facilities, composting plants and that they all involve a degree of concern to the public, of course, from the point of nuisance or discharge, health effects or general disturbance to the local amenity. We felt that local councillors are placed in a somewhat invidious position in trying to determine where facilities should be placed. We felt that maybe it was appropriate to take, in some ways, a more strategic, co-ordinated view, if you like, across the country of, perhaps, how the distribution of those facilities should take place. It should not be prescribed but there should be some general awareness of where waste arisings were, the nature of the waste and where current reprocessing facilities and waste management facilities existed. We were looking originally for some information to come from the Environment Agency on this. We are helped a bit by the new Strategic Waste Management Assessments, which they will be producing very shortly, which will give us a better idea of waste arising and the facilities available to deal with that.

Mrs Ellman

  544. I am not clear what you are advocating, are you saying that there should be central decisions on planning in these contentious areas?
  (Mr Toombs) I think it would be too much to go that far.

  545. How far are you going?
  (Mr Toombs) What we are really saying is, if we look at incineration, we know it is highly contentious. Different people claim different things. We felt that it would be useful to have some unbiased, if possible, information in the public arena to assist the public to determine whether they agree with, or otherwise, a certain route for waste management. At one stage I believe there was, for instance, some sort of publication that the Department of Environment produced on incineration generally a few years ago, which now has gone out of print. We wonder whether something of that nature might assist the public generally in trying to determine whether, in fact, this is just scare-mongering or whether there is real harm.

  546. Are you talking about information problems, not decision problems.
  (Mr Toombs) Not so much decision.

  547. Just say yes or no. Are you saying a decision from Government or not?
  (Mr Toombs) We are not looking for a decision from Government as such.

Mrs Dunwoody

  548. That is a contradiction. You say that the stress is too great for the local councils. This is not a vote winner, and everyone understands that. Somebody else has to take the decision but you say, we would not expect it to be taken by anybody else. Somewhere along the line there has to be a solution
  (Mr Toombs) What we looking for is an input to the debate, some, as I say, hopefully unbiased information that can be placed—

  549. Do you seriously think that people decide their attitude to incineration is on the basis of the quality of the unbiased information they are given?
  (Mr Toombs) Not necessarily. That does not mean to say—

  550. Being in the local authority a long time you will know it is on the fact they do not want an incinerator.
  (Mr Toombs) That is what we are trying to deal with after all. How do you change those opinions?

  551. We are not saying we ask somebody else at regional level to say, "Nevertheless, because we have told you and explained to you in simple words that this will not be a hazard you now must accept an incinerator".
  (Mr Toombs) I am trying to put things into context—

  552. You have had many years of training in local authority, that will not do. If the local authority does not take the decision on where the incinerator goes, who does?
  (Mr Toombs) Presumably the Inspector, if there is an appeal.

  553. We are assuming that every incinerator will only be decided at considerable cost to the rate payer by a public inquiry?
  (Mr Toombs) Not necessarily. I think there is a route open to us which we should try to pursue, and that is by involving the community much more in the decision-making process.

  554. If they are not influenced by having it explained to them, but still hold to their basic prejudices who takes the decision?
  (Mr Toombs) The local authority in the first instance will take the decision. Of course, as we have heard, if it is highly contentious it may go to appeal. We have heard something about that in terms of the plan for Essex.
  (Mr Easteal) I would like to be more positive.

Chairman

  555. You would like to have an incinerator at the bottom of your garden?
  (Mr Easteal) No, I would not. What I would say is—

  556. I say that half jokingly, is that issue not the serious point, if the leader of the council or the chief executive of the council was to say, "I am quite happy to have an incinerator at the bottom of my garden", then public perception would change.
  (Mr Easteal) I was brought up opposite a gas works when gas works put out rather nasty boiled egg smells. I have had my fill of that. What I was going to say was, I am not advocating incinerators for one moment. After all, the whole process we are going through in Essex, in terms of the high diversion trials, are intended, at least in part to tell the public, "Look can we manage without incineration or not?" I would like to think that this process—if there ever was an incinerator in Essex we are at least four or five years away from the planning of it, let alone the building of it—we are going through would enable the councils, not all of them, to take a sensible decision about it. People are very sophisticated out there and they are not prepared to be bounced into things on incinerators or an awful lot of other things we have to have planning permission for, Chairman.

  557. Do you think in the end the people in Chelmsford could be persuaded to take an incinerator?
  (Mr Easteal) I think the arguments are now being laid out that if that was the end it would certainly get a reasonable hearing. I think it is most unlikely—one deals with appeals all of the time—you would ever get an incinerator agreed without an appeal to the inspectorate. Good heavens, that happens for five houses at the back of somebody's garden. There are inspectorate appeals going on in Chelmsford Civic Centre every week. I cannot believe that something like this would actually be decided in the end without there being an appeal of that kind. Hopefully it would be on the basis that the information is there. There are some places that are more suitable for incinerators than for others. We are in discussions at the moment about one that is certainly within the Borough of Chelmsford.

  Mr Brake: Mr Toombs, if you are short of examples of good practice in relation to Waste Management, can I recommend my own local borough, the London Borough of Sutton, who are on target for a 50 per cent recycling rate, using the alternative weekly collections that Mr Easteal has referred to.

  Mrs Dunwoody: Break for the commercial.

Mr Brake

  558. The 35 million you referred to in terms of capital costs for your programme, where is the bulk of that spending?
  (Mr Easteal) The bulk of it is on vehicles and bins.

  559. It would be the vehicles and bins that are required for the alternative weekly collection. Mr Tuthill, what is your recycling and composting target? What do you expect to achieve on the national target that has been set for your authority?
  (Mr Tuthill) The national target takes on board the recycling done by the districts. I have to say I am not terribly happy with what is being suggested for the targets for different authorities, and how one depends on another and does not reflect the true performance of that authority. What I can say is that the target for Essex is 33 per cent. Obviously it is easier for us to recycle the material that goes through the civic community sites. We have now lifted that dramatically, we are nearly at 60 per cent. We are probably talking about a county-wide average of about 20 per cent, maybe marginally over.


 
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