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Mr. Bob Russell: Will the Under-Secretary put on record the fact that incinerators, be they at Rivenhall or Stanway in my constituency, do not dispose simply of waste from Essex, but are required to dispose of waste from London and Kent? If incinerators are so safe, why not construct them at the point where the waste is generated? That is preferable to lorries trundling around the Essex countryside.

Mr. Mullin: As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are plans for incinerators in London; indeed, some already exist there. If he is making the same point as my hon.

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Friend the Member for Braintree--that a lot of the waste disposed of in Essex comes from London--that is incontrovertible. I agree that that is not in line with the proximity principle, to which I shall refer shortly, if I have time. However, I am not willing to pretend--and neither should the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell)--that people in Essex do not create waste, and that they can dispose of it all by the method that is ideologically most suitable. A moment might come when incineration has to be contemplated even for disposing of waste in Essex. It cannot be ruled out, but I emphasise that it is primarily a matter for local decision.

For the first time, the Government will set statutory targets for household waste recycling and composting. Those will require councils on average to double recycling by 2003-04 and to triple it by 2005-06. We have set even higher targets for 2010 and 2015; we will keep them under review and raise them if that should prove practical. We have a lot of ground to make up because we have been somewhat complacent about waste in the past, and we must try to catch up with neighbouring countries, which have taken a more robust approach.

A key driver of those goals is the European landfill directive, which will require substantial changes to the way in which we manage our waste. In the United Kingdom, we currently landfill more than 80 per cent. of our biodegradable municipal waste. The directive will require substantial reductions in municipal waste sent to landfill. If waste production continues to grow at its current rate, it will mean diverting 33 million tonnes of waste from landfill each year by 2020.

The plain fact is that recycling and composting alone will not deliver the rates of diversion necessary to meet the targets in the landfill directive. Some incineration will have to occur; as I said earlier, the precise location and quantity are matters for local authorities. Any increase in incineration should be part of an integrated, sustainable system of waste management. Authorities and the incineration industry need to plan to ensure that expansion in energy from waste does not crowd out recycling.

I accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree that we must not build incinerators that create insatiable appetites, attract waste from many miles away and generate their own reasons for existing. Contracts should allow flexibility and ensure that incineration does not compete with recycling. Incinerator operators should maximise the environmental benefits of their facilities by including combined heat and power where possible. Other countries elsewhere in Europe, most of which have far better records on dealing with waste than we do, also make widespread use of energy from waste by way of incineration.

The national planning guidance on the management of waste is in planning policy guidance note 10, which was published in September 1999. It is intended to assist planning authorities in the preparation of their local plans and the determination of planning applications for waste management facilities. It also provides specific advice on the criteria for the siting of those facilities. In particular, it states the Government's wish that waste management decisions should be based on four principles: the best practicable environmental option for each waste stream, regional self-sufficiency, the proximity principle and a waste hierarchy. The latter comprises, in descending order of merit, reduction; reuse; recovery, including recycling; composting and energy recovery; and disposal.

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In the few remaining minutes, I should touch on the question of London's waste, which is a big problem for Essex. I am conscious of the fact that, because of Essex's proximity to London, about half its landfill waste comes from the capital. The planning guidance for London is based on the waste hierarchy and principles of sustainable development, but it will be replaced by a management strategy shortly to be produced by the Mayor. That will have to take account of the UK's international obligations, including the EC landfill directive, and the national waste strategy, which sets a target of 25 per cent. of London's waste being recycled by 2005.

A draft of the mayor's municipal waste management strategy is due to appear in the new year. There will then be a consultation period before the final strategy appears towards the end of next year. I emphasise that we expect there to be a progressive reduction in the amount of untreated waste exported by London for disposal as alternative waste management facilities are established in London. However, it is unlikely that London will achieve self-sufficiency in the short term and disposal to landfill

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sites outside the capital will therefore continue to play an important role. It is therefore important that neighbouring waste authorities such as Essex and Southend should recognise that there is a continuing need for some landfill sites outside London for treated waste.

I hope that I have said enough to show that the Government take the issue seriously. We are making substantial extra resources available over the next three years to help local authorities to meet challenging targets. I repeat that decisions about whether waste-to-energy facilities should be built, where they should be sited and what size they should be are matters, in the first instance, for local authorities, subject to the criteria that I have outlined.

I look forward to continuing the discussion with the delegation from Essex, which is coming to see me on Thursday. No doubt the issue will not go away, so I fully expect to meet hon. Members representing Essex constituencies here, at some unconscionable hour of the night, to discuss it again.

Question put and agreed to.

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