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

Memorandum by Cory Environmental Limited (IW 32)



  Cory Environmental, a subsidiary of Exel plc, is one of the UK's leading waste management companies. The company is the seventh largest operator of landfills, with current and future sites spread across the country. In addition, we have extensive experience of a comprehensive range of complementary waste management activities, including waste collection, separation and transfer; transportation; recycling, composting and energy recovery.

  For over 100 years the River Thames has been central to Cory's operations. We are now the largest commercial operator on the River.

  The Committee's decision to hold an inquiry into the potential of inland waterways is timely. In recent years, concerns about the environmental impacts of the transportation of all freight, including waste, have become more prevalent. Most concerns centre on the dominance of road transport. It is estimated that between 100 and 130 million tonnes of household, commercial and industrial waste are produced each year in the UK—a figure that is rising by around 3 per cent per annum. Evidence from France suggests that transportation waste may account for as much as one in seven of all HGV movements. It is vital that alternative methods of transportation are developed, and an increased use of inland waterways could play a significant role.

  The Committee has asked, in particular, for views on whether the potential for increasing freight transport on inland waterways can be clearly identified, and the part that it can play in moving towards integrated transport strategies. The Committee also asks whether this is compatible with other important roles of the waterways. Cory Environmental's experience in London gives good examples of both the opportunity for, and benefits of, water transport. It also highlights some of the key difficulties that will need to be overcome if water transport is to play a full part in future.


  Collected waste is delivered to four riverside stations at Cringle Dock in Battersea, at Smugglers' Way in Wandsworth, at Northumberland Wharf in Tower Hamlets and at Walbrook Wharf in the City of London. The waste is then transferred into sealed containers and taken by tug and barge to our landfill site at Mucking in Thurrock. We carry more than 600,000 tonnes of London's waste every year on the River Thames—equivalent to 20 per cent of the capital's household waste. Waste is particularly suitable for river transport as it is high volume but low value, and delivery is not time dependent.

  This lighterage operation removes in the region of 100,000 lorry movements from the capital's roads every year. This makes a significant contribution towards reducing the pollution and congestion caused by road vehicles, and to the sustainable management of London's waste.

  The River Thames is the only inland waterway in the UK carrying significant amounts of containerised waste.


  The Government has stated its support for the continued use of the River Thames for the transportation of waste.

  Waste Strategy 2000, published in May this year stated that: "planners should consider the mode of transport and not just the distance: a longer journey by river or rail may be environmentally preferable to a shorter road journey."

  As far as London is concerned, these sentiments are reinforced by the strategic planning guidance for the River Thames given in RPG3B/9B. And it is clear from planning guidance for the London Mayor that keeping waste on the river should be a high mayoral priority.

  The White Paper A New Deal for Transport published in 1998 set out similar objectives when it stated that: "the growth in freight risks being met at the expense of our environment. This is why we want to reduce the extent to which a healthier environment results in high levels of road traffic growth. We want to see a real growth in the use of rail freight, inland waterways and coastal shipping."

  A major theme of the White Paper is to reduce reliance on road transport, and to integrate transport policy with planning and land use. Conserving and promoting the increased transportation of waste on the country's inland waterways would help the government to meet these objectives.


  Although government statements and planning advice indicate support for transportation of waste by water, in practice this support is not translated into action. The government's waste strategy rightly indicates that waste should be treated as close to the point of arising as possible. However, in many areas—and London is a prime example—there are severe shortages of suitable sites, and waste has to be transported over considerable distances. There is a risk that an inflexible application of the proximity principle could inhibit the transportation of waste by river or canal, particularly when long distances are involved.

  The Mucking landfill is due to close in 2002, although Cory is working to secure its short-term future to provide London with a breathing space in which to develop alternative waste management approaches. Meanwhile, the company is working hard to develop an infrastructure to provide more sustainable waste management (in line with government objectives) and maintain river transport. For example, a recent innovative bid to the Western Riverside Waste Authority includes:

    —  The largest municipal materials recovery facility in the UK, with riparian access;

    —  The most sustained waste minimisation, education and awareness programme ever conducted in the UK;

    —  Guidance and advice to Waste Collection Authorities on optimising collection regimes and contracts for materials recovery;

    —  Focus on market development through participation in ground-breaking projects such as London ReMaDe, which has recently received SRB funding;

    —  Development of the Riverside Resource Recovery facility with riparian access to enable efficient delivery of residual waste by river for the recovery of energy.

  If new riverside waste treatment and disposal facilities are not consented and developed in the next few years, waste currently carried on the river will go onto London's already congested roads, adding significantly to pollution levels. Once this traffic is lost to the river it will be gone forever.

  Although there is much government support at all levels for the continuing use of the river Thames as a key means of transporting waste, it is often not appreciated how fragile the current situation is. If the existing infrastructure falls into even short-term disuse it will be extremely difficult to reverse that situation. There are two main reasons for this.

    —  Firstly, the lighterage assets, (which include transfer stations, tugs, barges and wharves) are estimated to be worth £160 million at current prices. This infrastructure cannot be mothballed and would have to be broken up. The replacement cost would make any future return of waste to the river uneconomic. To remain competitive with road transport, Cory Environmental's lighterage operation relies on economies of scale to offset the capital-intensive nature of the business. Loss of just some of the current volume would result in closure of the entire lighterage operation and lead to the waste being transferred to transportation by road.

    —  Secondly, despite an element of protection through the previous government's safeguarding of a number of key wharves along the River Thames (a policy perpetuated by the present administration, and likely to be continued by the Mayor and GLA), pressure for redevelopment is immense, particularly for the lucrative residential schemes. The economic imperative is often overwhelming, even for those charged with the duty of safeguarding such sites, once they fall out of economic use as freight management facilities.

  Unless urgent action is taken to protect existing riverside facilities and develop new ones, the prospect is that waste will largely be lost to the River Thames by 2002 with enormous adverse consequences.


  How waste is transported is dependent on a number of drivers. These include strategic policy formation (the waste strategy, the white paper on integrated transport and regional planning guidance, for example); development control (whether a planning application is granted or refused); and the awarding of contracts to particular private waste management companies as part of the competitive tendering and best value processes.

  The Government's waste strategy is firmly committed to the principles of proximity and self-sufficiency. The proximity principle holds that all things being equal, it is better to treat or process waste as close as possible to the point of arising. This approach emphasises local responsibility, and also minimises the environmental impact of, for example, transporting waste over long distances. The principle of self-sufficiency supports this, by stating that, where practicable, waste should be treated within the region that produces it.

  However, it is important that these principles are employed flexibly. The environmental costs and benefits may favour transporting wastes over longer distance where this is by less polluting modes such as rail or river (or where it facilitates value recovery rather than disposal). We believe there are many cases where the environmental and economic benefits make it preferable to transport waste by water or rail over longer distances. As we noted above, the reality in London is that if waste is lost to river transportation, it will not be managed more locally, but will simply transfer to road for long-distance movement.

  Recent research undertaken for the Resource Recovery Forum was designed to establish the relative environmental impact of using different modes for transporting waste and the way in which this information can be built into the determination of Best Practicable Environmental Option. Cory Environmental supported this project which could be helpful in assessing the adverse impacts of transporting waste and reducing them by encouraging a shift to the more sustainable modes. We hope this will be a useful tool in facilitating proper, flexible application of the proximity principle.


  Certain types of freight (low value, bulky and non-time sensitive) are ideally suited to transport on water.

  Waste is an excellent example of this and increased water transportation of waste could help to reduce the adverse impacts of lorry movements in congested areas.

  Up until now, cost has been the prime determinant in letting waste contracts and this has put water transport at a disadvantage in all but a few cases (London is the main example).

  The infrastructure necessary is capital intensive and needs to be underpinned by long-term contracts.

  These in turn are dependent upon the availability of riparian sites for waste transfer, treatment and disposal. Rising land values, especially for residential and leisure uses, have increasingly made it difficult to obtain the necessary consents for riparian waste management sites.

  The government therefore must give a clear lead if it really wants more freight (and especially waste) to be transported by water. This could take the form of:

    —  Clear guidance to Waste Disposal Authorities about the importance of taking account of transport impacts in letting contracts, and building in a preference, where it is practical, for water-based schemes;

    —  Increased funding under the Freight Facilities Grant regime for water projects, including a more streamlined process and broadening of the scope of eligibility for projects;

    —  Strong planning policies to safeguard suitable riparian sites and to encourage them to be brought forward for appropriate forms of development.

  Most importantly, the government itself must be seen to be acting on its commitments by affording exceptional weight to water transport in its own decision-making—this could be seen as analogous to the special status given within the planning system to green belt policy.

  Finally, it is important for all involved to remember that the transport process requires both a point of origin and a destination. It is therefore essential that waterway transport corridors are considered in their entirety. There is little point, for example, in safeguarding wharves on one part of a waterway, if in other parts there is no policy or political will to provide riparian access for freight activities. There should be a mechanism within the planning system to deal with this, ensuring for example that sites with appropriate zoning designations (including Special Industrial Uses) are available at both ends of potentially important freight journeys.

September 2000

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