Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fifth Report



  1.  The Regional Technical Advisory Body (RTAB) of the North West Regional Assembly has been asked to give oral evidence about the role of RTAB's in the context of the delivery of the National Waste Strategy. RTAB's are new emerging bodies—prescribed in PPG10. Their precise roles, operations and outcomes in influencing sustainable waste management are still very much in the making. The work of the North West RTAB, whilst not wholly representative of all RTAB's, is believed to be indicative of the role and potential of most RTAB's, their problems and the issues facing them are also believed to be similar. In order that RTAB's may operate in a more consistent manner, the DETR has recently convened a National Forum of RTAB's and this will hold its first meeting early in the new year. It is anticipated this will provide for the exchange of experiences, ideas and best practice.

  2.  Waste management has long been recognised as an important regional issue in the North West. The establishment of the North West Regional Association in 1993, predecessor to the current Regional Assembly (and Regional Planning Body (RPB)), saw the formation of an elected local authority member waste management group, supported by an officer group. One of the terms of reference of the officer group was "to prepare and regularly update an overview of the needs of the region for waste management facilities and to assess whether provision is adequate and what future requirements are". This was in effect a request to prepare a regional waste strategy. The officer group has varied in size and compilation over the years but in November 1999, following the publication of PPG10; the RTAB was formally established by the Assembly. The reporting mechanism for the RTAB to the Assembly is through its Key Priority Group on Planning, Transport and the Environment. This is made up of elected representatives from some of the constituent local authorities and various partners and stakeholders in the region, including businesses, academea and the voluntary sector—representing the economic, social and environmental interests of the region.

  3.  The RTAB is composed of representatives from waste planning authorities, waste disposal authorities, waste collection authorities, the waste management industry, the Environment Agency, the Government Office for the Region, the Regional Planning Guidance Team and the Countryside Agency. It comprises of 16 people and complies with the guidelines in PPG10.

  4.  The RTAB's terms of reference are taken from PPG10 annex B. The same group of people also act as a Waste Steering Group for the Assembly and advise on other waste matters. A distinction needs to be drawn between these two separate functions.

  5.  The terms of reference under PPG10 require all RTAB's to produce in effect a Technical Report for the RPB, which should advise on the likely demand for regional waste management and disposal. This information should be published, consulted on and regularly monitored and reviewed. The production of the Technical report in the North West is very much a pre-cursor to a Regional Waste Strategy, which will comment in more detail on the number, type and location of facilities required over the next 20 years.

  6.  Progress on a North West Regional Technical Report and Waste Strategy has been a complicated and time consuming area of work which has been delayed by the need to obtain base-line information, the need to take account of the developing National Waste Strategy and the EU Landfill Directive and the lack of full-time officer resources. It is understood that other Regional RTAB's are in a similar position.

  7.  Initial work has concentrated on municipal waste where good base data was available. The development of a model by the Environment Agency has allowed an assessment to be made of the impact of various future waste management options and some interim conclusions to be reached. These helped inform the development of waste policies in the North West Regional Planning Guidance (Draft RPG published in July 2000) though these could not however, be regarded as a full Regional Waste Strategy.

  8.  Work has continued on compiling information on commercial and industrial wastes with the availability of information via the emerging Strategic Waste Management Assessments from the Environment Agency. The RTAB's involvement with a DETR Research Project on Sustainable Waste Management will help in the identification of the Best Practicable Environmental Option (BPEO) for the Region. It is hoped to complete the RTAB technical report by spring 2001.



  9.  The National Waste Strategy expects Waste Planning Authorities to implement planning policy guidance fully and quickly—PPG's 10 and 11—together with any relevant Regional Planning Guidance. Progress so far has been slow and while there have been a number of factors causing this the lack of full time staff has been a major one. None of the RTAB members work full time on this work. All are employed full time by other organisations and have other jobs to do. Inevitably the time that they can give to RTAB work is limited and depends on the demands of their parent organisations. This is also believed to be a problem with other RTAB's. However, in the last year the Environment Agency, has provided invaluable assistance and has more recently seconded an officer to work part time on the project and this has allowed more rapid progress to be made. There will however, be a need for effective long-term monitoring and review of the technical data and the databases on which they are founded. There is therefore a resource demand for some dedicated full-time support for the RTAB which the Regional Chamber is unable to fund.

  10.  PPG 10 expects that the Government will be able to compare waste strategies for each region to ensure that, together, they will meet expected national requirements. How this will be achieved is not clear and it will be essential for RTAB's to receive guidance as soon as possible to ensure consistency in the preparation of reports and strategies consistent with the objectives of the National Strategy.

Relationship to Regional Planning Body

  11.  The production of the RTAB technical report is not the end of the process but just a stage. The RPB needs to carry out widespread consultation on the report and having taken into account the comments made, decide on a Regional Waste Strategy. This arms length approach to the RTAB is not particularly helpful and it might make more sense for the RTAB to carry out consultation as part of its work.

Powers of the Regional Planning Body

  12.  The RPB has no statutory powers. It is an informal collection of Local Authorities and other bodies that has only limited powers over its members. The implementation of any agreed Regional Waste Strategy could at present only be brought about via Regional Planning Guidance and persuasion. Therefore the RTAB's technical guidance is informing waste planning from the top down, whereas the National Waste Strategy is driving from the bottom up through Waste Disposal Authorities and Waste Collection Authorities.

Regional Planning Guidance

  13.  RPG is prepared in draft form by the RPB. This is then subject to an "Examination in Public" before being issued by the Secretary of State. Any specific waste management policies would need to be developed through the many Structure, Unitary and Waste Local Plans in the region. This will inevitably be a slow process and will take a number of years.

Development of New Facilities

  14.  Any local planning applications for new waste management facilities would be determined in accordance with the relevant local development plan. For municipal waste, changing waste management practices will be brought about by decisions made by the numerous waste collection and disposal authorities. These are often made with little or no reference to planning policies. The privatisation of municipal waste disposal companies in the 90s has not helped in this respect.

Identification of BPEO

  15.  The Government advises that future waste management decisions should be based on consideration of the BEPO. This is a complicated and difficult task. The North West RTAB is currently working with consultants for the DETRs research project: "Planning for Sustainable Waste Management." The overall aim of the study is to identify best practice for use by RTABs and Waste Planning authorities in identifying and assessing factors to be taken into account in deciding on sustainable waste planning options, having regard to the legislative and policy context for waste planning when translated into RPG or Development Plans. The preferred option would form the basis of the overall planning strategy. The result would hopefully be a "planning-led" strategy, rather than one influenced primarily by the aspirations of industry and individual local authority waste disposal contracts.

  16.  We believe that the DETR has chosen the North West Region as a case study area for the research project because amongst other reasons:

    —  The NW RTAB is one of the most advanced in its work.

    —  The region has a good mix of urban and rural areas.

    —  The region has a high dependence on landfill and a relatively low level of recycling.

  17.  Weighing up the various factors involved in determining BEPO inevitably requires values to be placed on their relative merits. There is a strong argument that this can only be done either through the political process or by involving the public. The RTAB is unable to do this under the current reporting process.

  18.  The region represents a sensible scale to plan strategically for waste and the North West RTAB is demonstrating that this can be achieved. The problems lie in the lack of resources available to RTABs and the difficulties in implementing any regional strategy decided upon due to the limited powers available to Regional Planning Bodies.

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