Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I point out to the House that there is a time limitation, so it would be helpful if everyone who seeks to catch my eye bears their colleagues in mind and tries to keep their remarks reasonably concise.

8.23 pm

Sue Doughty (Guildford): I very much congratulate the Select Committee on its work in producing the report. During the run-up to the election and subsequently, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) pointed out, many of its recommendations were extremely helpful to people who were considering the development of alternative strategies for sustainable waste management.

Last week, a planning meeting was held in Surrey to examine proposals for three incinerators—one of which was for Guildford—and the Select Committee report was cited most constructively. We all found it helpful.

We are looking for a sustainable waste management strategy—indeed, at present, we are looking for any waste management strategy at all. During the past few years, report after report has been issued, after which the Select Committee report was a breath of fresh air. There was even a waste summit, but we are getting no further. We want firm guidance from the Government and a deliverable waste plan, rather than words over which people argue. There was discussion earlier about whether we should refer to incinerators as energy from waste. Those little words that creep in when we try to justify what is happening are important to people.

Our approach in Guildford to incinerator proposals is not a case of nimbyism; in fact, I am very pleased to say that when I was approached by a neighbouring Surrey Member asking whether we would agree to send our waste to an incinerator just outside the area, I had to say, "No; Guildford does not want to incinerate waste. We want instead to develop a sustainable waste strategy in which all the feasible options are considered, after which

11 Dec 2001 : Column 788

we shall decide what to do with the final waste element." Whatever happens, the people in Guildford are absolutely determined that the solution has to be sustainable and pose minimal health risks, about which there has been much concern.

I know that I speak for other hon. Members when I say that constituents who would have to work near incinerators, or send their children to school near them, are very deeply worried about proposals to build incinerators. Those worries are shared by those who own houses near incinerators. Although the Guildford housing market is desperately overheated, parts of it have declined because of the issue. It has happened in a part of Guildford that is not affluent, where a large percentage of household income is used to buy a house. It has been heartbreaking to see people in the area unable to move because they cannot sell their property for anything like the amount they paid for it. We have to resolve that issue and make clear our intentions.

When we talk about recycling, we are really talking about materials recovery, which is a term that I much prefer. Industry wants more materials recovery, as should we all, because that is the sustainable way of approaching the issue. I hope that, in their planning, the Government will help local authorities to agree a standard measurement for recycling. Does local recycling include deposits at local supermarket facilities, or only at local authority facilities? The waste is all produced in one local authority, and we have to address the various measurement issues. I know that councils will be very pleased to see a consistent method of measurement.

There are difficulties also in distinguishing between doorstep recycling and recycling in materials reclamation facilities, and in dealing with contaminated recyclables as opposed to clean ones. We want to set ourselves recyclables targets, but to do that we have to be able to measure them. We want not only high-quality doorstep recycling but much greater investment in alternative sustainable ways of handling waste, such as composting. Much more needs to be done on municipal recycling.

We have to determine how local government can best use the available funding to develop materials recovery and composting streams and facilities. I realise that we have been bandying about figures, and that earlier in the debate one figure was misheard, thereby producing another one. However, research commissioned jointly by Friends of the Earth, Waste Watch and Biffa estimates that £17 per household would cover the initial transition and implementation costs of an effective recycling and composting service. However, we have to find the money for the initial investment.

One deep disappointment is that only very modest annual increases to the landfill tax, which seems to be a good thing, are being proposed. Indeed, the Environmental Services Association is one of the few industry groups ever to have said, "Please increase tax and help us to invest in materials recovery. We believe that the impact of an increase on local government and on commerce will be minimal." Liberal Democrat Members would also like the rate of those tax increases to be accelerated in the next few years. If we are taxing waste management technologies that we do not like, should we not be thinking about an incinerator tax? The Select Committee report mentions such a tax.

11 Dec 2001 : Column 789

In the meantime, we should develop a third approach that involves composting and materials recovery so that we are not presuming in favour of incineration at the cost of landfill. Local authorities are still doing that. Those fighting the proposals are still working with people who want proven technologies. No local authority will take risks when it is making recommendations about this or that new technology. Local authorities have a legal responsibility and they want reliable solutions. However, we need investment to help bring those solutions to the point at which they will be right for local authorities.

Local residents should not be writing their own handbooks about how to achieve zero waste because local government does not have the solutions, and the structure within which they are working is not sufficiently good. Yet so many of the good recycling activities in London, which have high levels of recyclables, are community led. Although we are all pleased about that, we should be delivering solutions, through local government, possibly in partnership with other providers. Local government need these tools; it should not be left to private individuals and protest groups to solve these problems for the Government.

We need to look at waste management in the farming sector. Farmers have to bear the cost of disposing of materials on their land, which is why we must do all we can to discourage fly tipping. Where fly tipping occurs on the county's land, the council is at least obliged to take the waste away even if the farmer picks up the cost. I do not condone the amount of money that local authorities have to pay for this service. Farmers often have to pay for the removal of several tonnes of tyres and builders' rubble. More than a quarter of farmers have seen a significant increase in fly tipping this year. We need to ensure that solving urban problems does not lead to rural difficulties. That is most important when we look at what can be done to help the rural community. The days when farmers had a lot of money to spare are long gone, and the problem is on our doorstep.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): I put it to the hon. Lady that fly tipping in rural areas is not, as she suggests, predominantly the responsibility of the urban population. My constituency is very rural in parts, and in some cases the villages surrounding the agricultural areas contribute to the increase in fly tipping, possibly as a response to the increase in landfill tax without adequate recycling opportunities.

Sue Doughty: I thank the hon. Gentleman—that was a useful piece of information. There is a mixture of urban and rural in my constituency, with fields close to the edge of town, but circumstances may vary in different constituencies.

Two years ago, a Tidy Britain survey on the impact of the landfill tax found that most fly-tipped material was of local origin and that 57 per cent. was household or garden waste. People drove their cars to tip that waste on to somebody else's property. Building trade waste amounted to 21 per cent., with cars or tyres at 9 per cent. We all know that that figure will rise rapidly. Waste on verges amounted to 28 per cent.; 28 per cent. was on private land; and, sadly, 12 per cent. went into rivers. We need to consider the needs of the rural economy in managing waste.

11 Dec 2001 : Column 790

We are looking for a sustainable waste strategy. The Select Committee report goes a long way to pointing the way forward. However, we need a context in which that can be delivered by local government, the best companies and community groups, and we are looking to the Government to take the lead.

8.34 pm

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): We cannot ignore waste management because the issue simply will not go away; it is increasing in magnitude. It is unfortunate that municipal waste in the United Kingdom is increasing by between 4 and 5 per cent. a year. Across the country, there are closed historical landfill sites that remain ticking timebombs. It is no longer like that because we now have good and improving waste management practice, but the United Kingdom is far too dependent on landfill, with 81 per cent. of waste going to landfill sites, and it is important to view that in a European context. In Denmark and Holland, just 12 per cent. of waste goes to landfill sites, and the figure is 50 per cent. in France.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) stressed very strongly the importance of waste minimisation, recycling and composting, but the time has now come to convert the rhetoric into reality. We in the United Kingdom do very badly on recycling and composting, with the figure at just 11 per cent., compared with Denmark on 30 per cent. and Holland on 40 per cent. It is important to note that, while waste is increasing in the United Kingdom, firm political leadership has led to a reduction in waste in Germany, Denmark and Sweden.

We must move away from landfill as quickly as possible. Of course, the new EU waste directive will enable us to do that, backed by the local authority targets, but there are other pressures. All over the country, as the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) said, complaints are made about landfill sites. There are problems with local authorities gaining new consents for landfill sites. For example, Nottinghamshire county council has been striving to open the Bentink void for five years, but the planning process is still not complete and engineering work remains to be done. I suspect that another five years will pass before that sites opens.

It is important to note that any planning application connected with waste meets opposition—whether we are talking about commercial composting sites, such as that mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish, or waste recycling centres. To establish a proper infrastructure in Nottinghamshire, two waste recycling centres will be needed by 2005. Even today, there is no clear idea where those sites should be and the planning process has not even started.

Mass incineration is universally abhorred, and quite rightly so. Within the next day or two, the Government will produce a Green Paper on a new planning process. It is important that that process enables local people to raise objections, and their objections are paramount. We must have a new planning system that is swifter at delivery than the one we have at present.

Next Section

IndexHome Page