Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Chemical Industries Association (E19(a))

  The evidence provided by the Shanks Group during the subsequent session demonstrated the capability of the waste management industry to provide alternative disposal routes to landfill. That capability, however, is not in place and it will be some time before the necessary investments are made and the new facilities come on-stream. I myself said that I was confident that, subject to planning restraints, market forces would prevail to ensure that disposal capacity was available to deal with the supply of hazardous waste. Our concern is that there will be a short-term problem of lack of non-landfill disposal capacity.

  In its written evidence, the CBI noted (paragraph 9) the Environment Agency estimate that 2.5 million tonnes per annum of hazardous waste would be diverted from landfill as a result of the implementation of the Landfill Directive. To set against that, the current total high temperature incineration capacity in the waste management industry is some 0.1 million tonnes per annum.

  Mr Tipping asked for further information and examples on the Environment Agency's efficiency in dealing with applications from operators.

  The Agency's own tables of its performance against the standards of its Customer Charter show that in 2000-01:

    —  93 per cent of applications for an Integrated Pollution Control consent were answered on time.

    —  83 per cent of applications for a waste management licence were answered in time.

  For both types of application the standard is a decision within four months of receipt of the application, although, for complex applications, a longer time may be agreed at the time of application.

  There are complicating factors which need to be taken into account: delays can occur because of factors outside the Agency's control (eg lack of planning permission); conversely, the Agency can issue a notice requiring further information ("Schedule 4" questions, referring to the Schedule to the PPC Regulations) and the time spent in asking and answering the further questions is not taken into account in the four month period, ie the clock stops.

  The Annex is an example provided by Thomas Swan & Co. which demonstrates the delays which can arise.

  Nuclear sites have a particular problem in gaining new authorisations under the relevant legislation (Radioactive Substances Act). The Act specifies a period of four months as a prescribed period of determination, which is similar to the legislation for non-radioactive discharges, eg IPC and PPC. However, nuclear sites are excluded from the four month timescale leaving the determination periods open-ended, with the consequence that there may have been unduly onerous delays of up to several years experienced within the nuclear industry. This is a particular problem where new plant operations are delayed, eg the new MOX plant at Sellafield, or where flexibility is required to meet market changes or implement reorganisation of the industry or individual organisations.

  It also needs to be recognised that there are several stakeholders involved and that the Agency is not in sole charge of the timescales for determination of a new nuclear authorisation. In particular, the issue of "justification" has been contentious, and accountability for this aspect has now been remitted to HMG (except in Scotland). Additionally, the approval of new authorisations has often been held up by a final review by the DEFRA Minister. Nonetheless, there is concern that the overall process is both lengthy and indeterminate, ie the timescale cannot be predicted, giving rise to considerable business uncertainty.

Doug Rodger

Director, Responsible Care and HSE Policy

June 2002

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