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27 Feb 2007 : Column 804

I would hazard a guess that most Londoners have heard of the Mayor, whether favourably or unfavourably, and have a pretty good idea of what he is responsible for and what they can do if they do not like it. I doubt very much, however, whether Londoners could tell us much about the Western Riverside waste authority or the East London waste authority—including the increasing number of Londoners who are very concerned about the climate change agenda, carbon and the contribution of all those services to that agenda.

Mr. Andrew Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): I can tell the House a little about the Western Riverside waste authority—it is a bit of a joke. When it finally attempted a legal challenge to the London borough of Wandsworth’s avoidance of obligations on paying for commercial waste collection, it got into difficulties because officers of the authority were also officers of Wandsworth council. That is a good example of how such parochial arrangements simply do not work.

Ms Buck: I agree with my hon. Friend.

The argument is fundamentally not about bureaucratic neatness, but about what is best placed to deliver on the considerable challenges of truly sustainable waste management in our capital city. The Government say that local authorities in London are on track to reduce their landfill use, and are not therefore at risk of incurring the fines that would apply if they do not meet their objectives. That is prayed in aid in arguing the need for the significant, radical change of a single waste authority. I do not accept such arguments.

London has two large-scale waste incineration plants, which manage 20 per cent. of London’s waste between them. That is significantly more than any other region, which has led to false confidence in London’s ability to meet landfill targets, particularly after 2010. The real tipping point with landfill targets will come between 2010 and 2013, but many London authorities have neither plans nor procurements to ensure that an infrastructure will be in place to cope with that. The GLA estimates that four fifths of London authorities are at high or medium risk of not meeting their landfill obligations, and even the construction of the Belvedere incineration plant will not alter that.

Currently, about two thirds of London’s waste is buried in landfill sites, and most is taken to sites in the surrounding counties. The Mayor has set a target that London should be 80 per cent. self-sufficient in managing its municipal waste by 2020, and by that date London will need four times its existing recycling capacity and three times its existing waste treatment capacity. While the Government are concerned in the short term about changing governance arrangements and the risk of failing to deliver on early landfill directive targets, the real challenge is in the medium to long term, when estimated fines for landfill could rise to £35 million in 2010, £139 million in 2013 and £232 million by 2020.

Both the amount of landfill and the risk of incurring fines could be reduced in several ways. First and foremost among those is investment in recycling and
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new technologies. At present, London incinerates 20 per cent. of its waste, and that is set to rise to 38 per cent.—a substantial and unacceptable proportion of the UK total. Incineration can drive out the scope both for new technologies such as gasification and pyrolysis and for recycling. Those new technologies are at the cutting edge of alternatives to landfill and incineration, and have a number of beneficial side products, which among other things permit the creation of heat and energy and provide scope to produce hydrogen—one of the key fuels of the future. Clearly, on the basis of current developments, the scope for investing in new technologies and plants to boost recycling is at risk of being driven out by the emphasis on incineration.

Recycling as it stands is unsatisfactory and London’s performance is poor. Some London boroughs are performing well, as we have discussed, and others are not. Overall however, London is the poorest performing region for recycling of household and municipal waste, with just 21 per cent. of household waste recycled, as against the English average of 27 per cent. Just one London borough is in the upper quartile of local authorities on their recycling performance and 18 London authorities are in the lower quartile.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I hope that I may be allowed to make some comments later about the strategic point, but what would the hon. Lady say to local authorities such as mine, which not only have a much improved record, but have well advanced plans—blessed by the Government before the Bill came before the House, and with millions of pounds committed—to do exactly all the good things that she has described, want to do them, can deliver, and can set the way for other authorities to do the same?

Ms Buck: I say good. Well-performing authorities have nothing to fear and everything to gain from being located in a broader strategic context. I throw this question back at the hon. Gentleman. What would he say to Londoners in or concerned about the 18 London authorities that are performing below the average, yet which have no obvious incentive to improve their performance under the current arrangements or the Government’s proposals? We all have a stake in London’s improvement, whether we are concerned about it from a value-for-money or an environmental perspective.

Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Buck: If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I shall not. I have taken a lot of interventions and I am coming close to the end of my comments.

My final point is on the arguments about the risks and benefits of introducing a single waste disposal authority. It is a truism that any major change represents both a threat and an opportunity at the same time. The question is always where the balance between the two lies. It is self-evident that if we do not change anything there will be no transitional costs. However, that is not an argument for not changing
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arrangements that are clearly failing. I have tried to demonstrate that London now needs to shift from first gear into fifth gear when it comes to waste. My fear is that the current system is incapable of getting beyond second. Do we stick with the current system, brace ourselves and hope for the best, or do we try to do better?

Research undertaken by the GLA has estimated that the set-up and transition costs of a single waste disposal authority would be between £3 million and £4 million over two or three years, and that that would broadly balance out against increased administrative overheads. That is of course an estimate, and the actual cost would invariably prove to be more, but it gives an order of magnitude of what we are talking about. Research has also estimated that the savings on capital costs with a single waste disposal authority could be as high as £675 million, with annual savings on operational costs of as high as £71 million. That gives an impression of what is at stake.

I worry that by focusing so much on short-term and transitional risks the Government have taken their eye off the real threat. That threat is that our capital city will go into the next decade with a waste management system and waste management performance more befitting of the 19th century than the 21st century. We have an opportunity to give London a sustainable, co-ordinated, long-term solution, in the form of a single waste disposal authority. I still hope that the Government will reconsider their position.

Mr. Evennett: I shall make just a few comments against the hon. Lady’s new clause, which would not be in the best interests of London as a whole or my borough of Bexley in particular. We on the Conservative Benches believe in local people making local decisions. Giving more power to the centre or to the Mayor is quite the reverse of that, and causes us palpitations.

Dr. Starkey: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Evennett: No. I have only just started and I would like to make a few points first.

We have listened to the debate with interest. Bexley has been tremendously successful in waste and recycling over many years. That success has been based on the integration of collection and disposal in one authority. My fear is that setting up a single waste authority would remove that disposal function from the council, thereby making it less effective for the people of our borough.

There are many flaws in the new clause and the arguments that the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) put forward. The timing of the proposal, so close to the first landfill directive target year of 2009-10, would delay progress towards reaching recycling targets and removing waste from landfill, because it would introduce uncertainty into the management of waste in London. I accept that many boroughs and parts of London are not meeting targets or doing as good a job as Bexley; they should therefore look at Bexley and learn from that example, so that they can emulate that success. Establishing a bureaucratic overarching system, as the hon. Lady wants to do, would achieve the reverse effect. The
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centralising of waste disposal would reduce the requirement for communities to take responsibility for their waste, as set out in the revised “Waste Strategy 2000” and planning policy statement 10, entitled “Planning for Sustainable Waste Management”.

5 pm

Under such a scheme, the cost to Bexley is likely to be significantly more than if the present system remained unchanged or was made to work more effectively. The new clause does not set out how a single waste authority would work in co-operation and partnership with the boroughs; rather, it requests additional powers of direction. Of course we want boroughs to co-operate, and more recycling and waste disposal, but this is not the way forward. The “need” case as set out in this proposal is based on old or flawed data. We in Bexley would lose control of Foots Cray and Thames Road re-use and recycling centres, which would disrupt the council’s recycling and composting operations.

Neither we in Bexley nor the Mayor are in favour of the waste energy incinerator in Belvedere that the Government have thrust on us. Local people and experts—and even the Mayor of London—have spoken out on this issue, yet the Government are imposing the incinerator. We fear that if the new clause is accepted and we have such an overarching authority, Bexley will be disadvantaged.

Mr. Slaughter: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned the incinerator. I suppose that I should come clean and thank him for incinerating my rubbish, because it is west London’s rubbish that is floated down to him. I am not quite sure why he is putting the blame on the Government, and why he is so keen to say that the Mayor of London is wrong, given that he and the Mayor seem to be bedfellows on this issue.

Mr. Evennett: Yes, on this issue we are. Bexley already has its own incinerator to deal with its own rubbish. We feel that Bexley should not be imposed on by the hon. Gentleman’s borough and other parts of London; they should be doing the job themselves. The Mayor is against this incinerator on environmental and other grounds, and we share his view. However, the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North would give power to the Mayor and the centre, thereby taking away local democracy and local decision making. Indeed, the Government have done that by imposing an incinerator on us. We do not want any more such impositions, which is why I am against the new clause. It would not be in the long-term interests of recycling or of Bexley.

Dr. Starkey: Since I was not allowed to intervene on the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett), perhaps I might start with the point that I was going to make. I was interested to hear him say that local people should be taking local decisions; that is precisely what my constituents are complaining about. London residents are taking decisions and dumping their rubbish on my constituents, so slogans such as the hon. Gentleman has been using can just as easily be used to the opposite effect.

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Although this may appear to be a London issue, I am speaking in this debate because, as I have just said, it is not entirely that; it has wider effects, and does affect my Milton Keynes constituency. I was extremely surprised to discover in the answer to a number of recent written questions that Environment Agency records show that more than 15,000 tonnes of London waste have been disposed of in the six months between April and September 2006 at the Newton Longville landfill, in my constituency. At the south-east regional level, there are plans to increase the amount of London waste disposed of in my constituency. That is widely opposed in my constituency, and I support that opposition.

In responding to one of my written parliamentary questions, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs pointed out that the London Mayor does indeed aim for London to be 85 per cent. self-sufficient in waste management by 2020. That has unleashed a rather interesting correspondence between the Mayor and the Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare, which has helpfully been copied to me. The Mayor pointed out that although he does indeed have a duty to produce a spatial development strategy, the boroughs are not delivering that strategy and he has no power to make them do it. As a consequence, two thirds of the municipal waste of London boroughs goes to landfill in surrounding areas, including in my constituency. The Government have responded by saying that they are proposing new powers for the London Mayor that will deal with that problem, but they will do nothing of the sort.

I welcome the fact that some new powers will be given to the London Mayor, but they will not be sufficient. He will not have any power to provide additional waste capacity within London, and that is obviously essential if London is to stop exporting its problems and dumping them on someone else. He also has no power to control how or where London’s waste is disposed of.

There is another, peripheral, problem that I have not got to the bottom of yet, but I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will elucidate it for me in further correspondence. That problem is how some London boroughs appear to be shuffling off their responsibility for municipal waste by some devious privatising method, which means that although the waste is still coming from the commercial stream, it is no longer their responsibility. I suspect that more of that will end up in landfills in surrounding areas, thus visiting the problem on other people.

I strongly support the new clause proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck). It is essential that London get to grips with its waste problems; it must deal with them itself and stop exporting them to other people. I understand the arguments about economies of scale, and I fully accept that it is much easier to recycle waste in a dispersed urban environment such as Milton Keynes, where most of the housing is modern and well designed, than in London boroughs—especially inner London boroughs—which have many space constraints. However, that is an argument in favour of a London-wide policy. Inner London boroughs that do not really have the ability to solve the
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problem would then be part of a strategic London-wide plan that could address the problem overall.

I support my hon. Friend on behalf of my constituents who feel strongly about the issue. I urge the Government to consider giving the Mayor powers for a single waste disposal authority, because my constituents and others outside London should not be faced with picking up the environmental consequences of the inability of most London boroughs to deal with their own rubbish within London.

Robert Neill: The hon. Lady talks about the failure of most London boroughs. If she looks at the figures for London councils, she will see that it is false to compare region with region, as the hon. Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) did. Instead, London, as a city, should be compared with other cities. London boroughs, by and large, score better than most metropolitan districts on recycling and waste disposal. We need to be careful not to repeat false arguments and canards that are unfair to London boroughs.

Dr. Starkey: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was in his place at the beginning of the debate, when the excellent performance of one or two London boroughs—and the extremely poor performance of many others—was discussed. Like most MPs, I live in London during the week, so I know as a consumer—or as a non-consumer, depending on which way one looks at it—the problems here. Recycling is very poor in London, and the hon. Gentleman’s remarks do not amount to a sufficient excuse. We are talking about the London Mayor and the way in which London is exporting its problems to surrounding areas, so it is not relevant to talk about other cities. As far as I know, Milton Keynes does not receive waste from other metropolitan areas, although if it does I will attempt to deal with those authorities as well.

I do not think that London should be exporting its waste, and I would be interested to know whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that it is all right for London to export its problems elsewhere and shuffle off its responsibility. That is not a responsible approach, and I suggest that his Conservative colleague who represents the other half of Milton Keynes would not be keen to agree with him.

Robert Neill: Will the hon. Lady give way again?

Dr. Starkey: I am happy to do so, although I had actually finished my remarks when the hon. Gentleman intervened the first time. I shall think of something else to say.

Robert Neill: I do not want to encourage the hon. Lady unduly, but I was trying to make sure that she did not make a false point again. She knows full well that I am not suggesting that London should be encouraged to export its waste; no responsible person would do that. I am simply saying that a constructive debate requires us to be fair and to make proper comparisons. Many of our great cities have problems getting rid of waste which, although it may not go to Milton Keynes,
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has to go somewhere else. Bexley and my own borough of Bromley have very high recycling rates, so singling out the London boroughs for blame is unfair. It also undermines the hon. Lady’s argument.

Dr. Starkey: I repeat that if the hon. Gentleman had had the courtesy to be here for the start of the debate, he would have heard me, and my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North, speak glowingly about Bexley—although we also noted that, unfortunately, it serves as an outlier for the other London boroughs. The data show that Bexley ranks 36th of all English authorities, and that is excellent, but the other London boroughs range from 131st to 393rd—that is, the worst. Most of them are well below 300th in that list, and with that I rest my case.

Mr. Mark Field: The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) made some extremely heartfelt comments, and it is possible that I would take a similar approach if I represented a seat in the home counties. In our defence, it should be said that we in London have the country’s noisiest and most polluting airport, which is now to have a third runway. I suspect that many of the hon. Lady’s constituents use Heathrow when they fly off on their overseas holidays.

I was brought up not too far away from the constituency of the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West, and there were great battles in the early 1970s about the proposal for a new airport at Wing. That did not get built, and I am sure that many of her constituents were very much opposed to the proposal, just as they oppose a second runway at Stansted. To a certain extent, such things have a tendency to balance out.

I turn now to the main subject of my speech. It is great to be a sparring partner for the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), my next-door neighbour and colleague in Westminster. I suspect that, not for the first time, I shall support her Government rather than her amendment, but that is the way of politics. She made a heartfelt speech earlier, but there is a difference of philosophy between us.

Opposition Members believe that initiatives such as the one that we are discussing should work from the bottom up—that is, that they should operate at a very local level. Recycling is a personal responsibility, and I recycle bottles, plastics and newspapers two or three times a week. For me it is relatively easy, as the nearest recycling point is only 50 yd away from my apartment.

We must encourage people to take responsibility for their own lives, and recycling is an important thing to do. Therefore, in philosophical terms, it makes sense to focus on what happens at the local level in London’s 33 boroughs. I fear that the top-down approach exemplified by setting up a single waste authority would leave very little responsibility in the hands of individuals or local boroughs, and that it would not be an appropriate solution for the future.

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