Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by Viridor (L 123)

1. Summary

1.1 Part of the FTSE 250 Pennon Group, Viridor is one of the UK ’s leading recycling, renewable power and waste management companies . We provid e the full range of recycling and waste services , from glass and plastics reprocessing, anaerobic digestion and energy from waste, to safe and efficient landfill disposal.

1.2 There is a pressing need for further waste recycling and treatment and associated renewable energy infrastructure and capacity across the UK . The bureaucratic nature of the current planning process has certainly played a large part in obstructing progress of vital waste treatment and recycling facilities. Viridor alone has £1 billion of investment ready to make in recycling and renewable energy generation facilities, much of which has been held up in the planning system.

1.3 Our experience is that required facilities, when turned down locally, often gain approval after a lengthy and costly appeal process, which brings additional costs for both local councils and applicants and a delay in required private sector investment. In a time of financial stringency such costs and delays must be avoided.

1.4 With the proposed Localism Bill measures, local communities will be able to have a clear say in their own future. Our role , as experts in waste and resource management, is to communicate the necessity of localism in a national context. By this we mean local communities being able to deal with their waste in an economically and environmentally sustainable way and understanding the need for a modern, efficient network of facilities to support this. However, we need a planning system which correctly distinguishes between local and national issues, and ensures local representatives take required decisions rather than passing them up the line to central government.

1.5 The new planning provisions proposed within the Localism Bill need to deliver the means to deal efficiently with Britain ’s waste that we all produce, in the long term. Our submission addresses the following areas of the Localism Bill, which, if implemented, will potentially have a significant impact on the ability for the recycling and waste industry to provide essential services and infrastructure.

· Abolition of Regional Strategies & Duty to Co-operate

· Community Infrastructure Levy

· Neighbourhood planning

· Pre-application consultation and Pre-Determination Rules

· Local referendums and rights to challenge

2. Abolition of Regional Strateg ies and the ‘Duty to Co-operate’

2.1 The strategic planning framework that regional strategies provided was broader than just housing, covering essential areas such as energy supply and waste management. Without a framework in place t here are real concerns that local authorities will not be able to emulate this strategic thinking under the proposed revised system , leading to a delay in the provision of infrastructure as a result of negative or delayed planning decisions or through the reluctance of infrastructure providers to take the planning risk.

2.2 Viridor is also concerned that the Duty to Co-operate will not be strong enough to deliver the strategic level of planning that is required . Indeed , the resulting form of engagement and co - operation ‘on an on - going basis’ may result in even slow er planning decisions, rather than ensuring that crucial regional and local infrastructure is built.

2.3 Viridor understands the principle concerning the proposed replacement of the Infrastructure Planning Commission and the need for greater scrutiny, but this should take place in conjunction with detailed National Policy Statements on waste treatment and energy recovery plants based on proven, scientific evidence. This w ould free up local planning decision makers to focus on material local factors such as noise and transport , rather than being influenced by un founded questions about health and recycling levels. Viridor terms this as ‘localism in a national context’.

2.4 It is common for communities to object to proposed recycling and waste facilities in general, and in particular to Energy from Waste (EfW) developments, on the grounds that they are worried emissions are unsafe and will cause health problems in the local area. The reality is that such facilities, including EfW, are subject to extremely stringent air quality standards, much higher than those for conventional power stations or other industrial processes. Yet some sections of the public remain distrustful of the information that is currently available to them.

2.5 The Government has undertaken rigorous and transparent scientific and technical evidence which has shown these concerns to be unsubstantiated. This needs to be reflected in national planning guidance. We need to avoid misperceptions on this being used as an excuse for local authorities to force projects into a lengthy appeal process essentially passing the buck to central government and costing all involved significant time and money which cannot be afforded in current conditions.

2.6 Similarly, European countries such as Sweden , Denmark , Germany and the Netherlands have long been seen as leading the environmental agenda and have energy from waste technologies working alongside very high recycling levels. This combined strategy means that landfill usage is extremely low in such countries, unlike the UK and other countries with a lower take-up of such treatment technologies. The message that energy from waste (in all forms) complements recycling should again be reflect ed in national planning guidance, which would, in turn, expedite the planning process.

3. Community Infrastructure Levy

3.1 There is a danger of overlap between such payments and section 106 agreements, leaving businesses potentially being ‘ hit twice when invest ing in developments. The addition of funding on - going infrastructure costs and the ability of individual authorities to set charges also raise risk to business and potentially discourage investment in essential infrastructure. The independent examiner’s decision re garding levy levels should be binding.

4. Neighbourhood planning

4.1 It is unclear how neighbourhood planning will interact with, and recognise the need for planning for essential infrastructure, i.e. how it will interact with the strategic vision for the wider area set by local authorities in their local plans.

4.2 Understandably, c ommunities often have little experience or expertise in identifying wider strategic needs, such as regional or sub-regional infrastructure, or even local utility facilities such as waste and recycling plant s . There is a risk that such neighbourhood plans will exclude anything other than benign or ‘good neighbour’ type development s . The limited and proportionate resources and capacity available to communities also creates a risk of inequality of access and delivery of such plans, resulting potentially in uneven distribution of ‘heavy’ or intensive infrastructure , to the detriment of disadvantaged communities.

5. Pre-application consultation

5.1 As a company with a strong track record in securing consent for recycling, renewable energy and waste facilities, Viridor believes that early, full and open engagement with communities and stakeholders is essential. This should be standard practice. However, it is also important to clarify requirements and standards in these activities in order to avoid poor practice and the domination of unrepresentative minority views . The requirements should not however be too onerous – communities cannot be forced to engage with developers.

5.2 Planning permission for waste management facilities is often blocked by local elected members, who are unprepared to make decisions that they deem could be unpopular with some of their voters. Such decisions are often made arbitrarily without regard for national, or their own waste and planning policies. They are also made despite being supported by local planning experts and approved by the Environment Agency, and following close consultation with local communities and stakeholders. This all leads to unnecessary costs both in terms of money and time, as planning applications o ften requir e resubmissions and appeal before approval.

5.3 It is unclear how the changes to the public consultation process outlined in the B ill could reduce the number of rejected applications and need for appeals for developments that would eventually receive planning permission anyway.

6. Pre-Determination Rules

6.1 It is right and proper for Councillors to take an active part in local decisions. However, it is important that planning decisions are made on sound planning grounds. Whilst Councillors have been voted in to represent their community, they also have a wider public duty to make decisions in the public interest, which whilst sometimes unpopular, will result in the delivery of essential infrastructure.

6.2 Decisions made against planning officer recommendation must be supported by robust evidence that will stand up to independent scrutiny and should only by made after a thorough examination of the detailed information submitted with the planning application and a discussion over the issues of concern with the developer. Viridor welcomes the Bill’s measures to allow elected members to engage more closely with developers on proposals , as this should better ensure a full and balanced view of proposed developments.

7. Local referendums and the Community Right to Challenge

7.1 Viridor sees the purpose of decentralisation and localism as freeing local Government from unnecessary central and regional control, which is intended to empower local people and to enable local communities to have a real say in local growth. But with rights come responsibilities well informed local communities are crucial if we are to create a more efficient planning system and avoid planning functions becoming incoherent and ineffective.

7.2 Viridor agrees that decision making powers should remain with elected local representatives and in principle welcomes local people having more influence over decisions . However, all parties need to be properly informed about issues and concentrate on local factors, basing decisions on sound evidence and effective guidance. Without the co-existence of measures to ensure informed opinion at community / local level, implementation of the local referendums and community right to challenge aspects of the Bill could significantly slow delivery of local investment and essential infrastructure development.

February 2011