Abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies: a planning vacuum? - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

Written evidence from the Environmental Services Association (ESA) (ARSS 88)

1.    ESA is the sectoral trade association for the United Kingdom's regulated waste and secondary resource management industry, a sector contributing £9 billion per annum to GDP. Our Members recover more of the value contained in the UK's waste—for example, household recycling has quintupled in the last decade—whilst protecting the environment and human health.

2.    An effective and efficient planning process is required to achieve greater economic and environmental sustainability and to enable the UK to meet its legal duties resulting from EU laws on waste management, which in practice requires more recycling of materials and recovery of energy from waste.

3.    Defra predicts that £11 billion investment in new waste management capacity is needed by 2020 to comply with the relevant EU laws predating the 2008 Waste Framework Directive, a law which may necessitate even more investment.

4.    Obtaining planning permission remains the single biggest barrier to the timely delivery of new waste management infrastructure. Of the 13 decisions taken by local authorities on ESA Members' energy from waste (EfW) planning applications since 2008, 10 have been refused consent: eight of those refusals were against the recommendations of planning officers.

5.    The thresholds of the Planning Act are set too high to offer positive benefits for most applications submitted by ESA's Members: none of the applications above would have been large enough to benefit from determination by the proposed Major Infrastructure Unit. In the absence of a robust strategic planning policy framework, which guides the local decision making process, the Government is unlikely to reverse the prevailing trend of "planning by appeal".


6.    It is perhaps symptomatic of difficulties faced by our sector that the Select Committee's decision to initiate an inquiry on the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies focuses on the implications for housing allocations.

7.    Regional Spatial Strategies provide direction and context on the urgent need for new waste management facilities and apportion the tonnages of municipal and commercial and industrial wastes that should be planned for, on an annual basis, by each individual planning authority. Planning authorities are therefore required to produce development plans which identify sites capable of managing the amount and types of waste specified within the Regional Spatial Strategy.

8.    The apportionment figures are a key consideration when testing submitted development plans. Regional apportionment also provides a context for the setting of recycling targets, identifying shortfalls in treatment capacity and driving investment in new facilities for the treatment and recovery of waste diverted from landfill.

9.    The broad locations of sites suitable for (sub-)regionally significant waste management infrastructure (eg hazardous waste facilities) are identified in Regional Spatial Strategies: a strategic planning function that local planning authorities would likely lack the resources or the political will to perform.


10.  It would be helpful if the Government, as a matter of urgency, clarifies how it intends to fill the policy vacuum created by the abolition of the Regional Spatial Strategies. The dynamics of waste planning differ from regional housing allocations, and whilst the preparation and adoption of Regional Spatial Strategies has often proved to be a cumbersome, protracted and expensive process, the principle of providing a context for strategic planning is nonetheless sound.

11.  ESA understands that the proposed National Planning Framework is likely to incorporate the series of existing planning policy statements and, in the absence of Regional Spatial Strategies, will inform preparation of local authority development plans.

12.  To provide a strategic context for planning for waste management, ESA urges the Government to review of PPS10 (planning for waste management) before it is subsumed into the National Planning Framework. Such a review is necessary to ensure that strategic planning policies are informed by an updated assessment of England's waste treatment infrastructure requirements.

13.  Waste planning policy must adopt a broader focus to ensure adequate capacity is provided for the treatment of commercial and industrial (C&I) and construction and demolition (C&D) waste, of which 68 million and 90 million tonnes respectively are produced each year. Waste management strategies have tended to focus on planning for municipal waste at the expense of other waste streams.

14.  The National Planning Framework should offer better co-ordination of policies for the recovery of energy from waste (EfW) with the development of combined heat and power (CHP). The potential benefits of integrating EfW with CHP are rarely realised with the planning system often limiting renewable energy facilities to sites where there is no local heat demand.


15.  The waste management planning process must be informed by robust data and expert knowledge. NPPG 10 (and its successor, PPS10) provided the basis for the establishment of Regional Technical Advisory Bodies (RTABs): a body within each region comprising of technical expertise from local government and the private sector and tasked with advising on the development of waste policies in the Regional Spatial Strategy.

16.  The future role of RTABs remains uncertain, however, following the abolition of the regional planning tier, it seems unlikely that this resource will continue to receive funding.

17.  Collecting and managing data on the quantity and type of waste arisings, future trends and treatment capacity requirements is a complex process and the data requires significant interpretation to inform the development of policies for adoption within local development plans. It is unlikely that this data processing exercise and the provision of technical advice could be conducted consistently and cost effectively if performed by each individual planning authority.

18.  ESA strongly recommends that a resource is made available which offers local authorities strategic and technical advice and relevant waste data to inform the preparation development plans. Whether the principles of the RTABs could be retained in the establishment of a new and improved body, or this resource is provided centrally by Defra and CLG, the evidence base underpinning strategic planning for the commercial and industrial waste stream must be improved. The Government might assist by introducing legislation amending the Duty of Care regulations which ensures that primary data on commercial and industrial waste arisings are reported directly to the Environment Agency by business waste producers.


19.  The establishment of joint waste planning authorities might encourage local authorities to engage with neighbouring authorities and develop a strategic approach to waste planning. Such arrangements are already in place for a number of local authorities and enable the development of a joint plan which identifies facilities required for the management of waste arisings and where such sites should be located.

20.  The need for better co-operation between planning authorities is an increasingly important consideration following the Government's proposals for a localism agenda. A preference for small scale, local waste management facilities would not achieve the benefits of economies of scale and would fail to deliver the taxpayer value for money.


21.  Consistency and efficiency savings could be achieved if the Government prepared model waste policies for inclusion within local authorities' development plans. Local authorities' resources could then be focused on developing waste planning policies specific to their geographic locale.


22.  In an effort to address delays in the delivery of infrastructure, the Government has committed to a presumption in favour of sustainable development through the planning system. ESA suggests that this should allow for expedient and efficient approval of applications for "green infrastructure" which conforms with the policies of an up to date development plan, including waste recovery infrastructure as defined in the 2008 Waste Framework Directive.

23.  It should be noted that the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 introduced a statutory duty on local authorities to carry out a sustainability appraisal of local development plans (and Regional Spatial Strategies). Subsequently, the waste planning polices of a local development plan would have met the criteria of the sustainability appraisal and there should be no requirement for a developer, in submitting an application which conforms with an up to date development plan, to demonstrate the sustainability credentials of an individual scheme.

September 2010

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