Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from Tom Spaul, Chief Operating Officer, Veolia Environmental Services

I submit the following document on behalf of Veolia Environmental Services, the leading recycling and waste management company in the UK. We provide commercial, industrial and local authority customers with sustainable recycling and waste services to minimise their impact on the environment. Our Energy Recovery and Landfill Gas to Energy network supplies 220 MW to the National Grid—a major contribution to renewable energy.

As a major investor in UK infrastructure, we welcome the government’s review of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). We strongly support its central tenet of a presumption in favour in sustainable development. However, we have concerns that this objective will not be met by the draft framework in its current form.

Here we provide a short submission to the Environmental Audit Committee’s call for evidence on “the way sustainable development is dealt with in the NPPF”.

We will be submitting a fuller response to the departmental consultation. However, we felt our recent experience of the planning decision on proposals for redevelopment of the former colliery site at Rufford would provide a helpful illustration to this inquiry of the complexities inherent in balancing sustainable growth with environmental protection and local decision-making.

The following note aims to detail the deficiencies we consider the Rufford decision to hold, and how we believe such decisions impact on the objectives of the presumption in favour of sustainable development central to the draft framework.

We would be happy to provide further evidence, either written or in person. Should you require any further information in the meantime, please contact Amy Finlayson at Westminster Advisers on 0207 227 1647 or amy@westminsteradvisers.co.uk.

SUBMISSION TO THE ENVIRONMENTAL AUDIT COMMITTEE INQUIRY ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT IN THE DRAFT NATIONAL PLANNING POLICY FRAMEWORK (NPPF)

Summary

As a major investor in UK infrastructure, Veolia welcomes government’s review of the NPPF. We are firmly aligned to the ambition behind its reform: “to promote sustainable economic growth and jobs.

Yet we have concerns that this objective will not be met by the draft framework in its current form. We strongly advise there is a need for further guidance and clarity around the definition of sustainable development, and what constitutes the right balance between local communities’ powers and interests, environmental protection, and the national interests of creating jobs, sustainable economic growth and development of infrastructure and a low-carbon economy.

In order to illustrate the risk inherent in the current ambiguity in these areas, we have used the example of a recent planning decision we believe highlights potential pitfalls and the need for strong, unambiguous direction on sustainable development and planning.

Definition of Sustainable Development

The Ministerial forward to the draft framework states “sustainable development is about positive growth”. The document goes on to provide further definition under three headings:

Economic: supporting growth, jobs and infrastructure.

Social: supporting communities through built environment.

Environmental: protecting our environment, adapting to climate change and facilitating the move to a low-carbon economy.

Veolia agrees with this definition, and the need to ensure a careful and appropriate balance between the three strands. Without this balance, sustainable development will falter.

An Illustration: Energy from Waste and the Rufford Planning Decision

Energy from waste will help decarbonise energy generation within the UK. Yet development of any waste-related infrastructure receives significant opposition and there is pressure at a local planning level to site Energy Recovery Facilities (ERFs) away from the communities that produce the waste and need the heat. Such projects, which conform to the three central principles of sustainable development, must be allowed to progress: a strong and practicable presumption in favour of sustainable development is vital.

In 2006 Nottingham County Council procured Veolia to provide an ERF on the former Rufford Colliery site. The proposed redevelopment provided a sustainable solution, offering:

Clear economic benefits for the area through investment and job creation.

A clean, energy efficient solution, focussed on improving the local environment.

Significant financial savings to the public purse through waste diversion from landfill.

In January 2009 the ERF was approved by the local planning authority, almost unanimously, following the local planning process. Yet by March 2009 the then Local Government Secretary had called-in the project and in May 2011 permission was denied: the project was approved in accordance with the principles of localism, only for central government to intervene and sustainable development to be stifled.

It would have diverted 180,000 tonnes of waste from landfill per year, generating low-carbon electricity for around 15,000 homes and creating jobs to boost the local economy: this would appear to fit the definition of sustainable development.

A major opportunity for job creation in this sensitive and deprived area has been lost. An effective presumption in favour of sustainable development would have avoided this situation.

Please see Appendix 1 for a fuller outline of the environmental, economic and social benefits the project would have afforded.

Presumption in Favour of Sustainable Development: A Balanced and Workable Approach?

We believe the Rufford decision illustrates key anomalies and misunderstandings representative of the complexities in achieving the goal of a true presumption in favour of sustainable development.

A need for clearer definitions

Even though this site was a former colliery it was not regarded in the decision as “previously developed”: the Inspector described it is “Greenfield”, rendering the proposed redevelopment in conflict with the local area plan.

It was also decided that the building impacted too heavily on the landscape, yet our plans clearly showed it was barely visible, set in a natural dip. To work effectively, CHP requires constant consumers of the heat, so isolated and rural areas are not always viable locations.

The Inspector decided the project would not move waste up the Hierarchy, although this directly contradicted recent decisions on similar projects.

It was deemed that there was not sufficient urgency for the development, with landfill availability sited in evidence. Yet redevelopment of the site is central to overall strategy for the local area to meet targets for diversion of waste from landfill, in line with UK government policy and the EU Waste Framework Directive. Huge sums of public money are being paid in Landfill Tax.

A need for clearer guidance around the balance to be struck

The Inspector decided the risk to the birds and their habitat at the project site was too great. This was in spite of evidence that the project would not adversely impact on the birds and a commitment to provide a mitigation solution in excess of that recommended by Natural England or required had the Site had SSI status.

Despite clear relevance, there was little or no reference in the decision to the important regeneration needs of the area or to the Ministerial Statement on Planning for Growth. Redevelopment of the site has been identified by government as crucial to the regeneration of the area, which suffers high unemployment. The project offered a much needed catalyst for further development, and the refusal of planning permission makes it likely that major related job creating opportunities will now be lost in this area, with consequential detrimental impact on the local economy.

The possibility of an adjoining park with off-take users for heat was de-linked in the decision, contrary to government’s stated desire to see more CHP. Although the development offered significant energy recovery and heat to the related light industrial development, the Inspector concluded that this did not represent the best available waste management solution.

Recommendations

We believe it is vital to achieve the ambition behind the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

In order to do this, we recommend further focus on removing ambiguities in the current framework and ensuring clear guidance on achieving the appropriate balance between economic, social and environmental interests.

Such clarity would ensure that sustainable development is positively promoted and allowed to thrive, driving forward sustainable growth, creating jobs and facilitating a low-carbon economy.

We would be happy to provide further evidence, either written or in person. Should you require any further information in the meantime, please contact Amy Finlayson at Westminster Advisers on 0207 227 1647 or amy@westminsteradvisers.co.uk.

APPENDIX 1

THE CASE FOR RE-DEVELOPMENT OF FORMER RUFFORD COLLIERY SITE

Background

Redevelopment of the former Rufford Colliery site is central to overall strategy for the local area to meet targets for diversion of waste from landfill, in line with UK government policy and the EU Waste Framework Directive.

It has also been identified by government as crucial to the regeneration of the area, which suffers high unemployment.

In 2006 Nottingham County Council procured Veolia to provide an Energy Recovery Facility (ERF) on the site. The project would divert 180,000 tonnes of waste from landfill per year, generating electricity for around 15,000 homes and creating jobs to boost the local economy.

In January 2009 the ERF was approved by the local planning authority, almost unanimously, following the local planning process.

Yet by March 2009 the then Secretary of State for Local Government, Hazel Blears MP had called-in the project. This followed pressure from local Labour MPs Paddy Tipping and Alan Mearns.

The decision was unexpected, as previously support had been almost unanimous and more recent objections were either addressed by Veolia or of questionable integrity, being voiced by a small minority.

A public inquiry ran for a year from October 2009, and in May 2011 planning permission was declined.

The Rufford project offered sustainable development and was approved in accordance with the principles of localism, only for central government to intervene and development to be stifled.

The Case For Planning Permission

A necessary solution

The project was originally procured to ensure the local authority could comply with its environmental obligations and avoid payment of significant sums in landfill tax through a green energy solution.

Former collieries are recognised as representing a significant business and environmental challenge. The Rufford site is specifically highlighted as in need of regeneration, and as such substantial investment has already been made. This includes a purpose built junction to serve the site, which has lain empty for 15 years and is currently used, illegally, by motorbike scramblers.

Cost of inaction

The project would have saved local authorities around £330 million in landfill costs. The delay and subsequent deciosn has caused the public purse unnecessary and considerable expense.

As permission was withheld, other local developments, which would have created further jobs, will also be jeopardised. During the course of the public inquiry 138 such projects were identified as having the potential to be affected by this decision, including 4,000 residential properties, a school, a doctor’s surgery, a care home for the elderly, a new visitor centre for Sherwood Forest and a Business Park.

Economic benefits

Each development is designed to improve the local economy and provide jobs in this unemployment black spot.

The Rufford ERF proposal alone was worth £120 million, would have employed around 250 people during construction, and created around 35 much needed long-term permanent jobs.

The Rufford Business Park project was worth at least £50 million in investment value and would have generated significant new jobs.

The other projects equated to hundreds of millions of pounds of economic activity which would have created thousands of construction jobs and long term operational jobs.

Environmental benefits

The Rufford ERF proposal was a sustainable solution which was chosen after an extensive procurement exercise, with support from DEFRA.

It would have generated 13MWe of low carbon electricity to the national grid and provided potential for a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) connection to the Business Park.

The technology that was proposed is clean, energy efficient and proven: energy is recovered from waste and use of fossil fuels is reduced, while dependence on landfill decreases and release of methane is avoided. Only waste for which there is no reuse or recycle solution would be used to convert to energy.

Emissions produced by the ERF are minimal—it is estimated that emissions from 1,000 years of continual use would be equivalent to those created by a single bonfire night.

These environmental credentials are central to Veolia’s business model. As such, we are scrupulous in ensuring the highest standards on each of our sites, and we work with the Environmental Agency to help us do so.

The right provider

Veolia Environmental Services is the waste management market leader in the UK, with significant experience providing best environmental practice for waste treatment, and delivering effective ERF facilities elsewhere. A rigorous procurement process selected us.

We care about environmental impact, and as such have proposed to set aside sufficient land to provide a wildlife management scheme and habitat zone as part of the project.

We are interested in contributing to the site’s regeneration through considerable investment cost injection because the project is commercially viable. Any alternative, non-commercial proposal would ultimately be funded by the public purse.

Summary

We believe that permission would have provided sustainable development through:

A significant financial saving to the public purse through waste diversion from landfill.

A clean, energy efficient and proven solution, focussed on improving the local environment.

Clear economic benefits for the area through investment and job creation.

September 2011

Prepared 20th December 2011