Growth and Infrastructure Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Environmental Services Association (GIB 61)

1. The Environmental Services Association (ESA) is the trade association representing the UK’s waste and secondary resource industry, which is leading the transformation of how the UK’s waste is managed.  An industry with an annual turnover of £9billion, our Members have helped England’s recycling rate quadruple in the last ten years and provide over a quarter of the UK’s renewable electricity.

Summary

2. Waste management infrastructure is clearly an essential component of sustainable development as it enables the UK to meet its ambitious targets for recycling and renewable energy generation. However, obtaining planning permission remains one of the single biggest barriers to the timely delivery of this infrastructure.

3. As many as 50 new waste facilities a year until 2020 – an investment of £10-20 billion in new plant and equipment – will be required to meet the UK’s obligations to divert waste from landfill.

4. Planning applications for strategic waste management infrastructure are made at significant cost and high financial risk. If the planning risk to development is too great, investment may cease to flow into the waste management sector.

5. The planning process, particularly for large waste infrastructure projects such as Energy from Waste (EfW), can be hampered by poor decision making at the local level. A worrying trend has recently emerged whereby consent is refused by committee, often against officer recommendations, only for a committee decision to be overturned by the Secretary of State on appeal.

6. Indeed, of the 20 decisions on (ESA Member) EfW planning applications over the last three years, almost half were determined by the Secretary of State upon appeal, despite officer recommendations in almost 80% of cases. Of those, 7 applications were eventually granted consent on appeal: a costly and inefficient means of determining applications which adds to the resource burden on developers and leads to greater unpredictability for companies and communities.

7. ESA therefore broadly welcomes the Bill’s proposals to streamline the planning system and reduce bureaucratic delay, while at the same time offering developers the flexibility to fast-track important infrastructure projects.

Clause 1: direct applications to Secretary of State

8. In principle, ESA welcomes proposals to offer developers discretion to submit a planning application directly to the Secretary of State if the relevant planning authority had been ‘designated’ as poorly performing. We suggest that failure to make timely decisions , and the number of decisions taken by a planning authority that were subsequently overturned upon appeal should be included within criteria that would be applied in designating such authorities .

9. However, we note that designations may not necessarily provide a panacea for addressing poor performance . A planning authority hitherto more accustomed to the processing of minor development proposals, albeit in a timely and efficient manner, would likely avoid ‘designation’ but could just as easily struggle when faced with the prospect of determining a complex planning application, such as a waste management development.

10. ESA also cautions that proposals which encourag e developers to divert planning applications to the Secretary of State might simply shift the planning bottleneck from poorly performing local authorities to DCLG. As above, while we support the flexibility offered to developers within clause 1, the Bill offers little to address the crux of the matter, which should be a range of measures to prevent planning authorities from failing and being designated in the first place.

11. We would welcome clarification on how planning applications subm itted to the Secretary of State instead of a ‘designated’ planning authority would be handled by the Planning Inspectorate. The potential attraction and associated benefits of this fast-track process to developers would likely be undermined if full public inquiry (with associated resource burden and costs) should be the default means of processing such applications. If proposals under clause 1 are to effectively boost growth and infrastructure, the administrative process should be no more onerous than the existing local planning process .

Clause 2 – award of costs

12. ESA supports proposals for a broader range of powers for the Secretary of State to recover costs and initiate award of costs between parties at planning appeal.

13. Local planning authorities are often reluctant to determine applications without input from statutory consultees and significant weight is often attached to advice provided from such bodies. In some cases, planning authorities refuse consent based on advice provided by statutory consultees.

14. We therefore suggest that new provisions introduced through clause 2 explicitly require statutory consultees to take responsibility for their advice upon appeal . Such bodies should be included with the Planning Inspectorate’s consideration of award of costs on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour during appeal proceedings or in cases where a statutory consultee’s advice was relevant to the refusal of a planning application.

Clause 4 – information requests

15. ESA Members continue to note examples of local authorities adopting detailed and exhaustive local information requirements which are slavishly adhered to by risk adverse authorities during the validation of planning applications, and which often requires applicants to supply information of little relevance to the application .

16. The requirement to provide additional information to local authority specifications neither simplifies nor adds consistency in the approach towards validation of planning applications. Recent attempts to keep this information under review and requirements for lists to be republished on a regular basis, whilst welcome, still assumes responsibility for preparation of local lists to local authorities, and does little to resolve the proliferation of varying information requests .

17. ESA therefore supports measure s to limit the information that planning authorities can request to information which is reasonable to the nature and scale of the proposed development and which is material to the determination of an application.

18. However, we suggest that the Bill could go much further , and that the Government should abolish the requirement for local lists and instead establish a set, national list of information that developers should be required to submit along with a planning application .

Clause 17 – s36 consents

19. ESA welcomes proposals to enable variation of s36 consents.

Clause 21 – extending the definition of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects

20. ESA has previously noted that , on the one hand, the thresholds (clause 15(2) of the Planning Act) for qualifying renewable energy infrastructure discriminate against meritorious EfW facilities not large enough to meet the 50MW threshold. Conversely, with reference to hazardous waste , the threshold (clause 30(2)) is too low: imposing the expensive Major Infrastructure Planning regime on small items of infrastructure would render them wholly uneconomic (a 30k tonne contaminated soil washing plant could hardly be considered nationally significant infrastructure).

21. Rather than seek to extend the scope of the Major Infrastructure Planning regime to include additional development projects, we urge the G overnment to carry out a review of the thresholds within Part 3 of the Planning Act for qualifying development and, consistent with clause 1 (of the Bill) , offer developers discretion to choose how an application should be handled . A developer, upon review of relevant financial and practical considerations, should be empowered to choose the most appropriate application route (i.e. national or local) rather than perhaps designing a development proposal to meet the Planning Act thresholds (as appropriate).

December 2012

Prepared 10th December 2012