§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Dowd.]2.31 pm
§ Mr. Alan Hurst (Braintree)
I am pleased to be able to raise this important subject in the House, and I am especially grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), for appearing so late in the parliamentary week to respond to the debate.
The Essex local waste disposal plan has been a number of years in incubation, but it finally bore fruit in October last year. A period of consultation that was to have ended in January has been extended by a further six months. I wish to draw the House's attention to the plan's primary objective, which isto achieve a balance betweenI hope to argue that, unfortunately, the county council and the borough of Southend-on-Sea have failed to achieve that balance.
- a) adequate provision of necessary waste management facilities and
- b) safeguarding the environment of Essex and the quality of life of its residents."
In many ways, waste management and waste disposal have haunted me throughout my public life. Up to April last year, I had the privilege to represent the Orsett and Stifford division on Essex county council. That division is part of the borough of Thurrock, which for many decades has been the main resting place for millions of tonnes of waste and rubbish from all over the country.
That was borne in on me when I was first selected as a candidate for the county council elections. I went to a housing estate and one of the residents said, "This is a wonderful estate, Mr. Hurst. In front of us we have a nature reserve." I looked in front of me and saw a deep depression in the ground, with trees on its banks and a small lake in the basin of the depression. According to the developers, that was a nature reserve.
A few weeks later, the excavators and lorries arrived, because an old gravel extraction consent was still extant. The nature reserve regenerated itself pretty quickly and returned back to gravel, but the intention was to use it for waste disposal. Historically, waste disposal and mineral extraction have always been inextricably linked. That is especially true in the county of Essex, which has large amounts of gravels to extract. It still has some marshes, but its greatest misfortune is to be very close to London.
For centuries, Londoners have disposed of their waste in Essex. That disposal began on the marshes, but it moved further and further down to the River Thames estuary and then spread into the county itself. We must break the link that allows London to export its waste to Essex in complete defiance of the agreed principle of proximity. London exports half its waste to our county. By 2010, we are told, it expects to deal with its own waste, but there are fears in Essex about whether that objective will be achieved. At present, for example, there is a moratorium on incineration in London. Unless London achieves its high recycling targets, there will be only one place for its waste to go—Essex.
714 The Essex waste plan is particularly attractive to London. It is based on a small number of major sites, which, by their nature, lend themselves to incineration. When I read about these matters, I come across the phrase "hierarchy of waste management". It puts one in mind of the House of Lords, although I shall not tread too far into that matter. If landfill is a life peer, major sites with incinerators must be dukes: they last an awful lot longer, and they cost an awful lot more.
We are to reach optimistic recycling targets. Optimism is a terrific human quality, but we are expected to reach 25 per cent. by 2000, which is 10 months away, and 40 per cent. by 2008. The Essex waste plan assumes that landfill will account for 60 per cent. of waste, with 18 per cent. dealt with by recycling and reduction.
The policy is based on major sites, and I believe it to be flawed. I have been supported in that view by the hon. Members for Colchester (Mr. Russell) and for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), who send their apologies for not being here today.
§ Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest)
I, too, support the hon. Gentleman, and I agree with his well-considered and well-argued case.
§ Mr. Hurst
I am most grateful. Opposition to the county waste plan is fairly widespread. Of the 12 district councils in the county, 10 have formed a consortium, including the councils that cover the constituencies of the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) and my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Mrs. Butler). The 10 councils have instructed a consultant to devise an alternative scheme to that put forward by the county and by the borough of Southend.
The primary arguments against major sites are that they are a disincentive to recycling, and that they defeat the proximity principle. A large site with an incinerator is an expensive capital investment for a commercial company, and the company will require a continuing supply of waste.
§ Mrs. Christine Butler (Castle Point)
I agree with all that my hon. Friend has said. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that London is not realistic about its waste disposal. London may be over-aspirational and under-realistic, but Essex and the surrounding counties are put under greater pressure to deal with London's waste. That is the nub of the problem. Essex has always been rich in landfill sites and, when I visit landfill sites in the south, I see the arrival of load after clearly marked load from London boroughs. I fear, as my hon. Friend fears, that that will continue, and that, once the landfill sites are full, the waste will go to major sites, possibly including incinerators.
§ Mr. Hurst
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who takes the same view as the hon. Member for Epping Forest, that, by their nature, such sites will attract imports of waste into the county. They defeat the principle of proximity and they are bound to militate against recycling and reduction. They are in every way contrary to what I understand to be the Government's objectives for waste disposal.
A better approach would be to encourage recycling and reduction and to have a number of small sites, so that each locality can deal with its own waste. That argument must 715 also apply to London, which needs to take account of its own waste disposal questions and to devise a plan which, to use a somewhat over-used word, is sustainable. I understand that to mean a plan that would work for some time to come.
Rivenhall is mentioned in the title of this debate. It is a site in my constituency, but the arguments that I will use for it not to be used for waste disposal must apply to many other sites listed in the Essex waste plan. The Rivenhall site was formerly agricultural land. Strangely, it is designated as a brown-field site, although any one who goes there will see, if not 40 shades of green, a considerable number, because it is primarily still an agricultural area. During the second world war, it was an airfield from which the Air Force flew during the bombing of Germany. After the war, it reverted to agricultural use and that is predominantly what it remains today.
§ Mrs. Laing
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. I am sure that it is not a coincidence that in my constituency such a site is planned for North Weald airfield, from which bombers also flew during the battle of Britain. It would be far better to preserve it as an airfield than use it as a waste management site. Once again, I agree with the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Hurst
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for pointing that out.
The Rivenhall site is in a completely rural setting, surrounded by the small and historic villages of Bradwell, Kelvedon, Coggeshall and Stisted and, finally, a village that at least Labour Members may know, Silver End, which was founded by the Crittall family as a model village. Indeed, Sir Valentine Crittall was my predecessor in the 1920s. That model village is within half a mile of the proposed site.
The access to the site is by small, narrow, country lanes. It is close to the river Blackwater. Imagine what may occur if a vast incinerator is placed on the site. I had the opportunity of seeing a scale model of an incinerator, with a model of a London bus next to it. The bus looked like a Dinky toy in comparison. I fear that the incinerator will dominate the landscape to such an extent that the whole character of that attractive area will be changed for ever.
I fear that people will argue that the site is not that far from a major road, the Al20, which has figured in the Government's road programme. Indeed, consent was given for dualling that road in the programme, for which I was most grateful. However, dualling is to take place between Braintree and Stansted. The location that I am discussing is east of Braintree, on a stretch of the Al20 where there are no proposals for improvement and where the road is two-way and already overcapacity. It has been the scene of serious accidents. Recently, the chairman of Braintree district council was involved in a most serious accident, from which he has fortunately recovered, within half a mile of the proposed site.
By its nature, a major incinerator site will increase traffic movements. If the road is already overcapacity, it will create a dangerous and unhealthy situation for local residents. There is no guarantee that lorries will even use 716 the Al20. It is open to them to work their way up country lanes to the rear of the site, thus avoiding a journey of several miles.
§ Mrs. Laing
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. Does he agree that the plan published by Essex county council has almost carelessly failed to consider the effect of some waste sites on small local roads?
§ Mr. Hurst
I am pleased again to agree with the hon. Lady. The position at Rivenhall is in some ways stranger that at other sites. There was a similar proposal for a major landfill site with a rail link in 1995. Local community objections were so strong that there was an exhaustive 17-day public inquiry at the Silver End hotel. The proposal concerned the same location and there was universal opposition. Everything was the same as with the present proposals. The recommendation was refusal.
I can do no better than to quote the inspector's report, which stated:I conclude there are visual, heritage, amenity, traffic and ecological objections to appeal proposals, all found in discord with the development plan".That was said in 1995 about a similar large-scale waste disposal proposal. Nothing can have changed in the three years since. It is difficult when local residents ask why we had an expensive public inquiry, with all that research and erudition, if a variation of the same scheme was to be proposed within three years.
I know that the Minister will take account of the representations that other Essex Members and I have made today. It is not immediately for her to take a view, but it may ultimately be. I hope that I have shown that there is real concern and distress in Essex about the proposals. Essex is increasingly united against them, and they do not fit with the county's own waste management objectives. In due course, we hope that they will be rejected and that the alternative scheme that is being prepared by the consortium of districts will prove a better solution.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Glenda Jackson)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) on securing this debate. Clearly, plans for the management of waste in his area are an issue of great importance. That was underlined by the contributions of my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Mrs. Butler) and the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing), and the support of the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell), who is not here.
Early in his contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree said that Essex had a particular problem because of its proximity to London. He is right in saying that half of all waste currently landfilled in Essex comes from the capital. Serplan—the south-east regional planning conference—guidance recommends that London should be expected to halve its export of waste by 2005 and manage all its own wastes by 2010. It will take time to develop the necessary strategic approach, with challenging targets underpinned by realistic programmes. That is why the creation of the Greater London authority and the new mayor will be so important in tackling this issue. The mayor will be required to produce a municipal 717 waste strategy for the capital in consultation with all bodies affected, including Essex and Southend councils. In the meantime, we are anxious that neighbouring waste authorities such as Essex and Southend should recognise that there is a continuing need for some landfill outside the capital for treated waste.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree said, this debate relates to the Rivenhall-Essex waste disposal plan, and I am sure that he is aware that our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions has the power to intervene in a plan process at any stage up to the time the plan is adopted. That quasi-judicial role means that it would be improper for me to comment on the merits of the Essex and Southend waste local plan. However, on the extent to which Government policy on waste matters is generally likely to develop, it might be helpful to the House if I were to outline our intentions during 1999.
First, we aim to issue new planning guidance on waste management. Current guidance on that subject and on the drafting and adoption of local waste development plans is contained in the Government's planning policy guidance note 23. That guidance is being revised, and drafts of the new guidance, PPG10, were circulated for consultation in 1997–98. The new guidance will be published as soon as is practically possible and it should come into effect before the end of 1999. It should assist authorities in the preparation of their waste development plans and the determination of planning applications for waste management facilities. It will also provide specific advice on the criteria for siting facilities.
Both PPG23 and the emerging PPG10 encourage taking account of the waste hierarchy—which cannot necessarily be compared to the hierarchy seen at the other end of the Corridor, as my hon. Friend said—when preparing plans. The hierarchy currently comprises, in descending order of merit: reduction, re-use, recovery—recycling, composting and energy recovery—and disposal. The need to revise that sequence will be considered in the Government's new waste strategy, but it is important that the hierarchy is used flexibly.
Secondly, the Government are currently developing guidance for regional planning and technical planning advisory bodies, which has just been published as a consultation draft PPG11. That guidance will have some impact on waste planning issues.
Thirdly, at the beginning of last year, the Government announced their intention to review the previous Administration's waste management strategy for England and Wales. In June, we published a consultation document, "Less Waste: More Value", which included our initial views on issues such as waste reduction and the likely need for a substantial increase in re-use, recycling, composting and incineration with energy recovery in the coming years. The consultation exercise ended last September, since when we have been developing our new waste strategy. A draft of the new strategy will be published later this spring for further consultation and we intend to publish the final version before the end of 1999.
The Government's vision for the new waste strategy has seven key commitments, including substantial increases in recycling and energy recovery; engagement of the public in increased re-use and recycling of 718 household waste; a strong emphasis on waste minimisation; and use of the waste hierarchy as a guide, not as a prescriptive set of rules. The Government are committed to sustainable development in which environmental, economic and social objectives are combined; that involves protection of the environment and prudent use of natural resources. Our main objective in developing the waste strategy will be to ensure that waste management in England and Wales plays a full part in the search for greater sustainability.
Policy is also evolving on the European front. The draft European Union landfill directive reached a common position last year and has now received its Second Reading in the European Parliament. The current text of the directive ensures tight regulation of landfill sites and sets diminishing limits on the landfill of biodegradable municipal waste. It also requires all wastes to be treated before they are landfilled and bans the landfilling of certain wastes altogether. It will require the development of other methods of treating banned wastes—reduction at source, recycling or composting, or incineration with energy recovery.
We are currently considering a number of options for meeting the targets in the directive, such as limits on the amount of biodegradable waste that individual landfill sites can accept, or issuing permits to local authorities for the waste to be sent to landfill. Assuming that the directive is finally adopted this summer, we plan to publish proposals for meeting the targets and implementing the other requirements of the directive later this year.
The European Commission has formally proposed a waste incineration directive and a directive amending the hazardous waste incineration directive 94/67/EC to include waste water discharge standards. As part of discussions of the proposals in the Environment Council working group, the current German presidency of the EU is seeking to combine them with the existing hazardous waste incineration directive. This would produce a single directive setting tough standards to control emissions to air, water and land from virtually all waste incineration processes. The presidency hopes to reach a common position on such a proposal by the end of June this year.
Despite the impending changes in policy waste disposal, authorities are under a legal obligation to draft and review waste development plans, and these must take account of contemporary Government guidance. It would be unfair to require planning authorities to take into account guidance that has not yet been published. Thus we would expect waste disposal authorities, such as Essex and Southend, that are now bringing forward plans to take account of PPG23 the White Paper "Making Waste Work" and the consultation document "Less Waste: More Value".
As stated in "Less Waste: More Value", we are committed to reducing our reliance nationally on landfill, to greater emphasis on waste minimisation and to substantial improvements in recycling and recovery rates according to the best practicable environmental option available for each waste stream in each area. The Government also believe that high levels of energy from waste and recycling are compatible and that each has its place in the hierarchy of waste disposal. Waste management decisions should also take account of the principles of proximity and self-sufficiency.
719 Final disposal of waste, generally through landfill, makes little practical use of waste, so it is, in principle, the least desirable waste management option. It is important that we consider other ways of disposing of waste. That will require developments in the treatment of waste by reduction at source, recycling, composting or incineration with energy recovery, which—as I have said—are all in the waste hierarchy. We must plan for the introduction of new technologies and new infrastructures that will enable us to make progress in meeting what are likely to be stringent targets under European Union directives.
The Government believe recycling is critical to the task of making our waste management more environmentally acceptable, and are committed to a substantial increase in the role it plays in this country. To this end, we keenly encourage local authorities and businesses to increase recycling and expand public education on recycling issues.
Source segregation is a common feature of the waste systems of countries with higher recycling rates; but those rates have sometimes been achieved at a very high cost, with increased transport use and insufficient development of end markets for the recycled material. However, the Government believe that a concerted effort is needed to overcome those problems and that a system based on source separation of waste and kerbside collection could provide substantial environmental advantages. The Government also consider that there is scope for local authorities to work towards longer-term contracts for recycling, possibly on a consortium basis, to overcome some of the uncertainties about price fluctuation.
Another priority for the Government is setting and enforcing a high environmental protection standard for incineration. We are of the opinion that incineration with energy recovery should not be undertaken without consideration first being given to the possibility of composting and material recycling. However, alongside a move to a higher level of recycling, a move to a higher level of incineration with energy recovery is necessary over the next 15 years in order to develop a more sustainable waste management system.
720 On the Essex and Southend waste local plan, I note my hon. Friend's concern at the inclusion of Rivenhall airfield among the major waste management sites. I recognise that people would prefer not to live next door to a landfill site or in close proximity to an incinerator. That means that waste strategies centred around such facilities have to be imposed on reluctant neighbourhoods or located far from human settlements, and in both cases there are often environmental problems arising from noise and traffic movement. That was pointed out by my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Epping Forest. Whatever progress can be made on recycling and local processing of waste, disposal facilities will still be required, at least in the short term.
Sites for major waste management facilities and landfill sites are specifically proposed in a waste plan to provide clear guidance when applications for planning permission are submitted and to encourage provision of perhaps controversial but none the less necessary facilities. There is no intention to prescribe the nature of the process possible on each site.
In relation to a plan's overall strategy, the selection of sites must in the first instance be a matter for consideration and debate at the local level. I am aware that the Rivenhall airfield site was the subject of a major scheme for sand and gravel extraction and landfilling of domestic and commercial waste—a scheme that was rejected on appeal in 1995 following a public inquiry. That does not prevent the waste planning authority from identifying it as a suitable location for a major waste management site in the waste local plan.
However, much more information would be required, including environmental assessment where appropriate, and that can be considered in principle and detail only when proposals are made at the planning application stage. As with any representations on the plan strategy itself, dissenting views on the merits of individual sites identified in the plan should be conveyed to Essex and Southend councils, and objections put before the inspector at the public inquiry.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at one minute past Three o' clock.