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Exclusive: Industry warning over planning reforms

The government’s controversial planning reforms could hamper construction of large waste management infrastructure, two major industry bodies have warned.

Both the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management and the Environmental Services Association told MRW of their fears over the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The Department for Communities and Local Government is currently consulting on the draft NPPF, and the final version will be used to guide officials drawing up local plans and ruling on applications.

The draft framework says it does not contain specific waste policies, “since national waste planning policy will be published alongside the National Waste Management Plan for England”. But it adds that local authorities “should have regard to policies in this framework” when preparing waste plans.

The National Waste Management Plan for England is expected to be published by the government in early 2012. An updated version of Planning Policy Statement 10 is also awaited to guide infrastructure decisions.

Senior industry representatives said the document did not give planners enough encouragement to favour waste development, particularly that which worked across several councils.

CIWM chief executive Steve Lee said: “Our sector is very reliant on the delivery of new infrastructure and services but we are dogged by planning and financial problems.

“There is a lot of stuff in the NPPF that could be positive for us, such as the presumption in favour of sustainable development, but we are effectively left out of the NPPF as it stands.”

He said it was unclear why waste was not explicitly included in the NPPF, and that clarity was needed to give lenders confidence that waste infrastructure would be approved.

ESA policy executive Stephen Freeland said that if the draft NPPF was applied to waste management as intended, it would benefit the industry. But he added that the importance of waste to a sustainable economy should be “spelled out”.

He said that with EU law requiring the UK to find sustainable ways of managing its waste “it is essential that waste infrastructure is backed by the planning system”.

“There could be an improvement of the current wording,” he added, “tying waste management into sustainable development.”

Both bodies highlighted the risk that the planning reforms could drive local authorities to act independently of each other, with repercussions for schemes that work across council boundaries.

Lee said: “Our industry is larger than local but there is nothing in the NPPF to drive that.”

He added that planners “looking just at what they need in a local authority” would not maximise the advantages for the UK that larger-scale developments can bring.

Freeland added: “There could be a stronger promotion of the need for better co-operation between local authorities. The danger is that some councils might close the door and just take care of their own waste.”

Lee called on the government to produce these documents as a matter of urgency to clear up the uncertainty surrounding waste planning.

However both bodies said the planning reforms, if implemented correctly, could improve the current system.

  • The draft National Planning Policy Framework was published by the Department for Communities and Local Government on 25 July 2011
  • The NPPF will form a key plank of the coalition government’s reform of the planning system, alongside the Localism Bill and the abolition of regional spatial strategies
  •  It will set out guidelines for planning officials to follow. The draft says a presumption in favour of sustainable development should be the basis for every plan and decision
  • Interested parties have until 17 October to respond to a DCLG consultation on the draft NPPF
  • Opposition to the draft document has been raised by bodies including the National Trust and the Theatres Trust. The Daily Telegraph has reported widely on protests against the reforms, saying they could lead to widespread building on the countryside

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