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Bring communities in from the cold on waste planning

Mark Spencer

…on involvement in streamlining the planning system

Fewer issues cause more debate in the waste sector than the planning system. The broad spectrum of responses to the Government’s proposed reform of the system, as laid out in the Draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) therefore came as little surprise.

The ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ has been met with particular resistance, a frustrating reaction for many in the waste industry who see this provision as essential to progress in waste processing.

Within the waste sector, resolving the debate on planning issues takes on a special urgency. Pressing targets to divert waste from landfill, and the prospect of fines mean that solutions need to be agreed quickly. To make the most of our waste, we know that a simple and streamlined planning system is essential so that we can develop our infrastructure to divert waste from landfill and manage it effectively.

Planning is crucial because the requirement to divert waste from landfill and then treat and reprocess this same waste will need larger plots of land. A recent estimate from BNP Paribas Real Estate has suggested that 3,000 new locations will be needed by 2020 to handle the waste we need to divert.

“In the waste sector, resolving the debate on planning issues takes on a special urgency”

It should be remembered that waste facilities will be able to provide direct benefits to local people. While I remain cautious regarding the building of wind turbines within communities, the wind industry does offer remuneration in the form of community funds. Similar funds could also be used to incentivise people to develop a genuine stake in their waste management infrastructure, something which the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group has explored.

Furthermore, there is great potential for energy from waste to deliver local benefits, such as district heating and cooling, which represents real benefits to communities who are forward thinking about their energy supply. Advancing technologies mean that waste facilities are no longer loud and unpleasant neighbours, but the industry needs to work hard in communicating these changes to local residents.

Greater clarification and involvement of communities and local authorities from the inception of plans will streamline the planning system and avoid wasting time, money and unnecessary bureaucracy. The development of local solutions to local problems will allow communities to help determine the appropriate infrastructure for their areas. All of this will be achieved with the work of local councillors working in the best interests of local people.

In terms of future plans, Defra will be working to produce a National Waste Management Plan for England (due spring 2012) which will aim to facilitate effective waste management planning and inform the scale and types of infrastructure that we will need.

The coalition has pledged to be ‘the greenest Government ever’. Developing a strategic approach to the planning system that reflects local needs and encourages sustainable development is crucial to this. The waste and recycling industry should use this opportunity to showcase how waste infrastructure developments can contribute to these overarching aims.

Mark Spencer is Conservative MP for Sherwood and co-chair of the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group

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