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Comment: Education will allay planning fears

This week, MRW reports on the difficulties that waste firms are having in getting around planning regulations.

In particular, our news pages focus on the difficulties faced by Grundon Waste Management. On the one hand, the company is baffled by the decision of the Planning Inspectorate to send its plans for a Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) to a public enquiry. On the other, the West London Waste Authority has dropped its right to a judicial appeal over its waste policies, meaning that it will now be difficult for a proposed £100 million incinerator to be built any time soon by Grundon in Colnbrook.

Although both of these affect Grundon, planning regulations are increasingly having an impact on many companies and local authorities across the UK.

While not many people, including those in the waste and recycling industry, would want to see MRFs, civic amenity sites and incinerators in areas of natural beauty or even in the middle of a residential street, there needs to be a realisation by the public that these sites are essential to the wellbeing of the country.

It will require education of the populace by the Government and industry, as well as sensible policies at local and national level, to encourage sensitive locations for these sites that do not upset local communities.

I know that this is possible. I recently visited a great new MRF operated by Grundon in the picturesque Mole Valley, south of London. Despite the lovely English countryside in the area, the MRF was next to a civic amenity site and was sheltered by trees and hedges so that it didn't impact too much on the views. It proved that a well-thought out location could serve the community while not inflicting unsightly buildings and waste on the countryside.

But those of us in the recycling and waste industry also need to engage and debate with the public on these issues. While many people will accept the need for MRFs in suitable locations and realise that increasing landfill is not an option, there are genuine fears among the public about incineration.

They are scared about pollution, and how it will affect their families and their house prices. They fear looking out of their window and seeing a massive building bellowing out smoke and fumes.

Whether these arguments are correct or not, it shows that more needs to be done to convince people, and the politicians who serve them, that incineration has a future. There needs to be a debate in the industry about whether these fears of waste and recycling facilities are justified and, if not, how to go about educating people. Then planning might become a bit easier.

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