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Duty to co-operate is a waste planning 'showstopper' not to be taken lightly

When the Localism Act came into force earlier this year, it was not generally welcomed by those in the waste industry. Many of us suspected it might be a “NIMBY’s Charter” and make it even harder to get planning permission for new waste developments.

However, for strategic planning issues, in place of the regional tier of planning the Act introduced the “duty to co-operate”.

This specifies that planning authorities must “engage constructively, actively and on an on-going basis” on strategic matters affecting more than one planning authority.

The question was whether the new duty to co-operate would be more effective than the previous system.

This resulted in waste planning authorities generally working well within each region, but with less success across regional boundaries such as in the greater south east.

On 12 June in Camden Town Hall, the duty to co-operate was put to the test in the examination in public of the North London Waste Plan (NLWP).

The NLWP should allocate land to manage the waste arising in its area.

However, it ignores more than 900,000 tonnes of residual waste exported annually from North London to the Home Counties and beyond, where it is landfilled.

We represented the South East Waste Planning Advisory Group (SEWPAG) who argued that with such significant reliance on their landfill, these planning authorities should have been consulted. Indeed, this consultation should have extended to the co-operation envisaged in the Localism Act.

Previous discussions with the Planning Inspectorate have confirmed that this issue is a “show-stopper”. A plan cannot be adopted if the Duty to Co-operate has not been met.

The Inspector in North London listened to the arguments. He was clearly not convinced that the North London boroughs had actively worked with their neighbours. The Hearing was suspended after two hours.

The Inspector will make his final decision in the coming weeks, but if the decision goes against the North London Councils, they will have to start again with their Plan, negating over five year’s of work.

It could be argued that if the Duty to Co-operate doesn’t operate at this scale, it won’t be effective anywhere. This example reinforces the critical need for planning authorities across the country to work with public bodies and neighbouring authorities in the development of waste plans.

There is no doubt that waste recycling, treatment and disposal is a strategic issue. The National Planning Policy Framework confirms this. Co-operation between waste planning authorities is vital as very few are genuinely self-sufficient in dealing with the waste their residents and businesses produce.

Those Waste Planning Authorities coming up for examination later this year need to make sure “Duty to Cooperate” is adequately covered and evidenced in detail, or need to consider delaying matters until this gap has been filled. The Duty to Co-operate is common sense, and it’s new formulation in the Localism Act might be the opportunity we need to deliver some truly strategic planning.

Peter Scholes, managing director, Urban Mines and Deborah Sacks, principal, Sacks Consulting

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