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Government warned over revised landfill targets

The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) has accused the Government of being “short-sighted” after updated Defra landfill estimates were used to justify the withdrawal of provisional PFI funding from a number of major waste schemes.

A revised Defra forecast of the UK’s treatment capacity maintains EU landfill targets are still likely to be met despite the decision to pull funding from the projects.

Defra’s analysis, an update of a previous publication, examined the impact of stopping three projects that had provisional offers of financial support withdrawn in February.

The Government withdrew a total of £421m from partnership schemes at Bradford and Calderdale; Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority and Halton; and North Yorkshire and City of York. 

The report said the UK would still have a 95% likelihood of meeting EU 2020 targets if these projects were to stop.

A PFI grant typically covers around 30% of the charges payable under the contract. The report said withdrawing support from projects that are yet to reach financial close would “significantly reduce the likelihood of them going ahead”.

The Defra forecast was cited as an “overriding factor” in the decision to pull the plug on the King’s Lynn energy-from-waste plant. A separate report was drawn up specifically referring to the project.

Defra’s figures appear to conflict with analysis by the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT), which has previously warned along with the CIWM that the UK was at risk of not having the capacity to meet its targets.

Steve Lee, CIWM chief executive, told MRW he was “cautiously circumspect” about the report. He said: “We’re concerned that we know the targets in the landfill directive are already under active review by the European Commission.

“We suspect the targets are going to be extended upwards and outwards – more demanding targets beyond 2020. That makes a Government that will only aim for the bare minimum satisfaction of the existing 2020 targets rather short sighted.”

CIWM recently issued a report on commercial and industrial waste, concluding a capacity shortfall of between five and 15 million tonnes by 2020.

Lee added the Defra report was “a complex piece of work”.

“We’re not yet in a position to argue with their data and analysis, but it’s quite clear that it has driven up their confidence that we will hit the 2020 landfill directive targets,” he said.

“We, and other people, may well choose to crawl all over their method, their assumptions and base data to see whether we share their confidence. That piece of work is not small, it will take some time.”

ADEPT said it wanted to work with Defra, councils and industry to further refine the estimates. A spokesperson said: “ADEPT considers that the Defra data model could be improved by building in a factor that links waste generation and, hence, residual waste quantities with economic growth, thus improving future predictability.”

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