The Government has been slammed for suggesting the chronic lack of recycling facilities is due to industry hesitance.
The man representing waste-management firms said he was worried that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister thought it was doing a pretty good job.
Difficulties getting approval for recovery sites has been widely cited recently as the main barrier to the UK meeting the requirements of the Landfill Directive.
And Environmental Services Association (ESA) chief executive Dirk Hazell said the Government must realise soon how much its policies are costing the UK.
Hazell told delegates at the ESA Land-Use Planning for Waste Management conference that Government had one last chance to allow industry to hit European targets.
He said: It is worrying that the Government thinks it is doing a good job; that is not the experience of our members. Their experience is of delay and ever-rising costs.
An Institute of Civil Engineers report last month estimated that up to 2,300 new waste-treatment facilities were needed by 2020 to avoid a crisis.
And SITA UK technical director Dr Gev Eduljee said last week: The backlog of planning applications and long-term strategic direction is stalling the development of new facilities.
But Lester Hicks, head of minerals and waste planning at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, defended the Government.
Hicks told delegates at last weeks ESA conference: Last year 86% of planning applications for major waste-management developments were granted, which is a good deal higher than with housing.
It is a pretty good approval rate and I think the criticism needs to be focused elsewhere, perhaps on the time taken. The planning system is only as good as what is on its plate, and you have to wonder, if more applications were in the pipeline, would more be coming out at the end?
I accept there is scope for plans to go through faster, but you must remember waste management is the ultimate bad-neighbour development. You must get the community on side or it will slow things down.
But Hazell added: Britains permitted waste capacity is actually falling. We are going to need a totally different infrastructure.
Getting those facilities is going to be a huge task, even though it should not be. An application for a waste-management facility can cost £1 million, and if it goes to a public enquiry, you can add a few million.
Waste planning authorities cannot afford to delay decisions.
The Governments imminent reviews of policy documents Planning Policy Guidance 10 [PPG10] and Waste Strategy 2000 really are probably Britains last chance to get on track to achieving the standards other European countries have been achieving effortlessly for years.
Neil Thornton, director of environment quality and waste at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), explained the reviews.
He said: PPG10 will become Planning Policy Statement 10, which needs to be a better articulation of the decision-making process.
DEFRA recognises that existing guidance on Best Practicable Environmental Option is poor and needs to be improved on.
We are also beginning to put a lot of thought into peoples complaints of Waste Strategy 2000 and work out what kind of review we will carry out next year.
Thornton had encouraging words for the industry about the health implications of waste-management developments.
The concerns about incinerators have been good and nailed by the Health and Environmental Effects study, he said.
There is sufficient confidence in our policies for local authorities to press ahead urgently with the task of approving planning applications for waste-management facilities. u