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Localism rules waste choices

Councils that have introduced alternate weekly collections (AWCs) will not be forced to return to weekly recycling and waste collections, according to environment minister Lord Henley. In an interview with MRW at the Futuresource exhibition held at Excel in London last week, he said that the Government was “committed to a policy of localism” and that “local authorities should be allowed to follow the policies they want”.

He added: “As a Government, we have no view on the merits of weekly or two-weekly collections. As a minister, I live in central London and the north of England. Both locations have different ways of dealing with waste. It is not for the Government to impose rigid controls on local authorities. If people don’t like policies in their area, then the answer is the ballot box. Solutions should be left to local people.”

This appears to be in contrast to the actions of communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles, who has written to the Audit Commission attacking AWCs and signalling a return to weekly waste and recycling collections. Lord Henley said the Government was committed to the waste hierarchy and that it would look to discourage the production of waste, followed by encouraging people to recycle as much as possible, then look at using waste to create energy and finally sending waste to landfill.

“If people don’t like policies in their area, then the answer is the ballot box. Solutions should be left to local people”

The minister was also keen to talk about the Government’s “encouragement” of incentive schemes. He said: “We prefer the carrot rather than the stick and want local authorities to incentivise people. We have to be wary of imposing penalties on people as it causes fly-tipping. The previous Government looked at a regulatory approach and wanted fines for people to dispose of their waste. We don’t want the sort of approach where we penalise people for recycling.”

The minister also confirmed to MRW that the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) had agreed to a 5% reduction in its budget. He said: “We have made it clear that arms-length bodies will have to take their share. WRAP is content with the initial 5% cut we have asked it to take from its budget. We have a serious problem with the deficit and it is the first thing we have to tackle.”

The minister was cautious in his answers after only being in the job for a few weeks. He was clearly still getting to grips with his ministerial brief that not only includes waste and recycling but everything from bee health to dangerous dogs, chemicals and pesticides. He was also guarded in his answers because the interview was given before the announcement of a waste review by environment secretary Caroline Spelman later in the day at the exhibition.

When asked about what he thought would happen with private finance initiative funding going forward for waste infrastructure, he said that landfill tax will continue to increase and he “hoped that this would encourage local authorities to look at other options” although he was not able to clarify what he meant by this any further. I asked if he meant that landfill tax would be ring-fenced for waste infrastructure spending, but he replied that “it would be up to the chancellor”, although indicating that this was not being considered.

Before the interview, Lord Henley had been given a tour of the Futuresource exhibition, and had visited a number of exhibitor stands with Chartered Institution of Wastes Management and Environmental Services Association staff and dignitaries.

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