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North west England's "dismal" recycling performance singled out

By John McKenna

Environmental think-tank Sustainability Northwest (SN) is calling on people in the north west of England to campaign for the regions devolution as a means of improving poor recycling rates.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is expected this week to announce October dates for referendums on regional devolution within England. SN sees this as an opportunity to boost recycling in a region with one of the worst rates in the country.

SN has produced a manifesto called Sustainable Governance in Englands Northwest which criticises the areas dismal recycling record. The manifesto collates data from a variety of sources to show that the region produced more than four million tonnes of rubbish in the past year with an average recycling rate of just 11% a long way short of next years national target of 25%.

These unofficial figures draw similar conclusions to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Municipal Waste Management Survey 2002/3. It found the north west had the highest levels of waste per household, as well as the greatest proportion of waste going to landfill at 84%.

SN chief executive Erik Bichard said the region was lagging behind other areas of England for historic and economic reasons. We have a lot of holes in the ground in this area disused mines and quarries. This has let us become lazy in diverting from landfill. This is coupled with the fact that the north west is one of the poorest areas in the UK and poorer boroughs are traditionally worse at recycling.

Bichard said that regional devolution represents an opportunity for the north west to overhaul its recycling and waste management infrastructure. But would decentralisation help it get closer to the 25% recycling rate?

Elected Regional Assemblies which would be created if regions vote for devolution would have at least 10 policy responsibilities, including environment. The Local Government Association (LGA) has produced a document with the County Councils Network to look at what effect regional devolution would have on local authorities.

Towards Elected Assemblies in the English Regions investigates the examples provided by Scotland, Wales and Northern Irelands new devolved governments. It states: The devolved administrations have been more open to local government input in shaping policies than Whitehall, in part because many regional members have personal experience in local government.

This greater awareness of local issues in devolved assemblies and its effect on recycling is the main reason behind SNs support of regional devolution. It believes that a regional arrangement would identify pioneers and strugglers among local waste authorities and coordinate the collection and destination of recyclables. Bichard said that currently there was a lack of coordination between Government and local authorities with neighbouring authorities running different waste collection schemes. Using the issue of residents participation in kerbside schemes as an example, he added: People will be more motivated to sort their rubbish if they know the money made from recycling will go back into their local community.



Research

However, despite SNs claims that a regional assembly would better organise local waste authorities, the LGAs research into devolved governments found there was as much regulation and target-setting as Whitehall. It also discovered local authorities feared the possibility of their powers and status being eroded.

Local authorities feel they have more expertise in waste management and recycling than the Government and that any limiting of their powers could have a detrimental effect on recycling levels. Local Authorities Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) north west representative Carole Taylor said that SNs presentation of the north west as a poor recycler is misleading and does not warrant an overhaul of its infrastructure.

She added: The current two-tier system of waste collection an

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