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Waste industry “probably best placed” to make nationally significant hazardous waste infrastructure decisions

The waste management industry is “probably best placed” to make decisions on nationally significant hazardous waste infrastructure, the Government has announced.

In its draft national policy statement (NPS), Defra has elected to take a “market-led” approach to the technology preferences and siting of large hazardous waste infrastructure, including waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) plants, oil regeneration plants, thermal desorption plants, ship recycling facilities and hazardous waste landfill facilities.

It added that Whitehall would not play a centralised planning role.

The proposed policy framework for planning decisions states that the Government’s role is to “provide the right framework and encouragement to the private sector to bring the necessary infrastructure forward”.

In a sustainability appraisal published alongside the draft NPS, Defra identified “strategic policy alternatives” to large-scale hazardous waste infrastructure, including a larger number of small scale facilities, and greater Government involvement in the location and technologies for infrastructure.

In its analysis, the appraisal said: “Centrally planned policy could allow for achievement of a number of the sustainability objectives as it would set out exactly what should or should not be done.

“However, such a policy would require significant knowledge for informed decisions to be made at the policy level so as to contribute effectively to the sustainability objectives; it would also stifle innovation and thus reduce the potential for future improvements to infrastructure that could contribute positively to the objectives.

“It is considered that industry is probably best placed to make decisions on new infrastructure that will contribute to the economic objectives, with social and environmental objectives achieved through appropriate control criteria within the NPS to direct development appropriately.”

The assessment has been cautiously welcomed by AEA global practice director for waste management Dr Adam Read, but he warned that decisions on such facilities were “more emotive” than those for energy-from-waste plants.

Read said: “I concur that industry is probably best placed to know how to make the solution affordable and deliverable, but I would be concerned that this hands-off approach by Government could lead to significant tensions down the line as facilities are brought before local planning departments.”

He added: “They could fall foul of Government’s continued preference for local input to decisions and may not be appropriately located.”

UK Without Incineration Network co-ordinator Shlomo Dowen told MRW that from a campaigner’s perspective, the Government should be making greater effort to reduce waste arisings in the first place.

He said: “These facilities are expensive. Rather than trying to benefit from economies of scale by having large facilities, economically it’s more sensible to put those resources into creating better methods for reducing the quantity of hazardous waste arisings.”

In the Planning Act 2008, the definition of nationally significant hazardous waste facilities included a minimum capacity requirement of above 30,000 tonnes per year.

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