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Waste policy: a work in progress

The coalition manifesto, The Coalition: Our Programme for Government, published on 19 May, has highlighted some areas which will inevitably have an impact on the waste management arena. Proposals relating to energy, particularly anaerobic digestion (AD), moving towards a zero waste society, planning law, creation of a green investment bank and incentivising people to recycle all got a mention, and the industry has been quick to react.

Away from the manifesto, there has also been speculation over what will happen to some of the sector’s public bodies. Before the election, the Conservatives promised to cut the deficit and one way they said they would do this was to streamline via a “bonfire of the quangos”. Waste industry insiders have already expressed concerns over the future shape of the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP). Will it still exist under the new coalition and, if so, in what form?

Renewable energy
Energy has come high up on the political agenda for the new Government, hardly surprising given that EU targets say the UK must produce 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. At the moment, only 2% of UK energy is produced from renewables.

The manifesto document states that the coalition “will seek to increase the target for energy from renewable sources, subject to the advice of the Climate Change Committee”. Perhaps this was to be expected given that the man now in charge of the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), Chris Huhne, is a Liberal Democrat and the party has long been a champion of the renewables cause.

Particularly relevant to the waste and recycling sector is that one of the ways the coalition intends to drive up energy from renewables is through a “huge increase in energy from waste through anaerobic digestion”. This was a point set out in the Liberal Democrat manifesto before the election, and has been largely welcomed by the industry. The Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association (ADBA) says it could not have hoped for a better outcome. ADBA chairman Lord Redesdale says: “This is the start of something very exciting, I reckon we will have completely covered the country in AD plants within the next five to 10 years.”

But there is still concern around how the Government intends to implement this policy, particularly at a time when the financing of AD facilities has been beset with uncertainty.

As yet there has been no confirmation on the outcome of a consultation by DECC to grandfather the Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) for AD. And there is anxiety from some quarters over the policy to establish a full Feed-in Tariff (FIT) system because all the AD projects in the pipeline have been financed under ROCs. As a result, the Renewable Energy Association has said that it wants to see a statement from the Government as a matter of urgency which guarantees that all existing projects will be grandfathered.

One area of contention is likely to be that of nuclear power. While not strictly relevant to our sector, it has been suggested by some experts that the coalition’s strong focus on AD is a diversionary tactic to avoid them having to talk about more differing policy areas
such as nuclear power. An industry expert explains: “All the policies we are hearing about are the ones which both parties agree on. We have heard a lot less about those areas which are likely to cause a divide.”

Green investment
The creation of a green investment bank was a policy mooted by both parties in their pre-election manifestos and it looks set to become a reality under the coalition agreement. The premise for the bank will be to draw together money currently divided across different government initiatives, leveraging private sector capital to finance green technology start-ups.

Planning
New planning policy seems to have been driven by the Conservative manifesto policy. Indeed, with former Conservative Party chairman Eric Pickles as secretary of state for communities and local government, and the Coalition Agreement stating that planning will come from the Conservative publication Open Source Planning, it is likely that there will be a major overhaul of the planning system in the life of the next Parliament.

The idea in Open Source Planning is that planning should be based on an idea taken from the computing sector. The idea of ‘open source’ is that anyone who wishes to can contribute to developing a piece of software, and any mistakes or errors can be corrected by the combined efforts of many people taking part. This was used to develop the Firefox internet browser, for example. The way the Conservatives’ plan to use this concept means that local people will be able to specify what kind of development and land use they want to see in their area.

By local people, they mean villages, towns, estates, wards or other relevant areas. But these local ideas will also have to conform to
the local plan formed by the local authority, which will also have to consider the views of each local community, as outlined above. The idea is that strategy will be formed ‘bottom up’ and led by decisions of local people. So if local people want housing, businesses or, indeed, infrastructure built in their area, they will be able to reap the benefits by keeping the extra business rates received for six years.

However, there will also be a national planning framework that will set out economic and environmental priorities and how the planning system will deliver them. This means the Infrastructure Planning Commission will be abolished but the Government plans to retain its expertise as well as the fast-track process for major projects. A system of approvals will also be created that will have a presumption in favour of sustainable development.

Weekly collections
Councils that have introduced alternate weekly collections will have to see if the coalition Government intends to push forward the Conservative Party’s pre-election announcements that it wants a return to weekly collections. The only mention of recycling in the Coalition Agreement says the Government will work towards a zero-waste society and it will encourage councils to pay people to recycle.

Before the election, both Pickles and Caroline Spelman at Defra were clear supporters of weekly collections. The Liberal Democrat manifesto did not take a view on weekly or alternate weekly collections. Overall, the coalition document provides a policy framework for the Government to work around. But detail will only emerge once it becomes legislation.

KEY MANIFESTO POINTS

  • Increase the target for energy from renewable sources
  • Maintain ROCs and establish a full system of feed-in tariffs in electricity
  • Introduce measures to promote a huge increase in energy from waste through AD
  • Create a green investment bank
  • Encourage community owned renewable energy schemes
  • Abolish the Infrastructure Planning Commission
  • Work towards a zero-waste society
  • Encourage councils to pay people to recycle

Chris Huhne, energy and climate change secretary
Chris Huhne began his political career as a Liberal Democrat member of the European Parliament for the south-east in 1999. He held the post until 2005, when he joined the House of Commons after winning his seat in Eastleigh, Hampshire, with a slim 568 majority.

The following year, Huhne stood for leadership of the Lib Dems following the resignation of Charles Clarke. His campaign centred around issues of green reform. But he lost to Sir Menzies Campbell, who appointed him party environment spokesman.

Huhne held the Lib Dem front bench position for a year, by which time he had helped to develop many of the key party policies on the environment and climate change, particularly in the context of businesses. Following a second unsuccessful leadership bid, he was appointed home affairs spokesman, where he remained until his appointment as energy secretary.

Caroline Spelman, secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs
Caroline Spelman began her career as commodity secretary for sugar beet at the National Farmers Union, a position she held for four years. She also spent five years as a researcher at the Centre for European Agricultural Studies at the University of Kent, giving her a strong background in environmental and agricultural issues.

Spelman joined the Commons in 1997, winning the Meriden, West Midlands, seat for the Conservatives with a 15% majority, despite the significant Labour gains of that year.

She joined the shadow cabinet in 2001, when Iain Duncan-Smith appointed her spokeswoman for international development. She later became environmental affairs spokeswoman in 2003-04, as well as party chairman and shadow secretary for communities and local government, until her posting as Defra secretary this month.

 

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