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Where was waste considered in the planning framework?

Decentralisation and cities minister Greg Clark has now issued the National Planning Policy Framework, laying out the Government’s vision for far-reaching reforms to the UK planning system. The Framework has been a widely-reported and much-anticipated piece of legislation. Over the last 12 months the media debate surrounding the Coalition’s planning proposals has at times been incendiary, with organisations such as the National Trust suggesting the new, slimline 58-page document would result in widespread damage to the environment.

But for the waste management sector a key concern was whether or not the Framework would provide clarity over planning laws surrounding the construction of vital new waste infrastructure. The announcement that the National Waste Management Plan would be delayed until late 2013 has caused frustration in an industry already uncertain about how to proceed. After all, this is the plan that will outline how the Government envisages the future planning and construction of sustainable resource management infrastructure across the UK.

As the Coalition hesitates, planned projects are already facing hurdles

This delay throws up a number of pressing concerns. First and foremost, how can it be made clear to government that constructing appropriate waste management infrastructure will be vital if the UK is to meet its formal European targets? Throughout the consultation period and the drafting of the NPPF, waste industry chiefs and trade associations were vocal in highlighting the need for clear, sector-tailored policy sooner rather than later. Despite their appeals, it now seems that they must continue to wait for answers.

Although there are undoubtedly elements to the NPPF that are relevant for the sustainable resource sector - specifically policies affecting general infrastructure development, planning permission and the transition to a low-carbon economy - the Framework is not intended to detail government plans for waste infrastructure development.

Any future waste-specific planning policy will have to account for a wide variety of factors in order to provide a coherent, strategic vision for development

But as the Coalition hesitates, planned projects are already facing hurdles. A recent example is the planned Energy from Waste facility in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, where a complex set of different stakeholders with differing concerns (including local groups, communities, developers and the local council) is making the site’s development a slow and arduous process.

If nothing else, the King’s Lynn case study demonstrates that any future waste-specific planning policy will have to account for a wide variety of factors in order to provide a coherent, strategic vision for development. Government will need to be joined up in its thinking, recognising the role that different government departments play in determining waste policy. It is precisely this confusion that hampers both the planning and the securing of finance for waste infrastructure projects.

Whilst there is no doubt that communities should have the right to be involved in planning decisions made in their local area, the Government must be clear about whether the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ also means a presumption in favour of construction of key waste management infrastructure. The answer to this question will be crucial if the UK is to build its sustainability credentials.

It may require increased attempts to educate communities on the realities and benefits, both local and national, of such projects. For now, we hope the reaction to the NPPF from the waste sector provides food for thought for the Government as they put together the NWMP.

Barry Sheerman is MP for Huddersfield, and a Co-Chair of the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group.

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