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Planners urged to show 'circular economy thinking'

Greater flexibility from planners, a broader appreciation of sustainability issues and an end to out-of-date perceptions of the waste industry are all needed in the transition to a circular economy (CE), according to the Environmental Services Association (ESA).

A report, Planning for a Circular Economy identifies aspects of the planning regime which can often frustrate efforts towards a CE.

Jacob Hayler

900 Jacob Hayler

In the foreword, executive director Jacob Hayler (pictured) said that traditional business models were being reviewed and aligned more with CE approaches, and planning had a key role to play in the transition.

“Some of the preconceived notions of our industry, often harking back to the days of reliance on landfill disposal, continue to prevail in many planning authorities and needs to be overcome if the planning system is to facilitate the delivery of the infrastructure capable of transitioning to the CE of the future.”

The report says such an economy relies on a planning system not only capable of delivering new waste management facilities but one which offers flexibility to adapt to changing business environments.

“The planning system should enable industry to deliver a network of integrated waste management facilities in which collected waste may be bulked or recycled in one location, recyclates processed at another or residues treated or disposed of elsewhere,” it says.

But it notes that some councils have tried to impose mileage limits on the haulage of waste between facilities, either in overarching local planning policies or through conditions on specific consented development.

“Such an approach is not only anti-competitive and difficult to enforce, but fails to acknowledge that some waste facilities could have a highly specialised role requiring a large catchment area extending beyond a planning authority’s administrative boundary.”

The report praises planning authorities for progress in recent years, particularly while coping with budget constraints, but says that switching to the needs of a CE will require further significant change.

“Some of the more traditional perceptions held by many planning authorities of the waste management industry will need to be challenged if the industry is to fully realise the benefits of the CE,” it says.

The ESA believes that innovative approaches in many cases can constitute a departure from the local plan, and suggests authorities show greater flexibility on new uses for previously worked mineral and waste sites within the green belt. 

It also registers concern that because public pressure can force energy-from-waste plants to be situated well away from communities, the planning system will remain a barrier to realising the full benefits of combined heat and power plants to fuel neighbourhoods.

“Local authorities could help in this regard by adopting more robust sustainability criteria within local plans, including renewable energy targets, to help promote development of low-carbon and alternative energy provision.”

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