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Waste industry calls for planning reforms to support green recovery

Words: Huw Morris
Waste collection

Planning reforms must support the UK’s green recovery by backing the development of circular economy infrastructure, according to the waste and recycling industry.

The Environmental Services Association (ESA) says much of the debate about England's forthcoming planning bill, for example, has focused on housing development, which “runs the risk of overlooking the potential for these much-needed reforms to also help deliver essential UK infrastructure”.

The UK as a whole, it contends, can no longer afford to take a ‘business as usual’ approach, with the ESA complaining of “an uphill struggle” convincing planning authorities of the sustainability merits of proposed schemes. It calls for guidance to clearly identify waste management as sustainable development, key to the climate change agenda and national carbon reduction pledges, as well as appropriate for growth areas.

Waste planning is often considered separate from “mainstream” planning applications and “tends to be bundled in” with local authorities’ mineral planning functions, with the National Planning Policy for Waste (NPPW) in England, for example, sitting separately from the National Planning Policy Framework, states the ESA.

However, modern waste recycling and treatment facilities resemble “mainstream” industrial processes and should be considered within local authorities’ general planning activity rather than as a specialist, standalone function.

“The commercial landscape that the waste and recycling industry now operates has changed considerably in recent years, with less in common with minerals and in many respects now resembling any other logistics enterprise, handling, processing and transporting materials to commodity markets,” says the ESA.

Billions of pounds of investment in recycling and waste management capacity is needed if the industry is to achieve its target of net-zero emissions by 2040, states the ESA. Although England’s recycling performance has leapt from single digit figures at the turn of the century to nearly 50 per cent today, more collection and sorting facilities are needed if the country is to meet the government’s Resources and Waste Strategy target of 65 per cent by 2035. Scotland and Wales have separate targets set out in the Zero Waste Plan Scotland and the Beyond recycling circular economy strategy respectively, both of which set a target of 70 per cent of waste recycled by 2025. Like England, Northern Ireland is aiming for a 65 per cet recycling rate by 2035, having hit its 50 per cent target early.

The ESA is also “deeply concerned” by the proposal to remove the duty to cooperate from the local plan and plan examination process in England, arguing that most waste management facilities perform a strategic role, serving wider market areas than a single authority or region. The duty to cooperate “at the very least” encourages strategic discussions between authorities, it adds.

Read the report Planning for a Green Economic Recovery (pdf) 

Image credit | Peter Fleming, iStock