Memorandum by Cory Environmental Limited
THE POTENTIAL OF INLAND WATERWAYS
Cory Environmental, a subsidiary of Exel plc,
is one of the UK's leading waste management companies. The company
is the seventh largest operator of landfills, with current and
future sites spread across the country. In addition, we have extensive
experience of a comprehensive range of complementary waste management
activities, including waste collection, separation and transfer;
transportation; recycling, composting and energy recovery.
For over 100 years the River Thames has been
central to Cory's operations. We are now the largest commercial
operator on the River.
The Committee's decision to hold an inquiry
into the potential of inland waterways is timely. In recent years,
concerns about the environmental impacts of the transportation
of all freight, including waste, have become more prevalent. Most
concerns centre on the dominance of road transport. It is estimated
that between 100 and 130 million tonnes of household, commercial
and industrial waste are produced each year in the UKa
figure that is rising by around 3 per cent per annum. Evidence
from France suggests that transportation waste may account for
as much as one in seven of all HGV movements. It is vital that
alternative methods of transportation are developed, and an increased
use of inland waterways could play a significant role.
The Committee has asked, in particular, for
views on whether the potential for increasing freight transport
on inland waterways can be clearly identified, and the part that
it can play in moving towards integrated transport strategies.
The Committee also asks whether this is compatible with other
important roles of the waterways. Cory Environmental's experience
in London gives good examples of both the opportunity for, and
benefits of, water transport. It also highlights some of the key
difficulties that will need to be overcome if water transport
is to play a full part in future.
Collected waste is delivered to four riverside
stations at Cringle Dock in Battersea, at Smugglers' Way in Wandsworth,
at Northumberland Wharf in Tower Hamlets and at Walbrook Wharf
in the City of London. The waste is then transferred into sealed
containers and taken by tug and barge to our landfill site at
Mucking in Thurrock. We carry more than 600,000 tonnes of London's
waste every year on the River Thamesequivalent to 20 per
cent of the capital's household waste. Waste is particularly suitable
for river transport as it is high volume but low value, and delivery
is not time dependent.
This lighterage operation removes in the region
of 100,000 lorry movements from the capital's roads every year.
This makes a significant contribution towards reducing the pollution
and congestion caused by road vehicles, and to the sustainable
management of London's waste.
The River Thames is the only inland waterway
in the UK carrying significant amounts of containerised waste.
The Government has stated its support for the
continued use of the River Thames for the transportation of waste.
Waste Strategy 2000, published in May
this year stated that: "planners should consider the mode
of transport and not just the distance: a longer journey by river
or rail may be environmentally preferable to a shorter road journey."
As far as London is concerned, these sentiments
are reinforced by the strategic planning guidance for the River
Thames given in RPG3B/9B. And it is clear from planning guidance
for the London Mayor that keeping waste on the river should be
a high mayoral priority.
The White Paper A New Deal for Transport
published in 1998 set out similar objectives when it stated
that: "the growth in freight risks being met at the expense
of our environment. This is why we want to reduce the extent to
which a healthier environment results in high levels of road traffic
growth. We want to see a real growth in the use of rail freight,
inland waterways and coastal shipping."
A major theme of the White Paper is to reduce
reliance on road transport, and to integrate transport policy
with planning and land use. Conserving and promoting the increased
transportation of waste on the country's inland waterways would
help the government to meet these objectives.
Although government statements and planning
advice indicate support for transportation of waste by water,
in practice this support is not translated into action. The government's
waste strategy rightly indicates that waste should be treated
as close to the point of arising as possible. However, in many
areasand London is a prime examplethere are severe
shortages of suitable sites, and waste has to be transported over
considerable distances. There is a risk that an inflexible application
of the proximity principle could inhibit the transportation of
waste by river or canal, particularly when long distances are
The Mucking landfill is due to close in 2002,
although Cory is working to secure its short-term future to provide
London with a breathing space in which to develop alternative
waste management approaches. Meanwhile, the company is working
hard to develop an infrastructure to provide more sustainable
waste management (in line with government objectives) and maintain
river transport. For example, a recent innovative bid to the Western
Riverside Waste Authority includes:
The largest municipal materials recovery
facility in the UK, with riparian access;
The most sustained waste minimisation,
education and awareness programme ever conducted in the UK;
Guidance and advice to Waste Collection
Authorities on optimising collection regimes and contracts for
Focus on market development through
participation in ground-breaking projects such as London ReMaDe,
which has recently received SRB funding;
Development of the Riverside Resource
Recovery facility with riparian access to enable efficient delivery
of residual waste by river for the recovery of energy.
If new riverside waste treatment and disposal
facilities are not consented and developed in the next few years,
waste currently carried on the river will go onto London's already
congested roads, adding significantly to pollution levels. Once
this traffic is lost to the river it will be gone forever.
Although there is much government support at
all levels for the continuing use of the river Thames as a key
means of transporting waste, it is often not appreciated how fragile
the current situation is. If the existing infrastructure falls
into even short-term disuse it will be extremely difficult to
reverse that situation. There are two main reasons for this.
Firstly, the lighterage assets, (which
include transfer stations, tugs, barges and wharves) are estimated
to be worth £160 million at current prices. This infrastructure
cannot be mothballed and would have to be broken up. The replacement
cost would make any future return of waste to the river uneconomic.
To remain competitive with road transport, Cory Environmental's
lighterage operation relies on economies of scale to offset the
capital-intensive nature of the business. Loss of just some of
the current volume would result in closure of the entire lighterage
operation and lead to the waste being transferred to transportation
Secondly, despite an element of protection
through the previous government's safeguarding of a number of
key wharves along the River Thames (a policy perpetuated by the
present administration, and likely to be continued by the Mayor
and GLA), pressure for redevelopment is immense, particularly
for the lucrative residential schemes. The economic imperative
is often overwhelming, even for those charged with the duty of
safeguarding such sites, once they fall out of economic use as
freight management facilities.
Unless urgent action is taken to protect existing
riverside facilities and develop new ones, the prospect is that
waste will largely be lost to the River Thames by 2002 with enormous
How waste is transported is dependent on a number
of drivers. These include strategic policy formation (the waste
strategy, the white paper on integrated transport and regional
planning guidance, for example); development control (whether
a planning application is granted or refused); and the awarding
of contracts to particular private waste management companies
as part of the competitive tendering and best value processes.
The Government's waste strategy is firmly committed
to the principles of proximity and self-sufficiency. The proximity
principle holds that all things being equal, it is better to treat
or process waste as close as possible to the point of arising.
This approach emphasises local responsibility, and also minimises
the environmental impact of, for example, transporting waste over
long distances. The principle of self-sufficiency supports this,
by stating that, where practicable, waste should be treated within
the region that produces it.
However, it is important that these principles
are employed flexibly. The environmental costs and benefits may
favour transporting wastes over longer distance where this is
by less polluting modes such as rail or river (or where it facilitates
value recovery rather than disposal). We believe there are many
cases where the environmental and economic benefits make it preferable
to transport waste by water or rail over longer distances. As
we noted above, the reality in London is that if waste is lost
to river transportation, it will not be managed more locally,
but will simply transfer to road for long-distance movement.
Recent research undertaken for the Resource
Recovery Forum was designed to establish the relative environmental
impact of using different modes for transporting waste and the
way in which this information can be built into the determination
of Best Practicable Environmental Option. Cory Environmental supported
this project which could be helpful in assessing the adverse impacts
of transporting waste and reducing them by encouraging a shift
to the more sustainable modes. We hope this will be a useful tool
in facilitating proper, flexible application of the proximity
Certain types of freight (low value, bulky and
non-time sensitive) are ideally suited to transport on water.
Waste is an excellent example of this and increased
water transportation of waste could help to reduce the adverse
impacts of lorry movements in congested areas.
Up until now, cost has been the prime determinant
in letting waste contracts and this has put water transport at
a disadvantage in all but a few cases (London is the main example).
The infrastructure necessary is capital intensive
and needs to be underpinned by long-term contracts.
These in turn are dependent upon the availability
of riparian sites for waste transfer, treatment and disposal.
Rising land values, especially for residential and leisure uses,
have increasingly made it difficult to obtain the necessary consents
for riparian waste management sites.
The government therefore must give a clear lead
if it really wants more freight (and especially waste) to be transported
by water. This could take the form of:
Clear guidance to Waste Disposal
Authorities about the importance of taking account of transport
impacts in letting contracts, and building in a preference, where
it is practical, for water-based schemes;
Increased funding under the Freight
Facilities Grant regime for water projects, including a more streamlined
process and broadening of the scope of eligibility for projects;
Strong planning policies to safeguard
suitable riparian sites and to encourage them to be brought forward
for appropriate forms of development.
Most importantly, the government itself must
be seen to be acting on its commitments by affording exceptional
weight to water transport in its own decision-makingthis
could be seen as analogous to the special status given within
the planning system to green belt policy.
Finally, it is important for all involved to
remember that the transport process requires both a point of origin
and a destination. It is therefore essential that waterway transport
corridors are considered in their entirety. There is little point,
for example, in safeguarding wharves on one part of a waterway,
if in other parts there is no policy or political will to provide
riparian access for freight activities. There should be a mechanism
within the planning system to deal with this, ensuring for example
that sites with appropriate zoning designations (including Special
Industrial Uses) are available at both ends of potentially important