Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1180
TUESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2000
1180. Can I move on to the issue of planning
which is directly linked to incineration. How do you reconcile
the need for a major waste management facility with the principle
of local accountability for planning decisions?
(Mr Meacher) Perhaps with some difficulty. PPG No.10,
which is Planning and Waste Management, is the relevant guidance
that we give. Planning applications, as you imply, have to be
decided in accordance with the local authority development plan.
I think that is right. I do not think in the end there is an incompatibility.
I do believe that some local authorities will come forward with
proposals, but they do have to persuade their electorate. They
do have to get popular consent for them and that is not easy.
I do not think it is equally a matter that government should intervene
1181. If the local authority were proposing
to build an incinerator in the green belt against massive local
opposition, would you regard that as a matter on which should
be put to a planning inspector, particularly if the local authority
itself felt distinctly uncomfortable as they were not only the
planning authority but also the waste management authority?
(Mr Meacher) Maybe you are referring to a specific
case, in which case I do not wish to imply about a particular
case. I would be surprised in generalvery surprisedif
an incinerator in a green belt were to be given approval; but
there might be particular local circumstances which would justify
that. I am not making comments about a case you may have in mind.
1182. I am very happy with your answer. Could
you see a role for shadow planning? Just following the example
of Essex, whereby Essex County Council identified potential sites
for an incinerator which drove a huge reaction, as I understand
it, from the borough and district council saying, "We do
not want these things here" and in the competition to make
sure that they did not happen in Essex in people's back yards,
it mobilised opinion to achieve very high levels of recycling,
driving the local community forward. I wondered whether one could
see a role for shadow planning saying that a waste incinerator
would only be built if the local community did not achieve targets
for landfill diversions through other means.
(Mr Meacher) I do not think we can lay that down as
a rule at the outset. This is a matter for local authority determination
but I can see the beneficial result from the point of view of
local inhabitants of being threatened, as they see it, with an
incinerator and therefore having to achieve those high targets.
Shadow planning in terms of planning to build an incinerator if
you do not meet your recycling targets is reasonable, I think,
quite apart from the impact on local perceptions. Some local authorities
are taking on even more ambitious targets than the ones that we
have set them, but they do actually have to have a fallback if
they do not meet them, so I quite understand that and it may be
perversely that there could be some benefit in it.
1183. I noticed earlier, when you were asked
a direct question, you side stepped it. It was: would you have
one of these incinerators in your own constituency?
(Mr Meacher) I would not regard an application for
an incinerator in my constituency any differently from elsewhere.
1184. That is not answering the question, Minister.
Would you have one of these incinerators in your constituency,
because I would not.
(Mr Meacher) When you say "would I have it",
I may happen to be a minister but I cannot dictate where these
things are located. If an application was made by an incinerator
operator to have one in my constituency, I would expect that to
be assessed on exactly the same basis as elsewhere. This is my
very strong view with regard to all of these controversial applications,
whether it is GM, whether it is nuclear, whether it is chemical
plants or incinerators: there must be openness and transparency.
There must be public discussion. There must be full disclosure
of the documents. There must be an opportunity for the public
either in written form but preferably at face to face meetings
to give their reaction. I would also insist that the local authority
takes that on board and explains its reaction to those objections
and does not just brush them on one side. Subject to all of that,
I think the procedure should go ahead as normal.
1185. Are you happy with the DTI's decision
to define incineration of waste as a form of renewable energy?
(Mr Meacher) There has been much discussion about
this issue and we have decided that energy from waste from incineration
shall not be included in the 10 per cent renewables obligation.
There is still the question about the conceptualisation of energy
from waste and whether that is renewable.
(Mr Meacher) I agree; "conceptualisation"
was just my word.
1187. It is certainly just yours.
(Mr Meacher) There are two sides to this, but I have
a particular view which I have been expressing in government.
I am not going to discuss it here, if you will permit me, until
this matter is resolved, but there are issues about questions
of subsidy in the form of exemption from the climate change levy.
All of these matters are again being discussed within government.
1188. If we minimise the municipal waste that
there is"arisings" they call itand we
successfully move into recycling, does not that have serious consequences
for the DTI's policy on renewable energy?
(Mr Meacher) I do not think so. We are at 2.8 per
cent at the present time. We have hardly clearly yet begun to
put in operation the whole range of renewables, particularly wind
power. Denmark, for example, has just proposed 500 new wind turbines.
I do not know how many we have in this country but it is a very
small number. I have been told we have 40 times the potential
of electricity generation for wind turbines compared to Germany
and yet Germany has a far higher level of wind power generated
electricity than we. There is a lot of potential in this country
and I refuse to accept that at this stage you can say that, in
order to meet the 10 per cent target, we either have to have in
or not have in energy from waste. The range of other alternatives
is sufficiently large and the potential for expanding them sufficiently
great that you cannot make that assumption at this point.
1189. If I can turn to the basics, the landfill
tax has been hit at a level that is far too low, has it not, and
what you really need to do is to virtually double it. That is
what the people in industry tell me. Do you accept that as being
the case, because the figures that you are announcing in terms
of increasing levels up to 2004, a pound a year, are not going
to impact on industry at all, are they? What you should be doing
is going to your friends in the TreasuryI suppose they
would be fairly receptive to thisand suggesting that they
should double the tax year on year in order to meet the targets.
(Mr Meacher) I understand the force of that question.
The only way to answer it is to look and see what the impact is
in reducing landfill compared to what you would expect with a
3 per cent growth of arisings. In the case of inactive material,
there has been a reduction from about 10 million tonnes in 1996
to six million tonnes last year. It is operating in regard to
inactive material. With regard to active material, I think there
may be some force behind your question. We are going to have to
review as to whether one pound increase up to 2004, which is what
the government has stated up to now, is adequate. It is true that
in other countries it is a level of tax on active waste which
is up to or even more than twice the level we are contemplating,
but we have to look at it in terms of impact.
1190. What is the maximum level of recycling
attainable in the United Kingdom?
(Mr Meacher) We are already committed to 25 per cent
in the next five years. There is no reason why we should not do
as well as other countries do. If other countries can get to the
thirties, even the high thirties, even 40 per cent plus, I do
not see why we should not either.
1191. What has stopped you putting that as the
(Mr Meacher) Nothing has stopped us except that to
be over-ambitious on the basis of an exceedingly poor performance
up to now would not look very credible. If we get to 25 per centor
should I say when we get to 25 per centby 2005, I would
certainly, on the basis of the momentum which has been generated,
want to produce new figures which take us towards those high levels.
At the moment, having achieved those quite ambitious targets by
2005, the figures we have published seem to be rather unambitious
beyond that. I do not mind that on the basis that they can be
reviewed upwards, once we know that we have generated the process
that can deliver.
1192. What needs to be done so that that process
is generated? What needs to happen apart from the setting of targets?
(Mr Meacher) All the things that we have put into
place, as I have indicated: the extra funds, the statutory targets,
the limits to landfill, including trading permits which is a means
of trying to reduce amounts going to landfill. We have set up
WRAP. We have put 30 million behind that. We have amended the
landfill tax credit scheme in order to ensure that more goes to
community recycling. We are issuing new indicative guidelines
to ensure that more goes towards sustainable waste management.
We are reviewing fundamentally the landfill tax credit scheme
to see if there is more that could be done to meet the government's
1193. Are the funds sufficient? A number of
local authorities have already complained that the net increase
to them is very minimal or does not exist at all.
(Mr Meacher) I do not quite see how they can make
that assumption at this stage. I repeat that £1,127,000,000
is being allocated in the SSSAs, in the spending review 2000,
over the next three years for environmental and cultural services.
1194. That is making sculptures out of waste?
Is that it?
(Mr Meacher) It is a combination which I have not
entirely understood and I think it is a miscellaneous item. It
is true that not all of the money will go for environmental purposes,
but I assumeand of course this is a local authority choicethat
a significant and high proportion will. If the local authorities
are prepared to use the money which is available, I do not think
they can say it is inadequate. In the light of best management,
in the light of the reports that we get from the waste resources
action programme, this new private sector body that has been set
up to give assistance to local authorities, if they have done
everything that we have asked and they are still short of money
in order to meet those targets, obviously we will review it, but
I think in the first instance these are huge increases in funds
and we want to see the benefits before we will consider more money.
1195. It is a weird category, is it not?
(Mr Meacher) It is.
1196. If anyone is looking at the cost of the
Newick Theatre in Crewe which is live theatre, which they are
hanging on to for grim death, and then they look at this other,
much more vital service, who is going to take that decision in
a way that is going to satisfy everybody?
(Mr Meacher) It is the local authority, but
1197. Whose idea was that categorisation?
(Mr Meacher) I have no idea. It is lost in the bureaucracy.
Chairman: I had better rescue you at this point
because I am sure that this meeting you are about to have might
get COP6 back on the road. I am sure we would all be very concerned
about that. We will probably want you to come back to finish the
questions. Can I thank you very much for this morning?