Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220
MONDAY 1 JULY 2002
220. When you say "presumably", it
sounds as though there is just a scintilla of doubt as to who
is responsible for this advice?
(Mr Fielding) I think there are practical issues to
do with management and waste management facilities. The Environment
Agency we think would regulate those and determine what can be
accepted at each site. Local authorities rely on the Control of
Waste Regulations, for example, to make distinctions as to how
waste should be treated. Between the two we get a good understanding
of whether waste should be handled as household waste and what
its disposal routes are and so on.
221. You both agreed that having a national
strategy would be a good idea. With regard to the difficulties
of storing and dealing with hazardous materials, the question
of the Landfill Directive and all the other raft of legislation
which is rapidly coming towards you, are they going to have a
uniform impact across the United Kingdom? Are some parts certainly
of England and, let us say in this world of devolved activity,
Wales in a better or worse position, relatively speaking, to deal
with this? Are there some potential areas of crisis, or are some
parts of the world totally well sorted, with masses of facilities,
no difficulty about what is happening?
(Mr Fielding) You are talking primarily about geographical
and demographic purposes, I believe. Hazardous waste will need
to be dealt with in the appropriate facilities, and there are
a number of existing facilities which I would imagine will continue.
Hampshire is, I was going to say, blessed with, but Hampshire
has the ReChem facility in Southampton. The difficulty will be
in relation to the landfilling of hazardous waste and whether
or not sites will continue to accept hazardous waste from later
on this year or, indeed, from 2004. That will indeed, I am sure,
create some geographical differences, yes.
222. Are we ready to implement the Landfill
Directive if, in effect, the Government, as you have just pointed
out, has to have a lead role to ensure that all the regulations
are in place in good time so that everybody can go ahead? Are
we hopefully going to be ready to meet it?
(Mr Fielding) The local authority perspective on that
is that we need to know how our hazardous waste that we currently
collect and any future hazardous waste will be defined by regulations
that will come out. As local authorities, we are not part of that
decision-making process; that is a matter for landfill operators
and the waste industry between themselves and the regulators,
so we are perhaps a victim of that process. Speaking for my own
authority, we are awaiting notification as to whether any of the
sites that we are currently using for hazardous waste will remain
open to us from later this year. Although my understanding is
that they are likely to on a temporary basis, we are unlikely
to have any facilities, except perhaps the ReChem facility, beyond
223. So you are waiting in suspense to know
whether operators will designate sites as hazardous waste sites.
You indicate in paragraph 7 that it is quite possible there will
not be enough, do you not?
(Mr Didsbury) We think there is going to be quite
a large reduction in the number of sites available to take hazardous
waste, definitely in two or three years' time. In the London/Essex
corridor sites, two out of three sites which we currently use
will reduce and either not take hazardous waste or will only process
the liquid part of it and then send the sludge on to another site,
so instead of having three sites we are going to go down to one
site, and that one is only up to 2004 while the operators see
whether it is worth while to continue.
224. So that is one indication. Do you have
an overall picture?
(Mr Didsbury) It is difficult. Some time later this
month they have got to tack their colours to the mast and say
which way they are going to jump. Most of the landfill operators
are keeping this very close to their chests at the moment.
225. So you might be faced as local authorities
with a long transport job?
(Mr Didsbury) Yes, on items which currently are disposed
of locally, which might have to go a lot further. We believe that
especially hazardous waste will have to travel much further, because
there are only two or three facilities to treat it. The lower-grade
hazardous waste like contaminated soils, some of the asbestos,
could be disposed of relatively locally now, which might not be
the case in two or four years' time.
226. Is there anything that can be done to end
that uncertainty? Are the operators going to hang around after
this to see what is best for them?
(Mr Didsbury) I think that perhaps once the deadline
has gone past, if the Environment Agency could publish which sites
are going to be doing what, that would be of assistance.
227. I was not quite sure what you were saying
in paragraph 7, because you say that on the one hand there might
be a shortage of sites, it depends on the operators designating
them, and you might go a long way to carry it, "However,
if waste policy moves in the direction which is intended, in the
not too distant future, the need for landfill should reduce considerably"
which "clearly calls for a strategic, co-ordinated approach".
So are you saying that there might be only a few sites, but that
does not really matter in the long term?
(Mr Didsbury) I think there are two things here. One
is that obviously the approach I want to see is to try to reduce
the amount of waste going through, and if the price for disposal
goes up dramatically, then the people who produce the bulk of
that hazardous waste, being the local authorities who would deal
with a fairly small amount of it, the main producers like industry
and business, then have an incentive to reduce the amount they
produce in the first place, so there might end up being less waste.
That is more long term, though. In the short term the costs will
go up and there will be less sites, so you will have to take it
(Mr Fielding) I think that comment particularly relates
to the longer-term driver that to reduce our reliance on landfill
will compound difficulties then of having even fewer hazardous
waste sites, so the prospect is that we may well have to transport
waste some considerable distances, yes.
228. Do you think the Government's consultation
exercise on the Directives has been sufficiently sensitive and
(Mr Fielding) Speaking from my own perspective, the
consultations have been quite thorough and technical. I think
that has not always been to best advantage, because they have
tended to be quite difficult things to wade through in a number
of cases, particularly in relation to such things as the site
conditioning plans. From a local authority perspective, that has
meant that they have not been attractive to local authorities,
when ploughing through them to find out what the implications
are has been quite difficult. As a consequence, I suspect that
the comments this Government has received have probably not been
as thorough as they would have wished.
229. There has been a good deal of publicity
in the papers just in the last week or so about the disposal of
cars and electronic equipment. We have already had our inquiry
into fridges. Are you concerned that we are going to have mountains
of cars and electronic equipment to follow through the fridge
mountain, in the light of the forthcoming legislation?
(Mr Fielding) I think that there are notable differences.
The fridge issue was created through a regulation, whereas, of
course, the WEEE Directive and the Landfill Directive are just
that and require translating into UK law before they are implemented.
230. So there is more time?
(Mr Fielding) There is plenty more time if the Government
wishes to take more time perhaps to get it right. However, perhaps
the consequences could be similar, provided we do not take care
to improve the processing capacity. With the End of Life Vehicles
Directive perhaps again it is not similar to the fridges, in that
the technology is pretty well established; it is a case of industry
making the investments and providing that infrastructure. With
WEEE the situation is possibly different. Recent articles on televisions
have perhaps highlighted that, in that you need reprocessing equipment
to process the WEEE once it is collected for removal. Coming back
to my earlier point, as local authorities we need definition to
know whether, for instance, in the case of television sets, they
will be classified as an exemption or not, and whether or not
we will have a bona fide disposal route whilst the UK develops
its processing infrastructure. We will have a repeat of the fridges
if we are no longer able to send to landfill or to the normal
reprocessing systemie scrapyards or metal reprocessors.
If that route is closed to us, then we will have nowhere to take
them until further capacity is delivered.
231. Can I pick you up on something you said
a second ago, before we move on. You said you found it quite difficult
to work out what all of this meant in terms of the European legislation.
When you get information about forthcoming legislation, where
do you get it from and why is it so difficult to find out what
it means? You are at the sharp end. If you do not know what it
means, then we are all in some difficulty.
(Mr Fielding) I get it through a variety of sources.
There are e-mails and internet alerts, through various mechanisms,
which will draw attention to new legislation. Clearly the LGA
is one of those sources, and I may be asked to advise them on
the implications. To put things in context, there is a plethora
of this stuff around at the moment, and has been over the last
year or so. Determining what the critical issues are for local
authorities can be quite difficult when there might only be one
or two phrases within a quite lengthy consultation document on
technical issues associated with managing and operating landfill
sites, for example.
232. So given that you are at the sharp end,
what has got to be done to improve your clarity of understanding
on the issues about which you are subsequently going to be asked
to comment and eventually implement?
(Mr Fielding) Perhaps the answer there is twofold.
One, we have to find time to do what I am saying is difficult
to do. Perhaps on the other side of the coin it might be easier
if some of the perhaps regulatory impact assessments were more
directed at those key stakeholders, perhaps even to the degree
that the LGA and local authorities through the LGA could participate
in the development of regulatory impact assessments and have more
warning and understanding of what is coming forward and are able
to comment on them.
233. Can I pick up on a point you made, as I
was not clear about it from the answer. I think the Chairman asked
how local authorities are informed of European legislation and
guidance, etcetera. I thought the answer was something about picking
things up through e-mail. It seems a little haphazard. Either
local authorities are directly told by some organisation or they
are not. If it is who you know and through contacts in the LGA,
can we have some clarity?
(Mr Fielding) No, I did not mean to give that impression
in my answer. There are formal consultation processes with local
authorities, and documentation will be sent through in that way.
I would typically get to see things before that, through internet
alerts and e-mails.
234. Formal consultation by whom?
(Mr Fielding) By Government to chief executives usually.
235. So European material coming through the
UK governmental system?
(Mr Fielding) Sorry, the UK implementation of European
Directives and Regulations will go through that formal process.
Local authorities' involvement in the European side will be done
more through people like the LGA and their contacts with the LGIB,
the International Local Government Bureau.
(Mr Didsbury) We have picked up from the fridges issue
that we have to be a bit more proactive, so with the LGIB, the
International Local Government Bureau, we are now having more
contact with Europe, so we are looking two ahead now, looking
at the possible Compost Directive coming through, and talking
to Europe at a formulating stage. In the past we have got our
information from what the Government told us about it, and I think
there has perhaps been a shorter time period to prepare and less
of an ability to influence.
236. Can we talk about the UK situation and
what is going to happen in the next few months and the next few
years, because operators have to make decisions during this month
about co-disposal. I think, Mr Fielding, you were telling us earlier
on that you thought that the amount of landfilling would go down.
Would you talk to me a bit about that? Somebody was saying to
us that there might just be 12 landfill sites nationally. Does
that ring any bells with you?
(Mr Fielding) To be honest, I could not comment on
the conclusions at a national level. I can comment on behalf of
my own authority that we have yet to be formally notified. I suspect
that the number of hazardous waste landfill sites will be reduced,
possibly halved, later on this month, although they will continue
to operate as co-disposal sites until 2004. I would expect there
to be very few, if any, hazardous waste landfill sites within
my authority's area from 2004, simply because of the onerous provisions
that our local operator would have to make for things like aftercare.
My understanding is that what they will have to do is actually
frightening them off.
237. So the amount of landfill is going to go
down. I think you were trying to tell us earlier on that the price
of disposal is going to go up, so that might reduce the amount
of waste. There is a view aroundperhaps you would tell
me about this as wellthat it is going to be linked to more
(Mr Didsbury) That is the logical outcome. If the
price goes up, then high-tech solutions become more feasible,
but there is a lead time needed for these plants, so that there
may well be a large shortfall for a four-year or five-year period
when it might come down to what you said before, a very small
network of sites which still takes this material, until the market
forces and the time that it takes people to decide to invest in
other equipment work their way through. It is definitely not around
at the moment, because the other ways are a lot more expensive
than the way it is done and therefore they are not viable at the
238. That is a bit worrying, because you are
telling me that in the short term there could be a shortfall.
This is fairly dangerous stuff that you do not want knocking about.
What are we going to do if there is a shortfall?
(Mr Didsbury) I think it is a shortage of sites. It
does not mean that these sites will not have the capacity to take
it all, it just means that we are going to have to transport it
to these sites a longer distance, until the operators of sites
are going to make the decision on whether they are going to use
the sites for large quantities of municipal waste or small quantities
of hazardous waste which are more difficult to control and therefore
more expensive to process on site, therefore you can charge a
higher-rate fee when they come in. So if they have actually made
the decision that they have got a site which is suitable and is
not likely to fall foul of any future regulations coming along,
that it is worth investing in that site, then obviously they would
be able to take the waste from a much greater distance, and then
there is the transport of it and the cost involved in that as
239. Does that imply a more national plan framework,
rather than the regional framework that Mr Fielding was talking
about earlier on?
(Mr Didsbury) I think you need to look at the national
strategy and decide how we do it. The reason why we think that
a regional plan is needed is to relate it back to local planning
policies, things like that, so that it is not thought that this
has come down from above, but that to propose that you end up
with this chemical treatment plant at the end of the road, there
is actually some logic about it and it has been considered properly
in context with other items which have to be dealt with in a regional
(Mr Fielding) One of the things we referred to in
our evidence is the need for a risk-based approach to the management
of hazardous waste. In that context then you might reasonably
expect sort of strategic, high-tech, chemical disposal facilities,
but equally you might reasonably expect to see perhaps dedicated
cells on a more local basis available for lower-risk items.