Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220 - 239)



  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.

Mr Mitchell

  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 2004.

  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 further away.
  (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 effective?
  (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 system—ie 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.

Patrick Hall

  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.

Paddy Tipping

  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 around—perhaps you would tell me about this as well—that it is going to be linked to more high-tech solutions.
  (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 moment.

  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 well.

  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 planning situation.
  (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.

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