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Mr. Hurst: I can find no point of disagreement with the hon. Gentleman. Furthermore, incineration works on the principle of maximising contracts. We have seen in other parts of the country minimum standards and minimum amounts imposed on contracting local authorities. If they fail to meet those targets for waste--as I believed happened in Cleveland--they suffer financial penalties.
The existence of an incinerator multiplies traffic movements, and therein lies one of the strongest arguments against incineration as a major way forward in waste disposal. The inspector's report on the site of Rivenhall did not give the go-ahead, but stipulated as a caveat that there should be an assessment of the highway and traffic consequences of siting such an installation at Rivenhall.
It is not possible for me to state how many additional traffic movements would be created by such an installation at Rivenhall, but it has been estimated that as many as 50 heavy lorry movements per day would bring waste to the site. Those lorries would come along the unreconstructed section of the A120--not the part that is proposed to become a dual carriageway, which runs west of Braintree, but the part that runs east of Braintree towards Colchester, which is a two-way highway already overburdened with traffic. The lorries would run through the village of Bradwell, which is already under pressure from continual flows of traffic, way in excess of the capacity originally envisaged for that stretch of road.
Because Rivenhall is described as an airport, one might imagine that it is an industrial site--indeed, it is ludicrously called a brownfield site. In fact, it is one of many airfields constructed throughout East Anglia during the second world war--many in my constituency--from which our pilots and our allies in the United States air force flew during the liberation of Europe. There were airfields at Earls Colne, Wethersfield, Andrews field at Saling and Rivenhall--all in my constituency. Only this morning, I was speaking to a close friend and constituent of mine, John Alston of Coggeshall, who remembers being on the airfield when thousands of service personnel were being entertained by Glen Miller and Bob Hope. That is the origin of the categorisation of Rivenhall as an industrial site, but it is fair to say that the residents of Rivenhall are not "In the Mood" to have a major incinerator on the site. To the naked eye, Rivenhall today is pastoral--it is farmland and woods crossed by pathways and quiet country lanes. Were a major waste disposal installation to be put there, those lanes would thunder with the sound of lorries carrying waste to the site.
As the hon. Member for Colchester says, a further problem is the importation of waste from London and Kent in particular. Each year, there are many thousands of vehicle movements from London and Kent bringing waste into the county of Essex. In one form or another, the importation of waste into Essex has been going on since Roman times. London has always tried to dump its
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene in his Adjournment debate. He has the honour to represent a lovely part of Essex, at least for the time being. I share his concern about journey numbers, but is he objecting to them or to incinerators per se? Does he support the Government's position, which is that incinerators are inevitable as a last resort?
Mr. Hurst: I take the hon. Lady's point. My objection is that, by its nature, a large-scale incinerator will draw imported waste from other areas. Without that importation of waste, the incinerator is not a profitable operation. Without going into any other ground that might lead one to oppose incineration or not, incineration on a large scale is harmful to Essex because of the traffic movements that it generates within the county.
The Government's policy is manifold. There are aspects of it that are akin to the locality principle. That principle would say that Braintree district, Maldon district or Colchester should each deal with its own waste. I am sure that each one is capable of dealing with its own waste, and on that basis there would be no need for major waste disposal sites to be dotted across the county.
Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford): I support much of what the hon. Gentleman says. In a spirit of cross-party unity, if I say that I agree with many of the arguments that he has advanced in respect of Rivenhall, I hope that he will agree with me that Sandon in my constituency would be equally unsuitable as a possible site for an incinerator. We would prefer to see no incinerators in Essex.
Mr. Hurst: I can confirm that Members in the Braintree area take an internationalist view of these matters and are not sectional. Everything that I have said, save for the geographic aspects, applies equally to Sandon or any major site within the county, including Rivenhall.
The further argument against incineration on a major scale is that it detracts from the incentive to follow through recycling. Witham in my constituency and the district of West Mersea, which is close to Colchester, are both undergoing major recycling experiments. I am told that recycling of household waste has reached 50 per cent. in the Braintree district, and that the target is 60 per cent. in two years. If other districts within the county and elsewhere, especially in London and Kent, took that step, there would be no need for incinerators. If a county or a district such as Braintree is making progress with recycling, it seems hard that it should be penalised by having major waste disposal sites in the county or the district.
The plan has recently been adapted and modified by the county council. It gives us great hope that there will be a presumption against incineration until the targets for household waste recycling have been tested.
Mrs. Christine Butler (Castle Point): I thank my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene in his Adjournment debate. There could be further clarification, and I should like to hear that the waste strategy for Essex contains a presumption against incineration without a caveat. That is the sure way of promoting more recycling with composting, waste minimisation and re-use. I know of nothing in the Government's strategy to the effect that incineration is an inevitable and absolute requirement on a waste disposal authority. That is a matter for the local waste disposal authority, and the buck should not be passed back. However, I welcome the waste strategy document that replaces the draft one because it is a move in that direction.
The French are taking a great interest in major incinerator initiatives in Britain. They are talking avidly to waste disposal authorities, which is unwelcome to me and to those of my colleagues who are present tonight. We do not want waste disposal authorities to take that option too easily. The French are particularly concerned about a move against incineration in France. That is why some of the French-based companies are so interested in the United Kingdom. I hope that Essex county council will take note of that and go for extra composting and other facilities, develop the pilot schemes that it has introduced and that are proving so successful and remove the little caveat and go for a straightforward presumption against incineration throughout Essex. Suck it and see is what I say.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Chris Mullin): My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) raised an important issue, as did his colleagues, and he did so eloquently. This is the third time since the Government took office that the subject of waste disposal in Essex has been debated in the House, and it is clearly a matter of great concern to his constituents and all the people of Essex. It is an issue that we are having to grapple with throughout the country, and some difficult decisions have to be taken.
I am aware that my hon. Friend is among many people in Essex who have reservations about the strategy set out in the emerging Essex and Southend waste local plan, as was reflected in the large number of objections made to the plan. I am also aware of the widely held view that the proposed strategy is weighted too heavily in favour of landfill sites and incineration. I know that there is a belief that intensive recycling would be sufficient to reach the targets for waste disposal that need to be achieved, and that a trial of intensive recycling is currently in place for a number of pilot areas, to which my hon. Friend referred. I agree about the need to ensure that the environmental benefits of recycling and composting are not overlooked and are given due weight by the waste planning authorities in the local plan.
Since the subject was last debated on 26 February 1999, the Essex and Southend waste local plan has been the subject of a lengthy public inquiry at which all objections were considered by an independent inspector. The inspector has since submitted his report to the waste planning authorities, which early next year will publish their response to the inspector's findings and their proposed modifications to the plan. The modifications will, of course, be open to objection.
My hon. Friend will know that our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions has the power to intervene in the plan process at any stage up to the time that the plan is adopted. His quasi-judicial role means that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the merits of the Essex and Southend waste local plan, including the need for and choice of landfill sites. However, I assure my hon. Friend that we will examine the proposed modifications published by the waste planning authorities in the light of the inspector's recommendations, the Government's waste strategy and national policies on waste disposal.
On Thursday, I shall meet a delegation from the Consortium of Essex Waste Collection Authorities, so I will have an opportunity to hear its views at first hand. Meanwhile, I shall comment on the Government's general approach to waste, including incineration.
As hon. Members know, the new strategy was published in May. It identified the need for a fundamental change in the way in which we think about and manage our waste. That will mean curbing the growth in waste and learning to recognise waste as a resource. The Government are committed to dramatic increases in recycling and composting rates, which lie at the heart of developing a more sustainable system of waste management in this country. We will, though, also need to recover more energy from waste by incineration when that represents the best practical environmental option. However, I accept that care must be taken to ensure that any plans for incineration do not crowd out recycling.