BAN Waste Select Committee evidence

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Phase 1 Day 2 2001-09-26 Eddie Wrigley (Sustainability & Environment Team, Government Office North East)

report from minutes of Select Committee

GOVERNMENT NORTH EAST (GONE)

The Chair welcomed Eddie Wrigley, Head of the Sustainability and Environment Team, to the meeting.

Mr Wrigley explained that GONE attempted to deliver Government programmes for funding and awareness activities, to perform statutory functions to try and join up policy delivery at the regional level and to act as the eyes and ears for national government in the region. Mr Wrigley gave a presentation, with the aid of slides; firstly, giving a national, regional and Government perspective.

The aim was to achieve the Government's Waste Strategy 2000, and there were three key elements to 'close the loop': (a) greater provision of single material waste streams (b) greater reprocessing capacity and more use of recycled or secondary materials in production processes, and (c) delivering the waste strategy.

In terms of a framework for decision-making, and with a view to achieving regional self-sufficiency in managing waste, the group RTAB (consisting of local authority waste officers) were attempting to inform the regional planning processes by producing a Regional Waste Strategy, which would highlight priorities and establish strategies. The Chair queried the timetable for this work. Mr Wrigley stated that it was intended to deliver a report in the early part of next year. Consultation was an important part of the process, and Mr Wrigley felt that the input of groups such as this Select Committee were of vital importance. The North East Waste Industries Partnership was also part of the process.

In outlining municipal waste management plans, Mr Wrigley stated that the region had generally low levels of recycling and composting. There was a historical lack of basic data, fragmentation and a lack of coherent, regional direction. Many local authorities were acting in isolation. There was also a problem of apathy and, based on his own experience, Mr Wrigley suggested that 'it was not possible to give waste minimisation away' at the commercial end. Some programmes had succeeded in the North East, but businesses were reluctant to take up. Barriers involved nationwide issues (for example, the market for recycled material, the throwaway society and a low political priority), and the traditional silo approach to waste.

However, there were reasons for optimism. The existence of this Select Committee, in itself, for instance. The Regional Waste Strategy and NEWIP would help, as would better management of regional performance. Mechanisms were being put into place to plug the gaps in available data. There was a thriving, if smaller, waste industry in this part of the world. In terms of where real change would come from, Mr Wrigley suggested that a more creative approach was required where waste should be seen as an economic opportunity rather than just a problem. 'Joined-up' working and purchasing, and co-operation, could lead to economies of scale. Not only were high levels of leadership and commitment required, but also changes in individuals' attitude.


At this stage in the proceedings, the following questions were asked:-

(1) In the London region, the Government Office made available several million pounds capital funding for local authorities to bid for, to invest in recycling initiatives. This covered, for instance, the cost of vehicles and depots for kerbside collection schemes, improvements to civic amenity sites, grants to community businesses and voluntary groups. Will GONE consider doing the same in the north east as a very positive method to boost recycling performance, which lags behind the rest of the country to demonstrate their commitment to helping the region meet government targets? (Mike Rabley)

Mr Wrigley was unaware of this funding stream, and believed that GONE did not have access to it. Additional national funding of �140 million for local authorities had been made available, however (i.e. �50 million in 2002/3 and �90 million in 2003/4.)

(2) What funding is available to Councils to implement the Government's policies? What potential sources of extra funding are available for Councils that take innovative approaches e.g. New Opportunities Fund claims it has money to support environmental renewal and community regeneration. (John Buckham).

Mr Wrigley referred to the figures given above. GONE did not have a funding stream and therefore all that was available were the national 'pots' of money. The funding streams to which GONE had an 'input' were Objective 2 funding and whilst this could be tapped into by local authorities to fund municipal waste and recycling activity, it could also tie in with local authority work with local businesses in partnership arrangements (for example, Newcastle's 'Greening The Supply Chain') Beyond this, there was nothing waste specific.

Bill Hopwood requested a report back on other ideas of how funds could be channelled, and queried if it was realistic for GONE to put pressure on the Government with regard to financial commitments. Mr Wrigley stated that part of the role of GONE was to be the 'eyes and ears' and if barriers were perceived, to highlight these issues with Government - which had instructed that a Regional Waste Strategy be developed, but financial resources were not forthcoming. Therefore, GONE had to explore the 'boundaries' of other available funding for that purpose. Waste 2000 was the key element of the Government's policy but most of the funds were supposed to reflect sustainable development and therefore any bids for such funding (whilst having to meet the criteria) were always welcome.

(3) What are the penalties if Councils do not reach the targets? (John Buckham)

Mr Wrigley reported that the Secretary of State had powers to act, enforceable through the courts. However, he hoped that such a situation would be hypothetical and that sensible dialogue on problems, involving GONE, would resolve any difficulties before it came to such a position. If there were instances of 'global' failure, then the Government might have to review the standards.

Val Barton pointed out that as member of a Best Value Group pioneered in Byker, she had been concerned that the waste stream and incinerator implications had been discussed. She was concerned that public input on these important issues via that organisation and the Council should be effectively considered. Government policy was wrong. How could GONE help this group to approach Government to look again at a proper, sustainable strategy? What would GONE be saying to Government on behalf of this Group and its views? Mr Wrigley suggested that the issue of whether Government policy was correct or not was not for him to say today. However, from the regional perspective, without addressing the wider issues that had been flagged up, the detail of Government policy would not have as much impact as it should. In terms of feeding back concerns, there was not a mechanism at present, but the Committee should put its concerns in writing to GONE.

(4) What legislation, both UK and EU, is in the pipelines in the next few years that is likely to affect waste strategies? (Bill Hopwood)

Mr Wrigley suggested that the Select Committee would be better informed, since he was not involved in waste management policy. However, the Waste Strategy 2000 was designed to take account of trends, and anything that might come forward in the next few years. Clearly, the trend was against landfill, and towards greater composting and recycling. The strategy recognised this, although there could be no 'crystal ball'.

(5) Does the government have any intention to bring in laws or guidelines to support re-use, for example of drinks bottles? (Jenni Madison)

Mr Wrigley was not aware of any specific intention to introduce legislation. But producer responsibility was an aspect of the waste strategy; for example, agreement with the newsprint industry. Phil Capon queried the effectiveness, without legislation. Mr Wrigley felt that this was difficult. The Government regarded the use of legislation here as an instrument of last resort. They would rather explore the 'voluntary' aspect. (Bob Stewart referred to a previous statement about 'not being able to give waste minimisation away').

(6) Are you frustrated that the Waste Strategy 2000 failed to incorporate waste minimisation satisfactorily? (Bill Hopwood).

Mr Wright suggested that it was difficult to comment on national policy, since he was not a national waste policy expert. Perhaps this was an area where the North East needed to take a lead.

(7) What part does GONE play in addressing reported inconsistencies in the Environment Agency's current performance on enforcement action against fly-tipping? (Bill Colwell)

Mr Wrigley reported that there was good communication and dialogue with the Environment Agency. With regard to waste, there was a reliance on their knowledge. Val Barton queried if GONE relied on their expertise in 'health'. Mr Wrigley responded by saying that they would not expect that expertise from them 'in-house' locally, but they did have a raft of departments and regional agencies which could provide advice. Next year there would be substantial linking-up of health aspects in a more coherent way. Sylvia referred to GONE's role as 'eyes and ears' for Government, and queried who oversaw the Environment Agency. Mr Wrigley stated that this would be the Department of the Environment and Rural Affairs.

Phil Colwell suggested that there were inconsistencies in the Environment Agency's performance on enforcement action against fly-tipping and queried what part GONE played in addressing this? Mr Wrigley reported that GONE had no regulatory or policing role over the Environment Agency. If there was a particular regional issue, there would be consultation and discussion between GONE and the Department of the Environment and Rural Affairs

(8) What steps are being taken in the region or nationally to develop markets for recycling credits and Landfill Tax credits in improvements to waste services, including recycling and disposal initiatives? (Sylvia Conway)

Mr Wrigley reported that nationally, the focus for development of markets was being taken forward by WRAP, which DEFRA and the DTI were funding. They had just published their Business Plan. Regionally, there was no specific initiative beyond the work of the recently formed North East Waste Industry Partnership who were beginning to consider these issues, including the problems of obtaining data at regional level.

(9) Are you exploring possible incentives to encourage the re-investment of recycling credits and Landfill Tax credits in improvements to waste services, including recycling and disposal initiatives? (Jenni Madison)

Mr Wrigley responded in the affirmative. The Government had stated that it would use the Landfill credit scheme. At present, they were unsure how to do it, but the intention was there.

(10) Do you think a 'presumption against incineration' could be adopted in this region? (Sylvia Conway).

Mr Wrigley felt that this would have to be a collective presumption, from regional agencies such as the RDA and Regional Associations. If all bodies involved in the Regional Plan guidance and Regional Waste Strategy agreed as a matter of policy, it could well happen - but this was difficult to say.

(11) Do you think the Government's recycling targets are too soft? In the long term, recycling or waste minimisation will be less costly than landfill. Over what timescale do you reckon that this will occur? And why is the value of waste never mentioned as a key part of the message? (Eric Landau)

With regard to the value of waste, Mr Wrigley took the point. He had trained as a materials engineer and he perceived waste as 'materials' personally. The value of materials was a key message of the waste minimisation message to businesses. In response to Eric Landau's query on why this wasn't also stressed to households, Mr Wrigley suggested that whereas he had referred to the business element since this was the element with which GONE was involved, it became more complicated in considering household and domestic waste because it tended not to look at raw materials, rather at processed materials that are finished goods and it was therefore more difficult for households to have a 'feel' for the value of the materials. On the question of recycling targets being too soft, Mr Wrigley stated that, not having been privy to the thinking behind the Waste Strategy 2000 targets, his guess would be that there were attempts to strike a balance between doing something that was challenging and achievable. Val Barton felt that this seemed to be an issue of keeping industry happy. Mr Wrigley disagreed.

On the question of timescale and landfill, Mr Wrigley suggested that this was dependant on a number of issues, including the economics of the market for secondary materials.

(13) Would planning permission be required for a new CHP plant at Byker? Presumably it would anywhere else? Who has planning permissions? Who is seeking planning permissions for CHP plant in the NE region? (Jo Bourne)

Mr Wrigley was unable to say, but agreed to report back after obtaining the information from GONE.

(14) Tyres: When the EU bans them from going into landfill sites, what regional plans exist for their recycling and burning? (Sylvia Conway)

Mr Wrigley was unaware of anything specific, but expected that this would be picked up as part of the regional waste strategy.

(15) Have there been any discussions in the region about state aid for a newsprint facility using recycled paper? (Sylvia Conway)

Mr Wrigley reported that there were no discussions of which he was aware.

(16) How environmentally friendly is GONE - what does it do with its fluorescent tubes, and its toner cartridges, for instance? What estimates are there of the number of jobs that could be created by setting up good recycling facilities? (Geoff Stokle)

Mr Wrigley stated that GONE tried to practice what it preached. The organisation had a Green Housekeeping policy in place (with recycling of paper and, he believed, fluorescent tubes). The organisation was also moving to implement an environmental management system. With regard to jobs, he was unable to give a figure but there were a number of studies regionally (via the Environment Industries Federation and 'Value in the Environment'). He suggested that environmental industries which included recycling had the potential for a significant number of jobs.

Mike Rabley suggested that there had been a lack of faith in the legitimacy of the Environment Agency insofar as the Byker incinerator was concerned, and believed that there was a political knock-on effect with the City Council becoming a football. Because of this perceived lack of legitimacy, did GONE see a threat that it would be perceived as part of the problem rather than a solution? Mr Wrigley stated that GONE tended to be tarred with whichever brush was perceived at any one time. However, he believed that the organisation was sufficiently separate from organisations such as the Environment Agency - lacking that direct involvement - not to be so accused. GONE's role was to address concerns where it could, and it did not have a regulatory role. If there was a complaint concerning the Environment Agency, GONE could feed in what it knew, including community concern.

In returning to the statement that GONE attempted to 'practice what it preached' Phil Capon queried if the organisation had waste minimisation targets itself and what percentage of paper bought by the organisation was actually recycled paper. Mr Wrigley reported that GONE had established such targets for reducing use of materials and he undertook to supply figures. All of the organisation's paper was recycled paper.

The Chair thanked Mr Wrigley for his attendance at the meeting.