A bitter pill to swallow…
Defra’s recent decision to withdraw PFI credits from another three waste PFI projects has been greeted with dismay by many in the waste and resource management sector; not just in terms of the way it was handled but also because of the potential longer term impact on the sector.
In the first instance, it is an inefficient and inappropriate way to manage the delivery of essential infrastructure, and shows a profound indifference to the challenges that local authorities face in securing waste treatment capacity. It is bad enough that the three local authorities involved were taken by surprise, which is poor judgement on the Government’s behalf. To add insult to injury, the justification put forward that these three projects were unlikely to reach close by 2020 was flawed in at least one case where the project had not only reached commercial close but had secured planning approval and confirmation that it wouldn’t be called in by the secretary of state.
It is also a waste of time and money at a point when both these commodities are in short supply, not least at a local government level. By undermining years of work by all the parties involved in the tendering process, this announcement has created more confusion and uncertainty around waste infrastructure. It will damage public perception and confidence in the system, at least in those communities affected by the three projects, for whom the implicit message is that they might as well stick to landfilling their waste rather than looking to do something more environmentally and economically beneficial with it. And it will knock investor confidence in an industry that already faces challenges in attracting the necessary funding.
The ramifications stretch even farther, however. By stating that it believes England has sufficient capacity to meet the 2020 Landfill Directive target, Defra’s announcement could act as a major brake on the development of all types of residual waste infrastructure over the next few years. How many planning committees, already often cautious about waste infrastructure, will use this as an reason to reject a proposal, not to mention the ammunition it will give to opposition groups and others wishing to challenge proposals on legal or political grounds.
It is also the most overt signal to date that the Government is happy for England to meet the bare minimum landfill diversion required by the Landfill Directive, and no more. This approach is not only lacking in ambition but also fails to take into account the fact that landfill diversion and other EU waste targets are likely to be raised in the next couple of years. It may seriously compromise England’s ability to have the necessary infrastructure in place and leave us limping along at the back of the field when it comes to building a more resource efficient and green economy.
I accept that nothing trumps beating our current economic difficulties but the prospect of seeing the progress that we have collectively made on sustainable waste and resource management over the last decade stall at this critical point in the journey would indeed be a bitter pill to swallow.
John Skidmore is president of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management and head of streetscene services, East Riding of Yorkshire Council.
Waste is a resource, not just a fuel. Better options exist to optimise reuse and recycling and, as DEFRA's latest guidance states, there is clear evidence that incineration competes with recycling opportunities, contrary to the proper application of the waste hierarchy. More creative recycling and then possibly exporting the final and reduced quantities of residual waste to surplus incineration capacity in Europe has some real advantages. Though some disposal authorities would like a new toy.Ian Findlater, retired Director, May Gurney, Added: Friday, 1 March 2013 04:35 PM
PFI is not the issue but there are plenty of downsides. I feel a judicial review is coming on. DEFRA must be short of some key staff - it's an own goal.Patrick Newman, ex local government, Stevenage, Added: Friday, 1 March 2013 02:24 PM
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