Waste Management News – October 2014

Fly-tipping, EFRA Waste Report, and National Planning Policy

Oct 30th 2014

Farmers warned following huge fly-tipping scam

Farmers have been warned to be on their guard following a huge fly-tipping scam in which large quantities of industrial waste were disguised as bags of silage and dumped on a disused farm near Edinburgh Airport. Kerry Barr, NFU Scotland’s manager for the Lothian region, said in the Farmers Weekly, “We’ve never seen fly tipping on this scale before.” The NFU has advised farmers to check any disused sheds to make sure nothing similar has been dumped.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has been appealing for witnesses following the incident, which was recorded in July. Approximately 200 tonnes of building rubble, paper and clothing were hidden in the 600 bales which were dumped in sheds and outbuildings. It is estimated that the legal disposal of the waste would have cost £60,000.

SEPA’s Executive director Calum MacDonald has advised farmers and landowners to review security on their properties. “When intact the bales have the exact same appearance as an agricultural silage bale and this may be why this wasn’t noticed when the waste was deposited at the site,” he said. SEPA says this is the first time it has come across waste being deliberately disguised as agricultural produce in Scotland, but it does know of such cases in other parts of the UK and in Europe.

Waste Management Report published by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA)

The EFRA Committee (appointed by the House of Commons to scrutinise Defra’s policies, expenditure and administration) has published a report of an inquiry into waste management which followed Defra’s decision to step back from certain areas of waste management. The report covers waste management in England. In its summary, EFRA says that Defra decided to step back in April 2014 “in areas where businesses are better placed to act and there is no clear market failure,” yet at the same time stated its commitment to moving towards a “zero waste economy.”

The report makes a number of recommendations covering four main areas:

  • Sustainable waste and resource management: Instead of stepping back, “Defra should take the lead role and responsibility for waste management policy and ensure that the value of waste as a resource is fully realised.” EFRA estimates that about 177 million tonnes of waste is thrown away every year in England. About 43% of household waste was recycled in England in 2012-13 but the annual rate of increase has started to slow. The Committee is concerned that England will not play its role in meeting the European requirement for the UK to recycle at least 50% of its household waste by 2020 without significant Government intervention. This is particularly worrying, EFRA says, in light of recent proposals from the European Commission to increase household recycling targets to 70% by 2030. It calls on Defra to facilitate and encourage learning from best practice to help local authorities achieve the best possible recycling service in their area.
  • Waste treatment capacity: EFRA is concerned about “the limited availability of waste treatment capacity in England and the resulting popularity of exporting refuse-derived fuel to Europe.” It urges Defra to provide the waste sector with clear guidance on how much waste treatment capacity is needed to gain an optimal balance between export and local treatment.
  • Anaerobic digestion plants: The greatest benefit of this technology is in dealing with waste, says EFRA, not purpose-grown crops. It also says that anaerobic digestion is the most preferable recovery option for food waste, yet about four million tonnes of food waste still gets sent to landfill each year. It urges the Government to “find ways of diverting more food waste out of the residual waste stream by methods which are economically and environmentally viable and suitable to local circumstances.”
  • Incinerators: The Committee urges Defra to ensure that only genuinely residual waste is sent to energy from waste plants such as incinerators. It does not believe that high levels of recycling are incompatible with the use of energy from waste plants, as long as only genuinely residual waste is sent for energy recovery. EFRA also recommends that the Government encourages the use of heat outputs from incinerators to gain maximum efficiencies from the process.

EFRA also recommends that the Government takes action to reduce the number of fires at waste management sites. The full report is available as a PDF download – see the parliament website for further details.

National Planning Policy for Waste

Defra meanwhile has published a National Planning Policy for Waste, which builds on the Government’s Waste Management Plan for England. Defra says that the Waste Management Plan “sets out the Government’s ambition to work towards a more sustainable and efficient approach to resource use and management.” It says that, in preparing Local Plans, waste planning authorities should “drive waste management up the hierarchy.” The hierarchy places priorities on methods of waste management, with prevention as the first priority and disposal as the last resort, as follows:

  • Prevention: “The most effective environmental solution is often to reduce the generation of waste, including the re-use of products.”
  • Preparing for Re-Use: “Products that have become waste can be checked, cleaned or repaired so that they can be re-used.”
  • Recycling: “Waste materials can be reprocessed into products, materials, or substances.”
  • Other Recovery: “Waste can serve a useful purpose by replacing other materials that would otherwise have been used.”
  • Disposal: “The least desirable solution where none of the above options is appropriate.”

The policy also advises planning authorities to “consider the need for additional waste management capacity of more than local significance” and sets out guidelines for identifying need for waste management facilities by using a proportionate evidence base. Further guidelines are provided on identifying suitable sites and areas for waste management facilities, determining planning applications, and monitoring and reporting.


Photograph: Waterbeach Waste Management Park, near Chittering, Cambridgeshire © Copyright Hugh Venables and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.


Localised flood warning system uses white space technology

Oxford’s airwaves are being used to develop an early flood warning system for the city

Oct 29th 2014

A technology company based in Oxford is working with the local community to develop a localised early flood warning system for the city, using white space in the city’s airwaves. The project will involve the installation of 30 sensors to monitor water levels in the Thames basin. The Environment Agency already monitors river levels in the area, but the new project will focus on streams.

The technology uses white space resulting from the digital TV switchover two years ago to provide wireless connectivity for the sensors. Writing in the Oxford Times, Callum Keown says that that the sensors will measure water levels in the local area in real-time and send the data instantly over the Internet to provide residents with an up-to-date picture of affected areas.

The project is being funded by Nominet, the Internet company, which has been developing white space technology. Adam Leach, Nominet’s research and development director, said: “Oxford has already had major issues with flooding this year and it’s great to be able to apply the emerging technologies that we are working on, like TV white space, to offer wireless connectivity over large distances to tackle problems.”

The project is being managed by Love Hz, a technology company based in Oxford. Its director Ben Ward wants the local community to be involved in its development, for instance by adopting a sensor. “The technology lets us understand our environment and share that information to make better decisions and responses as a community,” he said.” It could become an early warning system, but it needs work. It’s about us building it from the ground up. It’s all about getting out there and collecting data so you can make decisions as a community. We’ve installed one sensor already in Hogacre Common and we have three or four more in the city, in Castle Mill Stream and a few other places.”

Chair of the Oxford Flood Alliance, Peter Rawcliffe, said that flood risk information on the Internet provided by the Environment Agency’s monitoring systems focused on bigger streams. Groundwater flooding was a problem in certain areas, he said, and in some situations the information from smaller streams could be useful.


Photograph: Floods on Abingdon Road, Oxford © Copyright Steve Daniels and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Labour’s housing plans unveiled in Lyons Housing Review

Lyons Housing Review published this month

Plans include measures to support more organisations building homes including small and medium-sized builders

Oct 28th 2014

Labour’s plans to build more homes were unveiled this month with the publication of the Lyons Housing Review. The Lyons Housing Review was set up to consider the problem of the housing shortage and to produce a comprehensive plan that would tackle the underlying causes. The Review contains a ‘roadmap’ of 39 recommendations on how the next government can increase the rate of house building to 200,000 new homes a year by 2020. These planning-related recommendations address the twin problems of land availability and building capacity.

On land availability, the Review includes recommendations on housing growth areas, garden cities, garden suburbs, opportunities for substantial housing growth created by national infrastructure investment, and Strategic Housing Market Plans backed by government intervention to identify housing needs and availability. On building capacity, the Review includes a package of measures to attract small and medium-sized builders into the market, recommendations for a generation of New Homes Corporations, and a sharper delivery focus given to the Homes and Communities Agency which would become the government’s development agency.

The proposals have drawn a mixed response due mainly to its somewhat dismissive view of brownfield development and its warnings of central government intervention should local councils fail to comply with their new duties. In an article titled ‘Lyons damns brownfield with faint praise’, Brownfield Briefing has pointed out the Review’s qualified commitment to brownfield-first. The Review says: “Land being available for development does not necessarily mean that it can be built on or that it is in the right place to meet housing need.” It goes on to say that if the costs involved in purchasing the land, in remediation and preparation, in infrastructure and construction, outweigh the receipts from selling the homes, brownfield land will not be economically viable: “Therefore undue emphasis on what can be achieved with brownfield alone is always likely to be an over-simplistic response to the land supply question.” And on the stronger duties of local councils to identify building land, the Review says: “There can be no option for local areas not to provide for future housing needs and central government must demonstrate willingness to intervene to ensure the requirement is met.”

However, the National Federation of Housing, the body that represents social housing providers, has broadly welcomed the Review. The Federation submitted evidence and helped to support the development of the Review’s recommendations. It says that many housing associations also made independent submissions which are referred to extensively throughout the report. The Federation has produced its own briefing which highlights a number of the Review’s recommendations that have implications for housing associations. The briefing also outlines the Federation’s initial response.

The Lyons Review is available as a PDF download from the yourbritain.org website.


Photograph: Affordable housing development at Lower Slackbuie, Inshes, Highlands © Copyright E Sandland and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Water companies face conflicting demands over groundwater abstraction

Conservationists and Ofwat putting water companies under pressure

Oct 27th 2014

In July the UK government published the results of its consultation on proposals to reform the current regulatory system for water abstraction, as we reported in a previous news item. A draft bill is expected shortly after next year’s general election, and organisations and conservationists such as the RSPB, Action for the River Kennet, the Canal and River Trust and the Angling Trust are hoping that the bill will make it easier to campaign against the impacts of over-abstraction on sensitive sites.

Water companies take approximately 35% of the UK’s public water requirements from groundwater sources and, in an article published in The Guardian, Phil Burston, senior water policy officer at the RSPB, says that some regulatory mechanisms have been tried to get water companies to shift abstractions from sensitive sites to less environmentally sensitive abstraction. “But the truth is that groundwater abstraction is often their cheapest and most reliable source,” he continues, “so for a water company it makes very obvious economic sense to keep using those sources until they are told very robustly not to.”

The case of Chitterne Brook illustrates the problem. Wessex Water agreed in 2011 to cut abstraction levels from Chitterne Brook by almost 75% following a series of environmental impact studies and a campaign that had gone on for 20 years. However, Wessex Water says that Ofwat blocked its attempts to invest in new infrastructure at an alternative site, arguing that the subsequent price increases for consumers would be too high.

Phil Burston is currently concerned about Catford Fen near the east Norfolk coast, the home of more than 90% of the UK’s population of fen orchids and other rare animal and plant species, 9 of which are listed as endangered and 40 as vulnerable. The site is managed by the RSPB and Phil Burston says that groundwater abstraction by a local farm could be damaging the sensitive site. “There’s increasing science,” he says, “that leads us to believe that abstraction is already causing that site to deteriorate.”

Campaigners for the Catford Fen site are hoping for a public inquiry on the case in the next couple of months. However, concerns for the site were first reported in 2008 and conservationists have pointed out that attempts to contest licence agreements can go on for decades, as in the case of Chitterne Brook. The hope is that reforms to the existing licensing system will make the system more flexible. Adam Comerford, national hydrology manager at the Canal and River Trust and a member of the Abstraction Reform Advisory Group, said that the licensing system needed updating. “It’s been around for a long time”, he said, “and it probably won’t cope too well with future pressures on our water resources due to climate change and population growth and the need to protect our environment.”


Creative Commons Licence
River Lugg © Copyright Anthony Bloor and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Welsh homes lose out under ‘Flood Re’ flood risk insurance scheme

Discrepancy in Council Tax bands means Welsh homes pay more for flood risk insurance

Over 20,000 homes in Wales will pay more compared to their counterparts in the rest of the UK, says Minister

Oct 26th 2014

Carl Sargeant, Natural Resources Minister in the Welsh Assembly, has pointed out that homes in Wales are at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts in the rest of the UK under the government’s proposals for flood risk insurance. The proposals, known as the ‘Flood Re’ scheme, were open to consultation until the 16th of September.

Under the ‘Flood Re’ scheme, annual flood risk insurance premiums will be capped and the cap will be based on Council Tax bands. The anomaly arises because Wales does not share the same banding system for Council Tax as the rest of the UK. The two highest Council Tax bands in Wales (H and I) will be ineligible for the proposed scheme, with the consequence that there would be no cap for the amount householders pay for their flood risk insurance. Wales will receive lower subsidies than the rest of the UK, and Carl Sargeant said that over 20,000 homes at high flood risk in Wales will pay more for their flood insurance compared with homes of equivalent value in the rest of the UK.

The Minister has called on the UK government to amend the draft regulations to remove the inequalities of the scheme but Defra has so far refused. In a news item reported by Water Briefing, Carl Sargeant said:

“There has been a longstanding disagreement over how thresholds for Flood Re have been calculated for Wales. The idea of using council tax bandings to determine the cap that homes would pay under the scheme would be reasonable if the UK had a similar banding system for council tax, but it does not. The different council tax banding in place in Wales means that it is not only high value homes that will be affected but every high risk home in band C and above. For example, a family home worth £250,000 will cost £162 more per year to insure in Wales than it would in England. The difference could rise to over £1,000 for higher value homes. And some homes with a high council tax band would not be eligible at all in Wales but the scheme would allow homes in England to the value of £1m to benefit. A clear discrepancy in policy.”

The Minister is hoping that the UK Government will listen to the concerns of the Welsh Assembly and review the situation “so that when the scheme comes into force next year Welsh home owners aren’t left paying disproportionately more for their insurance than the rest of the UK.”

Charities and small businesses evicted under Government’s ‘permitted development’ rules

Small businesses in London boroughs face closure, says Local Government Association

Permitted development rights are damaging jobs and reducing provision of affordable housing

Oct 24th 2014

The Local Government Association (LGA) has conducted a survey on the impact of permitted development rights. The survey has been carried out with the help of planning officers in English councils. Under changes to planning rules introduced by central government in May 2013, offices can be turned into houses without planning permission. The change was announced by the government as a move intended to bring vacant offices back into productive use and to help meet the demand for more housing.

However, the results of the LGA survey indicate that the majority of conversions have involved office space that was either partially or fully occupied. The LGA says that in some areas businesses have been served eviction notices so landlords can cash in on higher residential rents and sales prices. In a press release issued this month, the LGA lists a number of examples that illustrate the impact the changes are having on charities and small businesses. Charities and small businesses have been served eviction notices, small businesses have said they are facing closure, and the majority of the respondents to the survey said that the measures have resulted in housing which does not meet identified need.

For example, Barnet Council reports that more than 100 small businesses and charities were given as little as four to six weeks’ notice to leave their premises. In Islington, 71 office buildings have obtained prior approval for conversion, with a floor space capable of accommodating 3,000 jobs, a half of which was occupied. In Mitcham, more than 40 small businesses and up to 150 employees on an industrial estate have received eviction letters giving them four weeks to move out of their offices.

The Chair of the LGA’s Economy, Environment, Housing and Transport Board, Peter Box, said: “What was meant to provide a new lease of life for empty offices has, in reality, seen organisations kicked out of their premises so landlords can cash in on the higher rents they can charge for flats and houses. High streets and communities have been changed with no consultation of those living and working in them. Councils have told us permitted development rights have meant that not only is there less office space available, there is also less of the vital infrastructure we need too. These changes have created homes which do not meet the identified needs of a community, which has put pressure on schools, roads and health services, as well as making fewer houses which are affordable at a time when rents and house prices are soaring.”

“Rather than letting communities shape their local areas through the planning system,” he continued, “the majority of these proposals will impose additional control from Whitehall. It is vital residents can have a say through their democratically-elected councils. These plans fly in the face of localism, add further confusion to the planning system, and undermine the premise of a local plan-led system which government promised to local areas.”

A number of local authorities have been successful in lobbying for exemptions from the policy where the measures would have an adverse economic impact on their areas. However, the government is proposing to remove these exemptions and wants the temporary measure of permitted development rights to be made permanent.

For further details of the responses to the survey, see the Local Government Association press release.

Air pollution increases river flows – New research

Air pollution increased river flows in central Europe by 25% in the 1980s, say scientists

Oct 23rd 2014

New research published in the journal Nature Geoscience shows that air pollution has had a significant impact on the amount of water flowing through many rivers in the Northern Hemisphere. The research was a collaborative project involving the Met Office, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Universities of Exeter and Reading, and the Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique in France. The research shows how air pollution can have an impact on the natural environment and argues that this is an important factor to consider when assessing the potential impact of climate change.

Previous research on air quality has established that the increased burning of sulphurous coal up to the late 1970s led to an increase in air pollution, known as aerosols. These aerosols in the atmosphere are reflective and reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface, an effect known as ‘solar dimming.’ The dimming started to reverse in Europe and North America with the introduction of clean air legislation and a widespread switch to cleaner fuels.

The new study used detection and attribution techniques which were able to show a link between aerosols and changes in river flows. Chris Huntingford from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, co-author of the research, said. “These studies normally involve looking at how different factors affect temperature, but here we’ve been able to attribute this man-made influence to an environmental impact.”

The scientists found that solar dimming increased river flows relative to that expected from surface meteorology because the reduced amount of sunlight affected the rate of evaporation from the Earth’s surface. When the dimming began to reverse, reductions in river flows were noted. The scientists also tested for the effects of deforestation and carbon dioxide increases on river flow, and co-author Peter Cox from the University of Exeter said that increases in carbon dioxide may have increased river flows by reducing water loss from plants.

Lead author Nicola Gedney from the Met Office said: “We detect the impact of solar dimming on enhanced river flows over regions in the heavily industrialised northern extra-tropics. We estimate that, in the most polluted central Europe river basin, this effect led to an increase in river flow of up to 25% when the aerosol levels were at their peak, around 1980. With water shortages likely to be one of the biggest impacts of climate change in the future, these findings are important in making projections for the future.”

For further information, see the journal Nature Geoscience.