Category Archives: Waste

Environment Agency “invested £1.3bn on the environment in 2017-18”

Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management accounts for almost two-thirds of EA spending

Annual Report measures Environment Agency performance

July 25th 2018

The Environment Agency published its annual report this month, together with its financial accounts for the 2017-18 financial year. [1] The annual report reveals that the Environment Agency’s total expenditure for the financial year ending 31 March 2018 was £1,315.2m, roughly the same as the previous year’s expenditure. Defra funding accounts for 65% of this total expenditure, with 35% coming largely from fees and charges. Breaking down the expenditure by business area, the figures show that the Agency spent £826.5m of the £1.3bn total on Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management (known as FCERM), whilst the remainder (£488.7m) is attributed to “environment and business.” The latter includes a multitude of activities such as regulation of industry (environmental permits, licensing, enforcement and so on), monitoring (including water quality), investigations under the Water Framework Directive, and incident management. Over a third of the FCERM spending falls into the category of capital expenditure associated with flood and coastal erosion risk management (£298.1m).

The Environment Agency is a non-departmental public body which was created under the 1995 Environment Act. Under Section 45 of the 1995 Act, the Agency is legally obliged to prepare a statement of accounts for each financial year in the form set out by a direction from the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. Although the Agency is independent of the Government, it carries out functions on behalf of Defra, its sponsoring department, and helps to develop Defra’s strategic objectives. Defra monitors the Agency’s performance and oversees the environmental policy that determines its operational framework. The Environment Agency is consequently the leading public body for protecting and improving the environment in England.

“Creating a better place for people and wildlife”

The Agency describes its vision as “the creation of a better place for people and wildlife,” and its three main areas of activity as flood and coastal erosion risk management; water, land and biodiversity; and regulation of industry. The Agency employs around 10,000 full-time staff and works with government, local councils, businesses, local communities, and groups such as the Rivers Trust. Local offices work closely with local communities to improve the environment and encourage sustainable development.

The Agency is currently working to achieve the goals set out in an Action Plan, titled Creating a better place: our ambition to 2020, and defines those objectives as: a cleaner, healthier environment which benefits people and the economy; a nation better protected against natural threats and hazards with strong response and recovery capabilities; and higher visibility, stronger partnerships, and local choices. [2] The Agency says three principles inform all of its choices: putting people and wildlife first (in line with its vision of creating a better place for people and wildlife); 80/20: “focusing on the 20% of things that make 80% of the difference;” and supporting local priorities, recognising that “every place and community has its own needs.”

New challenges

The Agency says that its Action Plan recognises the challenges of budget pressures, more extreme weather, and a growing population, and that these challenges require the Agency to innovate, “focus on the things which make the biggest difference,” and work more closely with its partners. The Agency’s CEO Sir James Bevan says in the annual report that the purpose of the Agency has not changed since it was first established in 1996: namely, to protect and enhance the environment and promote sustainable development. However, he continues:

“But the context in which we operate has changed dramatically. Climate change, the single biggest factor affecting our environment, is now better understood and starting to bite. Our country is more developed and more populous, putting greater pressure on the natural world. There is greater public awareness of the environment, and higher public expectation of us and the rest of the public sector. The 2016 referendum has brought a new challenge: to ensure that the UK’s exit from the European Union delivers a cleaner and greener country and a better environment.”

The CEO says that the Environment Agency was closely involved in shaping the Government’s 25 year Environment Plan, and delivering the plan is now one of the Agency’s main responsibilities. [3]

The latest challenge: Defra transformation “continues to pose risks and opportunities”

The annual report reveals that the Agency’s CEO and its Chair, Emma Howard Boyd, meet regularly with the Secretary of State and other Defra ministers. The topics discussed in those ministerial meetings have included the 25 Year Environment Plan; flood risk management and related issues; the future management of navigation waterways; illegal waste and the targeting of major problem sites; the UK’s anticipated departure from the EU; and supporting economic growth through prompt responses to planning enquiries and permissions for shale gas exploration and large infrastructure projects; specifically, HS2, Hinckley Point nuclear power station, Crossrail, and the Thames Tideway Tunnel.

Another major topic of those discussions has been the transformation of Defra, which has meant changes to the Agency’s structure. The annual report reveals that in the last financial year, the Environment Agency transferred the responsibility for most of its corporate services functions to Defra. This involved the permanent transfer of around 1,000 staff to Defra under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2016. The transfer is “part of a wider Defra group transformation programme initiated in response to Defra’s spending review settlement for 2015 to 2020.” The annual report says that the transfer, which took place on 1st November 2017, presented logistical and procedural challenges, requiring significant preparatory work to make the transition successful, and to ensure that “the Environment Agency continues to receive the services it requires to effectively discharge its responsibilities, operational requirements, and statutory duties, including as a Category One responder to incidents.”

The report says that one consequence of the transfer is that “some risks to the Environment Agency are now managed on our behalf by Defra. This has required us to develop new relationships between those who own risks on behalf of the Environment Agency and those who are managing them.” In a governance statement, the report says:

“The scale of the Defra group transformation continues to pose a variety of risks and opportunities for our day-to-day business. These include: failing to realise financial and non-financial benefits; not managing our people’s capacity for change and thereby adversely affecting morale; and not pacing change to ensure we maximise opportunities to learn and work better together with more consistent shared systems and processes. We continue to oversee the planning, scheduling, and delivery of change to manage risks and dependencies, maximise opportunities, and ensure that employees and employee relations groups are engaged appropriately… A partnership agreement between Defra and the Environment Agency has been established to guide working relationships and the delivery of services post-transfer… As plans are developed for transforming Defra Corporate Services to reduce expenditure and improve efficiency, the Environment Agency will be consulted and these agreements will allow the services to be monitored and ensure that any negative impacts are minimised.”

The governance statement says that the transformation “may also affect transferred staff and increase turnover.” The Agency says it is working with colleagues in Defra “to mitigate any potential loss of corporate knowledge, effectiveness and efficiency,” including the possible re-employment of staff to continue doing corporate services work in the Agency. In particular, it wants to ensure that the staff who have been transferred “continue to feel part of the ‘Environment Agency team.'” The statement says that similar messages from the leadership of Defra Corporate Services are emphasising the importance of transferred staff continuing to prioritise Environment Agency activity as well as activity for the Defra group.

The Agency completes the transition to Open Data

The Agency says that during the 2017-18 financial year, it completed its plan to remove all charges for the commercial re-use of Environment Agency data. This means that since April 2018 users have been able to use the Agency’s data for free with minimal licence restrictions. The annual report states:

“The removal of charges is part of the Open Data commitment we made in 2014 to publish more freely available data. Since 2015 we have progressively removed charges from almost 100 datasets including LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). LIDAR provides high resolution maps of data that can be used for a variety of purposes such as geo-spatial environmental management. Our datasets have been downloaded over a million times since being published. We have seen free of charge data benefit communities, for example by the Pang Valley Flood Forum and by the Red Cross in its emergency mobile telephone application alerting users to localised emergencies. We also witnessed surprising uses of our open data, for example archaeologists using our LIDAR data to find lost Roman roads.”

The Agency’s commitment to make more data freely available for public use was reported in our news story towards the end of 2014, “Environment Agency’s Open Data Initiative will make more data freely available for public use”.

“A cleaner, healthier environment”

In her foreword to the annual report, the Chair of the Environment Agency Emma Howard Boyd says that the Government’s 25 year Environment Plan pledges to deliver the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, “and to make sure all policies, programmes and investment decisions take into account the possible extent of climate change this century.” She says that the Environment Agency is already moving towards many of the UN’s goals. In particular, Goal 6, Clean Water and Sanitation, is reflected in the Agency’s work on enhancing watercourses and reducing pollution; Goal 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities, is reflected in the Agency’s work on flood protection; and Goal 15, Life on Land, is reflected in the Agency’s work on habitat creation.

The Environment Agency’s current Action Plan includes performance criteria that measure the Agency’s success in achieving those goals. The annual report describes five categories of performance measures, which include four measures for a cleaner, healthier environment, and three measures for a nation better protected against floods. Under the category of “a cleaner, healthier environment, benefiting people and the economy,” the Agency lists the following four measures of success:

1 “The water environment is healthier.”
2 “We protect people, the environment and wildlife by reducing serious pollution incidents.”
3 “We create new habitats.”
4 “We reduce the number of high-risk illegal waste sites.”

On the water environment, the Agency had a target of enhancing 1,500km of England’s watercourses in 2017-18 and succeeded in exceeding the target by enhancing 2,038km. The Agency says this includes work done with and by catchment partners and other stakeholders. The work has been concentrated on locations identified for improvement in updated River Basin Management Plans, which set out measures to restore and enhance river habitats. The annual report says that the Agency has been working with partners in improving water quality and biodiversity through a range of work programmes, including advice to farmers and landowners on a range of issues; for instance, the reduction of pollution run-off into waterways through the countryside stewardship and other schemes. The Agency has also been working to reduce the impact of invasive species, “such as floating pennywort and Himalayan balsam on the Upper Witham River in Lincolnshire.” The Agency says this work has prevented deterioration and maintained the quality of the water environment, whilst “improvements by water companies have reduced pollution in many catchments across the country.” The Agency has set another challenging target for 2018-19 of enhancing 2,000km of watercourses, in order to move towards the goal of enhancing at least 8,000km by 2021.

On pollution, the Agency reports that the number of serious and significant pollution incidents (known as Category 1 and Category 2 incidents) in 2017-2018 fell to 402 from 477 in 2016-17, which represent its lowest pollution levels since 2011. The fall was achieved “by targeting sectors showing the poorest performance for pollution incidents, and using this information to prioritise where to allocate our resources. We then used pollution incident reduction plans to manage the primary causes of pollution for individual pollution sectors.” The top three regulatory sectors, which accounted for 40% of all Category 1 and 2 incidents in 2017-18, were water companies, illegal waste sites, and agriculture, but the total number of pollution incidents for the top three sectors saw a 28% reduction when compared to the previous year. The Agency says that this “top sector approach” has reduced incident numbers in all of the prioritised sectors apart from agriculture, which saw a 13% increase in pollution incidents in 2017-2018. To address the issue of agricultural pollution, the Agency has been working with Defra on a set of new rules for farmers, which came into force in April. [4]

The challenge of plastic pollution

The annual report also includes a special mention of plastic pollution. The Agency says that “plastics in our rivers and oceans has been described as the greatest environmental challenge of our time.” Following Sir David Attenborough’s highlighting of the issue in the BBC’s Blue Planet series, the Agency has established a team to focus on reducing plastic pollution and improving sustainability as part of the Government’s 25 year Environment Plan. The Agency says that plastic pollution is a threat to our natural environment which cannot be tackled in isolation. By working together, however, “we can reduce the amount which enters our land, rivers and the sea, and protect wildlife for future generations.” The team will bring together charities, community groups, academics, and representatives from industry and water companies, and will work on the issue holistically. The areas of work will include: reducing plastics reaching land, waterways and shorelines; promoting better environmental practices in business and a reduction in plastic waste from the start of the manufacturing process; increasing local engagement to change public behaviour and encourage more community action to tackle pollution; and monitoring and research into the ways plastics enter and affect the environment.

Habitat creation

The third performance measure in the “cleaner, healthier environment” category is the creation of habitats. The Agency reports that it exceeded its target of creating 530 hectares of new priority habitats in 2017-18 by delivering 619 hectares. It defines priority habitats as “those most threatened, and requiring conservation action under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.” As well as river restoration and maintenance projects, the work of habitat creation is also an integral part of flood risk management projects (see ‘Natural Flood Management’ below). The Agency says that “habitat creation projects reduce soil erosion and provide recreation and climate change adaptation in addition to their primary role.” One such project is the Pennine Peat Partnership, involving work with water companies to reduce downstream flood risk by slowing the flow, whilst also filtering the water which reduces the amount of chemical treatment needed for the water companies. The project has created 125 hectares of blanket bog, which will help to increase biodiversity and to store carbon to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Illegal waste sites

The fourth performance measure in the “cleaner, healthier environment” category is the number of high-risk illegal waste sites. On this measure, the annual report reveals that the Agency failed to meet its targets. The report states:

“It remains a priority to reduce the impact of waste crime on local communities and ensure a level playing field for legitimate businesses. However, in spite of our efforts we have been finding more illegal waste sites than we are able to close down. The total active high-risk illegal waste sites rose slightly to 259, up from 253 in 2016-17. Whilst we have not hit our target for this year, we stopped a large number of waste sites from operating and we have a good prosecution record. In 2017-18 we made 93 successful waste crime prosecutions resulting in 17 prison sentences. Total fines were in excess of £380k, with some of the highest fines for individuals being issued. To ensure we hit our target for next year, we have been given new powers to help enforce against illegal waste activity and further reviews of legislation are anticipated. The Government has also provided more funding to tackle this serious problem and we shall continue to work with the legitimate waste industry and with other enforcement bodies, particularly HMRC, to tackle the problem.”

More details of the Government’s response to waste crime are given in the governance statement. The report says that a consultation has been carried out on proposals to raise the barriers of entry to the waste permitting system and to reform the exemption system. As well as new regulations that give the Agency stronger powers of enforcement, the Government announced additional funding of £30m to tackle waste crime in its November 2017 budget, “which extends current funding for two years beyond April 2020 and adds an additional £5m for each of the four years starting April 2018.”

In her foreword to the annual report, EA Chair Emma Howard Boyd says: “Unfortunately, environmental crime persists despite the work of the courts implementing the sentencing guidelines. We closed 57 high risk illegal waste sites in the first three months of 2018 and in March we were given new powers to lock up sites and force rogue operators to clean up all waste. I have publicly called for higher fines for pollution incidents and stronger sentences as a greater deterrent to waste crime.”

Capital spending on flood protection

The second category of performance measures concerns flood protection. First, we look at the Environment Agency’s spending on flood and coastal erosion risk management, as revealed by the figures in the annual report. The Agency says that the Government has made a long-term financial commitment to flood protection via the Agency’s six-year capital programme, designed to reduce the likelihood and the impact of major flooding. Also, the Agency was allocated an additional £76m of funding in the 2017 autumn budget, “of which £36m is for bringing new schemes into the capital programme and £40m is for flood defence schemes that help support economic regeneration in deprived communities.” The accounts reveal where the funding for flood protection has been spent in 2017-18. As regards capital expenditure, the Agency spent a total of £298.1m on capital works in 2017-18, compared to £291.4m in 2016-2017. The accounts list nine types of capital works, and the expenditure breaks down as follows, with the figures in brackets indicating the 2016-17 spend:

• £9.2m [£11.3m] on beach replenishment, which involves “sand and shingle replacement on beaches to retain the integrity of a coastal defence.”
• £14.7m [£19.4m] on culverts and channel improvements, involving “work on repairing or replacing culverts under land, roads and properties, and channel improvements that assist the flow of watercourses.”
• £44.6m £[43.5m] on embankments (“the creation, improvement, or heightening of embankments to reduce the risk of water escaping from a river channel”).
• £35.3m [£39.7m] on the Agency’s flood risk management strategy (“long-term flood risk management options for fluvial catchments out of which individual flood risk projects are developed”).
• £3.8m [£4.3m] on flood mapping (“the production of multi-layered maps which provide information on flooding from groundwater, rivers and the sea. Flood maps also have information on flood risk management assets and the areas benefiting from those assets.”)
• £2.6m [£2.5m] on piling: “This relates to the installation of piles (normally steel) along riverbanks to strengthen them and secure the adjacent land, and prevent landslips into the river causing obstructions. These works are largely below ground.”
• £157.5m [£130.1m] on restoration and refurbishment: “This involves carrying out works to ensure that flood risk management assets are in the appropriate condition and restored to that condition.”
• £2.3m [£1.9m] on rock groynes and sea walls: “Rock groynes and sea walls are built as part of sea and coastal flood risk management assets and are often used in conjunction with beach replenishment activity to prevent sea flooding. The responsibility for maintenance often resides with the local council.”
• £28.1m [£38.7m] “other” (the details are not specified).

In addition, the Agency awarded £77.2m of capital grants to local authorities and Internal Drainage Boards, and £20.0m was spent on reservoir operating arrangements, with the largest payments payable to Northumbrian Water (in relation to Kielder reservoir) and Severn Trent Water (in relation to Lake Clywedog and Lake Vyrnwy reservoirs).

“A nation better protected against floods”

Returning to the Agency’s performance measures, there are three measures of success under the general category of flood protection:

1 “We reduce the risk of flooding for more households.”
2 “We maintain our flood and coastal risk management assets at or above the target condition.”
3 “We have a first class incident response capability,” as measured by a) the number of staff who are trained and ready to respond to incidents; and b) the percentage of staff who feel confident in the role.

On flood risk reduction, the Agency says it has completed a number of flood risk management projects in 2017-18, resulting in better protection for 45,864 homes. The Agency reports that 142,850 homes have now received better protection since the start of a six-year capital programme in April 2015, and it expects to achieve a six-year target of better protection for 300,000 households by March 2021. Some “notable examples” of completed projects include the Anchorsholme coast protection scheme, which has reduced flood risk to 4,800 properties in Blackpool and also provided “increased protection to vital infrastructure and safeguarded Blackpool’s iconic seafront tramway.” [5] A second example is the Salford flood alleviation scheme, which “has seen the development of a flood basin and reduced flood risk for 1,400 homes, as well as providing a recreation area with a nature reserve.” A third example is the Sheffield Lower Don Valley scheme, which is “the first in the UK to have business owners contributing to the costs of flood protection. It has led to the reduction of flood risk for around 500 businesses and 600 homes as well as helping to safeguard around 5,000 jobs. All of these projects were completed in partnership with the local authorities.”

The Agency’s Flood Warning Service

The annual report includes an update on the Agency’s flood warning service, which it says continues to grow, “sharing information with customers before flooding so that people have time to prepare and take action.”

“The flood warning service is now able to reach more people, in a shorter timeframe, in the event of severe weather. Improvements in technology have helped this and at the end of March 2018 over 1.4 million customers were registered for the service in England. We want to make those at risk of flooding more resilient, and to achieve this we have refreshed our five-year flood incident management plan. The Plan describes the activities carried out to help individuals and communities prepare, respond to, and recover from flooding. We have already made significant progress towards implementing the plan. By focusing on objectives to increase the quality and availability of information, our customers are better placed to understand the risks and respond to impending flooding.”

In a governance statement, the Agency says that 1.4 million people have now signed up to its flood warning service, an increase from 1.2 million in the previous year. The increase is attributed “largely to mobile phone companies coming on board with our Flood Warnings Direct service for their customers in flood risk areas and the impact of our 2017-18 Flood Action Campaign, ‘Prepare, Act, Survive,’ which informed people what they should do if they live in an area at risk of flooding.” The campaign resulted in 67,000 new registrations to Floodline Warnings Direct, over 32,000 visits to the Agency’s ‘Floods Destroy’ campaign website and an estimated social media reach of 4.6 million. The Agency says it is also continuing to work on “implementation of the National Flood Risk Review measures in partnership with other government agencies.”

Natural Flood Management

The annual report highlights the importance of natural flood management (NFM) in managing flood risk and coastal erosion. The report states that NFM “protects, restores, or emulates the natural function of floodplains and the coast. NFM can offer a wide range of benefits in addition to reducing flood risk and coastal erosion: it can create important wildlife habitats, improve the local environment, and create recreation opportunities.”

The Agency reports that, in July 2017, the Government announced funding for 60 projects in a £15m NFM programme. Four criteria were adopted to select the projects: firstly, the project would need to reduce flood and/or coastal erosion risk; secondly, it would improve habitats and increase biodiversity; thirdly, it would contribute to research and development, thereby reducing the evidence gap for NFM; and fourthly, it would promote partnership working. The Agency says that the programme started in the 2017-18 period and will continue until 2021, with monitoring arrangements put in place in order for a greater understanding of the flood risk and environmental benefits of the programme.

Further funding for NFM projects has been made available in the form of £3.4m of research funding allocated to the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) for spending on research projects. The Agency says it collaborated with Defra in designing the call for research proposals. The funds have been awarded to three proposals: one on the Upper Thames, proposed by Reading University; a second in Cumbria, proposed by Lancaster University; and a third in the Peak District, proposed by Manchester University. The Agency says that the research will improve understanding of the effectiveness of different NFM measures for a range of flood risk scenarios.

In October 2017, the Environment Agency published the ‘Evidence base for working with natural processes to reduce flood risk,’ which compiles existing research into a directory for flood and coastal risk managers. The Agency says “this easily accessible directory will help to ensure that potential NFM measures can be assessed and used where they are effective.”

Flood risk management assets

The second performance measure in the flood risk category is asset management. The Agency reports that it achieved a national target “by maintaining 97.7% of flood risk management assets at the required condition for high consequence systems.” Flood risk management assets include embankments, storage areas, flood gates and sluices, whilst a high consequence system is defined as a group of flood risk management assets in a location where there would be significant impacts to people and property if the assets failed. The Agency says it increased the number of assets above the required condition by over 1,600 in 2017-18, which is a result of increased funding in asset management and “directly allocating this funding to where it has the greatest benefit, such as assets that are below the required condition.” Assets identified as being below the required condition indicate that work is required, but “does not mean that they have structurally failed or that their performance in a flood is compromised. If the performance of an asset is reduced, we will take action to ensure that flood risk is effectively managed until the asset is repaired or replaced.” The annual report states that the Agency has 40km of temporary flood barriers and 250 high-volume pumps available for deployment during flooding incidents: “these temporary measures work in tandem with the more permanent structures that have been or are under construction or may be used where more permanent measures are not practicable.”

Response capability

The third measure in the flood risk category is response capability. The annual report says that the Agency is continuing to embed a new incident response capability framework, following a ‘Major Incident Ready’ initiative in 2016. The measurement of its success is given by, firstly, the number of staff who are trained and ready to respond to incidents; and, secondly, the percentage of staff who feel confident in the role. The Agency reports that 6,568 staff are now trained and ready to respond to incidents, exceeding its target of 6,500. [6] Additionally, the Agency trained around 1,200 soldiers “before this winter to be able to support flood response if needed and joint exercises were undertaken.” The incident response staff includes 700 flood support officers, and the Agency says that “during the most severe storm this winter, Storm Brian, we protected 1,250 properties in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, through our actions and defences.”

However, in a sample of incident staff surveyed in 2017, only 69% felt confident responding to an incident, which failed to meet the Agency’s target of 80%. As a result, the Agency says it has taken steps to improve capability and confidence by introducing a new capability standard for incident staff to ensure they are fully trained and capable of responding. In addition, the Agency issued new guidance in November 2017 to clarify its role in responding to surface water flooding, groundwater flooding, and reservoir failures.

As well as flooding events, the Agency says that in 2017-18 it also responded to “serious chemical incidents, very large fish kills, animal disease outbreaks, major fires, and numerous other environmental incidents.” It is currently working with industry and water companies to reduce the number and severity of environmental incidents, and has set an ambitious incident reduction target for the current year “which will be the lowest in decades.” The Agency reports that it has also prepared for an approaching drought.

“Value for money” and responses to planning consultations

The annual report includes three other categories of performance measures. The first concerns “value for money” criteria, as measured by efficiency in financial management and by a prompt response to planning application consultations (i.e., within 21 days). On the efficiency measure, the Agency says “we report this measure by monitoring the percentage of our budget that we have invested,” on the assumption that expenditure is a proxy for the delivery of environmental outcomes. The Agency says the higher the percentage of budget invested, the more it can achieve for the environment. It reports that it invested £1.3bn on the environment in 2017-18, “with expenditure on both our grant-in-aid and charge-funded activities closely matching our available funding.” The result of regular reviews in the last financial year meant that the figure represents an investment of 99.8% of the Agency’s full-year budget.

On planning application consultations, the Agency says it responded to 95.4% of planning consultations within 21 days, exceeding its target which was set at 95%. The percentage represents a small drop of 0.2% from last year, but the Agency says “this is set against an increase in demand for our service and reduced resources.” Prompt responses have been helped by the Agency’s offering a pre-application advice service. This has meant that potential issues can be worked through with developers before planning applications are submitted, which reduces the amount of time needed for consultation at statutory stages. The Agency says that, at application stage, it prioritises commenting on planning proposals where the risks to the environment, or the opportunities for enhancement, are the greatest.

Other performance measures

A further category of performance measures is labelled somewhat vaguely as “an organisation continually striving to be the best, focused on outcomes and constantly challenging itself.” However, the measure of performance here is more concrete, which is a reduction in the Agency’s carbon footprint. In her foreword to the annual report, Environment Agency Chair associates this measure with Goal 13 of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, ‘Climate Action.’ “Making the country more resilient to storms, floods and droughts is our priority,” she writes, “but we are also involved in climate mitigation.” On this measure, the Agency reports that in 2017-18 it reduced its carbon footprint by 45% to 32,450 tonnes against a 2006-07 baseline year, compared to a target of 43%. The reduction was achieved through energy efficient measures such as boiler replacements, the closure of old buildings, and the gradual replacement of its fleet with low-carbon alternatives.

The final category of performance measures is mainly concerned with diversity in the workforce, as measured by the proportion of Agency staff who are from a black, Asian, or minority ethnic background, and by the proportion of its executive managers who are female. The Agency is currently not meeting its targets on either measure. On the former, the Agency says that because it has relatively low external recruitment levels, only 3.8% of its workforce are from minority backgrounds, set against the demanding target of 14%, “which reflects the minority proportion of the working population of England, rather than a lower one reflecting the mix of the Agency’s locations across England.” On the latter measure, the Agency says the proportion of its executive managers who are female has increased from 32% three years ago to 34%, but this is set against a target of 50%.

Overall, the Environment Agency has met or exceeded the majority of the targets it set itself for 2017-18. However, the development of plans mentioned above “for transforming Defra Corporate Services to reduce expenditure and improve efficiency” raises the spectre of departmental spending cuts in the drive for efficiency savings. The issues prompted by the Defra transformation, together with the Government’s preoccupation with an EU departure, all raise the question whether the next twelve months will be just as successful.

Acknowledgement

Photograph: The beach and promenade at South Shore, Blackpool. © Copyright Steve Daniels and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. The Environment Agency has announced that the coastal protection scheme for the Anchorsholme area of Blackpool was completed in the 2017-18 financial year, one of a number of notable flood protection schemes to be completed in the last year. Blackpool Council first adopted a Coast Protection Strategy in 1995, and the Anchorsholme scheme represents the final stage of the strategy. The photograph was taken on Monday, 9th November 2009. See Note [5] below.

Notes

[1] The Environment Agency’s annual report is available as a PDF document from the GOV.UK website. Follow the link on the web page titled “Environment Agency annual report and accounts 2017 to 2018”. The annual report and accounts were published on the 12th of July 2018. For the corporate highlights, see the GOV.UK news story “The Environment Agency publishes Annual Report 2017 to 2018”.

[2] The Environment Agency’s Action Plan, developed in the 2014-15 financial year, includes more than 1,400 flood defence schemes. It came with the Chancellor’s announcement in the autumn of 2014 that £2.3 billion would be allocated to flood defences to be implemented over the next six years, in response to the increasing incidence of extreme weather and winter floods. See the ENA news story published on January 14th 2015, titled “Environment Agency looks forward”. Later that month, the Environment Agency warned that 7,000 homes will be lost to coastal erosion in the next 100 years. For more details of that, and news of some of the flood schemes announced by the Agency in 2015, use the search facility on this website using the term ‘Environment Agency’.

[3] On the 25 year plan, see the ENA article “UK Government publishes its 25 year plan for the environment”.

[4] On the new rules for farmers, see the ENA article “New rules for farmers ‘will help to protect the water environment'”.

[5] The coast protection scheme for the Anchorsholme area of Blackpool forms part of the Fylde Peninsula Coastal Programme, which also includes a flood protection scheme for the Rossall area of Fleetwood. See the ENA article published in October 2015, titled “Blackpool’s twenty-year coastal defence strategy nears completion”. The Environment Agency was expecting to complete the Anchorsholme project by the end of 2015 and the Rossall project by the end of 2017. However, work on the Anchorsholme project has been subject to a number of delays. In December 2014, BBC News reported that the foundation area for a new promenade had collapsed during the initial construction work by the contractors Balfour Beatty, though the contractors still expected to complete the work by the end of 2015. In July 2017, Blackpool Council reported that the work needed constant maintenance but was expected to be completed by the end of 2017. Finally, on the day of the official opening in October 2017, it became apparent that the sea defences needed further repairs owing to damage caused by recent storms, as reported by BBC News, but not in the news story on the contractors’ website.

[6] In a governance statement, the figure is given as “6,626 staff fully trained and ready to respond to flooding and other incidents, against a target of 6,500, including corporate services staff now employed by Defra,” which suggests that 58 incident staff are now employed by Defra.

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UK Government publishes its 25 year plan for the environment

Environment Secretary Michael Gove pledges to “leave our environment in a better state than we found it”

“Ambitious project” sets out goals and targets for clean air, clean water, biodiversity, conservation, waste management, land management, flood risk, the marine environment, and climate change

February 14th 2018
The UK Government has published its long-awaited 25 year plan for the environment. Its intentions to produce such a plan were first announced in October 2015, in response to a number of recommendations from the Government’s Natural Capital Committee – see the ENA article “Defra responds to recommendations of Natural Capital Committee”. The plan was finally published by Defra (the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) on the 11th January 2018.

On its website, the Government says its 25 year plan “sets out our goals for improving the environment, within a generation, and leaving it in a better state than we found it. It details how we in government will work with communities and businesses to do this.” [1] The plan consists of a 151-page document accompanied by three appendices containing, firstly, a list of the UK’s current strategies on the environment; secondly, a list of the UK’s international agreements; and thirdly, a supplementary evidence report. A further document summarises the Government’s targets. The main document has been called a sister document to the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy, which was published last October – see the ENA article “UK Government publishes ‘The Clean Growth Strategy'”.

“Creating a better place”

In her foreword, the PM points out that the UK’s departure from the EU will mean that “control of important areas of environmental policy will return to these shores.” She continues: “We will use this opportunity to strengthen and enhance the protections our countryside, rivers, coastline and wildlife habitats enjoy, and develop new methods of agricultural and fisheries support which put the environment first.” The Environment Agency’s motto of “creating a better place” is taken up by Michael Gove in his foreword to the document: “It is this Government’s ambition to leave our environment in a better state than we found it.” He goes on to summarise the Government’s aspirations: “We need to replenish depleted soil, plant trees, support wetlands and peatlands, rid seas and rivers of rubbish, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cleanse the air of pollutants, develop cleaner, sustainable energy, and protect threatened species and habitats.”

The scope of the Government’s 25 year plan covers all aspects of the environment. The introduction sets out its 25-year goals and includes an ambitious list of targets. “Using the natural capital framework set out by the Natural Capital Committee,” it says, “we have framed our goals for environmental improvement over the next 25 years around six primary goods and benefits offered by a healthy environment.” By adopting the Plan, the Government says, “we will achieve clean air; clean and plentiful water; thriving plants and wildlife; a reduced risk of harm from environmental hazards such as flooding and drought;” and “enhanced beauty, heritage, and engagement with the natural environment.” The sixth benefit it wants to achieve is a more sustainable and more efficient use of natural resources. The Government also says it will manage pressures on the environment by mitigating and adapting to climate change; minimising waste; managing exposure to chemicals; and enhancing biosecurity.

Goals and targets: Clean air, clean water

The introduction also sets out the means by which these goals will be achieved. For example, on clean air, the Government says it will achieve this by, firstly, meeting legally binding targets to reduce emissions of five damaging air pollutants, which “should halve the effects of air pollution on health by 2030;” secondly, by ending the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040; and thirdly, by “maintaining the continuous improvement in industrial emissions by building on existing good practice and the successful regulatory framework.”

On clean and plentiful water, the Plan sets out four measures by which this goal will be achieved. The goal here is to improve “at least three quarters of our waters to be close to their natural state as soon as is practicable.” ‘Waters’ includes rivers, lakes, groundwater aquifers, estuaries and coastal waters, and the Plan says that the 75% target reflects the costs and benefits analysis provided by the current River Basin Management Plans. The ‘natural states’ of such waters are set out in international benchmarks and defined in statutory guidance to the Environment Agency, the body responsible for developing the River Basin Management Plans in consultation with local partners.

The first measure concerns water abstraction. The Plan seeks to reduce “the damaging abstraction of water from rivers and groundwater, ensuring that by 2021 the proportion of water bodies with enough water to support environmental standards increases from 82% to 90% for surface water bodies and from 72% to 77% for groundwater bodies.” The second measure concerns specially protected areas. The Plan aims to reach or exceed objectives “for rivers, lakes, coastal and ground waters that are specially protected, whether for biodiversity or drinking water as per our River Basin Management Plans.” The third measure concerns water companies and leakages. The Government says it supports OFWAT’s ambitions on leakage, “minimising the amount of water lost through leakage year on year, with water companies expected to reduce leakage by at least an average of 15% by 2025.” On recreational waters, the Plan seeks to minimise by 2030 “the harmful bacteria in our designated bathing waters.” The Government says it will continue improvements “to the cleanliness of our waters,” whilst ensuring that potential bathers are warned of any short-term pollution risks.

Goals and targets: “Thriving plants and wildlife”

On biodiversity, the Government makes the following pledge: “We will achieve a growing and resilient network of land, water and sea that is richer in plants and wildlife.” Three specific goals are concerned with threatened species, habitat, and woodland, including “taking action to recover threatened, iconic, or economically important species of animals, plants and fungi (such as bees and other pollinating insects), and where possible to prevent human-induced extinction or loss of known threatened species in England and the Overseas Territories.” On habitat, the goal is to create or restore 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat outside the protected site network, “focusing on priority habitats as part of a wider set of land management changes providing extensive benefits.” Priority habitats are defined as “habitats of principal importance under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act.” The Plan says that more detailed targets for the restoration and creation of protected or priority habitats will be developed “as part of our post 2020 strategy for nature.” On woodland, the Plan reiterates the Government’s aspiration to increase woodland cover in England to 12% by 2060, which would involve planting 180,000 hectares by the end of 2042.

On freshwater, the goal is to restore “75% of our one million hectares of terrestrial and freshwater protected sites to favourable condition, securing their wildlife value for the long term.” On the marine environment, the Plan sets out four general goals. The first is to reverse the loss of marine biodiversity and to restore it “where practicable.” The second is to increase the proportion of “protected and well-managed seas,” and to better manage existing protected sites. The third is to ensure that populations of key species are “sustainable with appropriate age structures,” and the fourth is to ensure that “seafloor habitats are productive and sufficiently extensive to support healthy, sustainable ecosystems.” The Plan includes specific targets for reducing marine pollution, as explained below.

In addition to the “six primary goods and benefits offered by a healthy environment,” the Plan also recognizes the need to manage the environmental pressures that are the results of human actions. Such pressures include biosecurity and the risks presented by invasive species – see the ENA article “Invasive Species – New laws and new initiatives”. The Plan pledges to enhance biosecurity “to protect our wildlife and livestock, and boost the resilience of plants and trees.” The goals here include “managing and reducing the impact of existing plant and animal diseases, lowering the risk of new ones and tackling invasive non-native species, working with industry to reduce the impact of endemic disease” and “reaching the detailed goals to be set out in the Tree Health Resilience Plan of 2018.” Looking ahead, the goals also include “ensuring strong biosecurity protection at our borders, drawing on the opportunities leaving the EU provides.”

Goals and targets: Flooding and drought

On flooding, drought and coastal erosion, the introduction sets out a wish list of aspirations that “will reduce the risk of harm to people, the environment and the economy from natural hazards.” The goals cover access to information, collaboration in risk management, planning for development, planning for drought, and boosting resilience. The actions are summarized as follows:

• ensuring that people “are able to access the information they need to assess any risks to their lives and livelihoods, health and prosperity posed by flooding and coastal erosion;”
• “bringing the public, private and third sectors together to work with communities and individuals to reduce the risk of harm;”
• “making sure that decisions on land use, including development, reflect the level of current and future flood risk;”
• “ensuring interruptions to water supplies are minimised during prolonged dry weather and drought;” and
• “boosting the long-term resilience of our homes, businesses and infrastructure.”

Goals and targets: Conservation and engagement with the natural environment

The Plan pledges to “conserve and enhance the beauty of our natural environment, and make sure it can be enjoyed, used by, and cared for by everyone.” The goals cover conservation, accessibility to green spaces, and social engagement, with the actions summarised as follows:

• “safeguarding and enhancing the beauty of our natural scenery and improving its environmental value while being sensitive to considerations of its heritage;”
• ensuring that there are “high quality, accessible, natural spaces close to where people live and work, particularly in urban areas,” and “encouraging more people to spend time in them to benefit their health and well-being;” and
• “focusing on increasing action to improve the environment from all sectors of society.”

Goals and targets: Resources and sustainability

The Government says it will ensure that natural resources are used more sustainably and efficiently, and that food is produced profitably as well as sustainably. It wants to increase the long-term supply of English-grown timber by supporting larger scale woodland creation. It also wants to ensure that “all fish stocks are recovered to and maintained at levels that can produce their maximum sustainable yield.” As for specific targets, the Plan proposes to “maximise the value and benefits we get from our resources, doubling resource productivity by 2050.” Resource productivity is defined as a measure of the value (in terms of GDP) “we generate per unit of raw materials we use in the economy.” The Government also says it wants to see improvements in approaches to soil management, with the aspiration that by 2030 “all of England’s soils will be managed sustainably.” It plans to use “natural capital thinking” to develop appropriate soil metrics and management approaches. [2]

Achieving the goals

Having set out the Government’s 25-year goals and targets in the introduction, the Plan moves on to discuss the specific plans, proposals and activities that will achieve these aims. Section One of the document contains chapters on six key areas identified by the Government as the foci for action, as follows:

• “using and managing land sustainably,”
• “recovering nature and enhancing the beauty of landscapes,”
• “connecting people with the environment to improve health and wellbeing,”
• “increasing resource efficiency and reducing pollution and waste,”
• “securing clean, healthy, productive and biologically diverse seas and oceans,” and
• “protecting and improving our global environment.”

Sustainable land management

Moving on to details, Chapter One outlines proposals under the general heading of managing land sustainably. These cover five areas: development, farming, soil, woodland, and flood risk. On development, the Plan talks about “embedding an ‘environmental net gain’ principle for development, including housing and infrastructure.” On farming, the Plan sets out ways of “improving how we manage and incentivise land management.” These include the design and delivery of a new environmental land management system; introducing new farming rules for water abstraction; working with farmers to use fertilisers efficiently; and “protecting crops while reducing the environmental impact of pesticides.” On soil, under the general heading of “improving soil health and restoring and protecting our peatlands,” the Government wants to develop better information on soil health and to restore vulnerable peatlands, with the goal of ending peat use in horticultural products by 2030. On woodland, under the general heading of “maximising its many benefits,” the Plan expresses support for larger scale woodland creation, including the development of a new “Northern Forest,” and proposes to appoint a national “Tree Champion.” Finally, on flood risk and coastal erosion, the Government plans to expand the use of natural flood management solutions, to put in place more sustainable drainage systems, and to make ‘at-risk’ properties more resilient to flooding.

“Recovering nature”

Chapter Two is devoted to plans for “recovering nature and enhancing the beauty of landscapes.” These cover three areas. The first is nature protection and recovery, which lists five aims, the first of which, “publishing a strategy for nature,” is currently a plan to produce a plan. Further aims are as follows: developing a “Nature Recovery Network”; providing opportunities for the reintroduction of native species; “exploring how to give individuals the chance to deliver lasting conservation”; and “improving biosecurity to protect and conserve nature”. The second area is the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty, and here the Government proposes to conduct a review of National Parks and AONBs (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty). The third area is “respecting nature in how we use water,” and here the plans overlap with the plans to reform farming, mentioned above. As well as “reforming our approach to water abstraction,” the Government wants to increase water supply and to provide incentives for greater water efficiency and less personal use.

“Connecting people with the environment”

The plans in Chapter Three focus on the health benefits of connecting people with the environment. These cover four areas. The first is titled “helping people improve their health and wellbeing by using green spaces.” Here, as well as the general aim of promoting the health benefits of the natural environment, the Plan sets out a specific aim of “considering how environmental therapies could be delivered through mental health services.” The second area is children, which encompasses the general aim of “encouraging children to be close to nature, in and out of school.” The Government wants to help primary schools create nature-friendly grounds, and to support “more pupil contact with local natural spaces.” The third area is “greening our towns and cities,” and the aims here are to create more green infrastructure and to plant more trees in and around towns and cities. The fourth area is a campaign “to see more people from all backgrounds involved in projects to improve the natural world.” The Government says it will make 2019 a year of action for the environment, “putting children and young people at its heart,” and helping them to engage with nature. The Year of Green Action “will provide a focal-point for organisations that run environmental projects, and will encourage wider participation.”

Minimising waste and reducing pollution

Chapter Four includes plans to increase resource efficiency, reduce waste, and reduce pollution. As regards waste management, the overriding aim is to maximise resource efficiency and to minimise the environmental impacts when a resource reaches its “end of life”. Here, one of the Government’s specific targets is to achieve “zero avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042,” with ‘avoidable’ defined in the introduction as “what is Technically, Environmentally and Economically Practicable.” The introduction also states that the Government “will work towards our ambition of zero avoidable waste by 2050” (i.e., all waste including plastic waste), with the goal of “significantly reducing and where possible preventing all kinds of marine plastic pollution – in particular material that came originally from land.” The Government also pledges to meet all existing waste targets, “including those on landfill, reuse and recycling,” and to develop “ambitious new future targets and milestones.” Further aims are to reduce food supply chain emissions and waste; to improve the management of residual waste; to reduce litter and littering; to crack down on fly-tippers and waste criminals; and to reduce the impact of wastewater. The introduction specifies the target of “seeking to eliminate waste crime and illegal waste sites over the lifetime of this Plan, prioritising those of highest risk,” whilst also “delivering a substantial reduction in litter and littering behaviour.”

Moving on to pollution, two of the plans here are aspirations. These are the intentions to publish a Clean Air Strategy and to publish a Chemicals Strategy. Further plans to reduce pollution consist of curbing emissions from combustion plants and generators, “minimising the risk of chemical contamination in our water,” and “ensuring we continue to maintain clean recreational waters and warning about temporary pollution.” In the introduction, the Government says it will ensure that “chemicals are safely used and managed” and that “the levels of harmful chemicals entering the environment (including through agriculture) are significantly reduced.” Four specific targets are set out here, with the Government stating it will achieve these ambitions by:

• “seeking in particular to eliminate the use of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) by 2025, in line with our commitments under the Stockholm Convention;”
• “reducing land-based emissions of mercury to air and water by 50% by 2030;”
• “substantially increasing the amount of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) material being destroyed or irreversibly transformed by 2030, to make sure there are negligible emissions to the environment;” and
• “fulfilling our commitments under the Stockholm Convention as outlined in the UK’s most recent National Implementation Plan.”

The marine environment

The maintenance of unpolluted waters overlaps with Chapter Five and the marine environment, where the overriding aim is to secure “clean, healthy, productive and biologically diverse seas and oceans.” The main plan here is to introduce a sustainable fisheries policy “as we leave the Common Fisheries Policy.” The policy will aim to achieve “good environmental status in our seas while allowing marine industries to thrive.” As mentioned above, the Government says it will work towards the elimination of all avoidable waste by 2050, and the elimination of avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042, with the goal of “significantly reducing and where possible preventing all kinds of marine plastic pollution – in particular material that came originally from land.”

Climate change and the global environment

Under the general heading of “protecting and improving our global environment” in Chapter Six, the Plan singles out three areas for specific focus. The first is “providing international leadership and leading by example” – firstly by tackling climate change, and secondly by protecting and improving international biodiversity. The second area is “helping developing nations protect and improve the environment” – firstly by providing assistance and supporting disaster planning, and secondly by supporting and protecting international forests and sustainable global agriculture. The third area is titled “leaving a lighter footprint on the global environment.” The aims here are to enhance sustainability, to protect and manage risks from hazards, and to support zero-deforestation supply chains.

In the introduction, the Government says it will take “all possible action to mitigate climate change, while adapting to reduce its impact.” Three commitments are set out here: firstly, “to continue to cut greenhouse gas emissions including from land use, land use change, the agriculture and waste sectors, and the use of fluorinated gases;” secondly, “to ensure that all policies, programmes, and investment decisions take into account the possible extent of climate change this century;” and thirdly, “to implement a sustainable and effective second National Adaptation Programme.” As for specific targets, the Government says that “the UK Climate Change Act 2008 commits us to reducing total greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 when compared to 1990 levels.”

“Putting the Plan into practice”

Section Two of the document is titled “Putting the Plan into practice”. On general principles, the Government says it will consult on “setting up a new independent body to hold government to account and a new set of environmental principles to underpin policy-making.” The Plan also sets out the following commitments:

• “to develop a set of metrics to assess progress towards our 25-year goals;”
• “to refresh the 25 Year Environment Plan regularly to ensure that collectively we are focusing on the right priorities, using the latest evidence, and delivering better value for money;”
• “to strengthen leadership and delivery through better local planning, more effective partnerships, and learning from our four pioneer projects;” [3]
• “to establish a new green business council and explore the potential for a natural environment impact fund;” and
• “to work closely with a large range of stakeholders over the coming year to identify their contribution to the goals set out in this Plan.”

In the introduction to the Plan, the Government states: “This Plan is a living blueprint for the environment covering the next quarter of a century. It is an ambitious project, made even more so by our use of a natural capital approach, a world first.” However, with the Government currently embroiled in the aftermath of the EU referendum, achieving these ambitions may not be very high on its list of priorities.

Acknowledgement

Photograph: Braunton Burrows, North Devon. © Copyright Lewis Clarke and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. The caption says: “Braunton Burrows is designated nationally and internationally for its biodiversity, being an SSSI, Special Area of Conservation (SAC), and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.” This reserve is the location for one of the Government’s four pioneer projects, in this case demonstrating the applicability of a natural capital approach to the coastal environment.

Notes

[1] A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment, available as a PDF document from GOV.UK publications.
[2] On the concept of natural capital, see the ENA article “Assessing the Value of ‘Natural Capital'”.
[3] The four pioneer projects are: the Cumbria Catchment Pioneer, led by the Environment Agency (using a natural capital approach to the management of river catchments); the North Devon Landscape Pioneer, led by Natural England (the use of natural capital in determining environmental priorities in the North Devon UNESCO Biosphere Reserve); the Greater Manchester Urban Pioneer, led by the Environment Agency (the use of environmental enhancements in improving well-being); and the Marine Pioneer, led by the Marine Management Organisation (applying a natural capital approach to the marine environment, based on a study of two separate coastal areas – the North Devon Biosphere Reserve and the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths AONB). The four pioneer projects started in 2016.

Sustainability in Construction – The Climate Change Challenge and a Circular Economy

The Green Construction Board has set UK construction firms a target of a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2025

And the EC has set member states a target of a 70% recycling of construction waste by 2020

November 23rd 2016

In a recent article, we looked at a number of localised renewable energy schemes, taking as our cue the slogan of “thinking globally, acting locally.” In this article we look at sustainability in the construction industry, where action requires not only local partnerships but also collaborations and initiatives that can cut across national boundaries as well as industries. A number of events have been held this year which have highlighted the need for cooperation in tackling the dual challenge of climate change and of managing resources in construction.

The Construction Climate Challenge: Reducing carbon in infrastructure construction

Companies working in the UK construction industry came together this month for a seminar titled Reducing Carbon in Infrastructure Construction. The seminar was held in Birmingham on November 10th and was hosted by Volvo Construction Equipment with support from the Green Construction Board as part of its ‘Construction Climate Challenge.’ The Green Construction Board was set up by the UK Government to provide leadership to the construction industry on reducing carbon emissions and to promote the use of low-carbon growth opportunities. The Board also has a role in monitoring the implementation of the Government’s ‘Low Carbon Construction Action Plan.’

The Climate Change Act of 2008 set an industry target of a 35% reduction in carbon emissions by 2025 and an 80% reduction by 2050. In 2013, however, the Green Construction Board published an industrial strategy for construction titled Construction 2025 which sets out the more ambitious target of a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. To help the industry meet this challenge, the Board launched a new standard for carbon reduction in May 2016, which is designed to encourage “a consistent approach to the management of carbon by all involved in infrastructure.”

This month’s seminar was an opportunity for construction companies to share best practice in reducing carbon and meeting the targets of the Construction Climate Challenge. As reported by Agg-Net, the key message to emerge from the event was that “reducing carbon emissions in infrastructure construction does not necessarily mean higher costs.” Other themes to emerge were the need to encourage collaboration, the need to adopt change, and to convince the industry of the cost-saving potential of such change. About a hundred business leaders from major infrastructure projects attended the event, as well as research bodies and government agencies. The seminar covered a wide range of topics, including the challenges of reducing carbon in major infrastructure projects; guidance on how to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint; tools to measure carbon reduction; and how new technology and low-carbon materials can help deliver substantial carbon reductions, while at the same time reducing costs and delivering higher performance.

The seminar was introduced by the Vice-President of Volvo Construction Equipment, Bill Law, who said “sustainability is too big an issue to be dealt with through the resources of one company alone.” The company’s Director of Emerging Technologies, Jenny Elfsberg, said that Volvo Construction Equipment had been developing engines that operate with alternative renewable fuels including HVO, methane and even electricity. “Our preferred choice is HVO,” she said, “a high-performing oil made from vegetable oils and fats that is also a carbon-neutral solution.” The company showcased a number of its projects at its ‘Xploration Forum’ held in Sweden in September, including the Electric Site Project, which aims to transform the quarrying and aggregates industry “by reducing carbon emissions by up to 95% and the total cost of ownership by up to 25%.”

The closing speech came from Andy Mitchell from the Thames Tideway Tunnel project, who reiterated the message that lower carbon means lower cost and said that, with collaboration, the industry might succeed in meeting its targets.

The latest news on the ‘Construction Climate Challenge’ is displayed on its Facebook page.

A Circular Economy in Construction: the European Dimension

To tackle the challenge of sustainability with regard to resources, the European Commission has been promoting the idea of a circular economy, in which one industry’s waste can be turned into another industry’s raw materials. As part of the transition to a circular economy, the EC Waste Framework Directive stipulates that member states “shall take the necessary measures designed to achieve that by 2020 a minimum of 70% (by weight) of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste shall be prepared for re-use, recycled or undergo other material recovery.” [1] To further stimulate the transition, the EC adopted a Circular Economy Package in December 2015 which includes not only revised legislative proposals on waste but also measures to promote re-use and recycling across industries, such as technological investment and training courses. [2]

The move to a circular economy is supported by EQAR, the European Quality Association for Recycling, which was founded in 2006 as an umbrella organisation for construction material recycling and to represent the interests of the recycling sector. EQAR held a congress in September, where companies and organisations from the waste management industry came together from various EU member states to discuss progress in the establishment of a circular economy in construction across Europe. EQAR says that more than a billion tonnes of mineral-based construction and demolition waste is produced in Europe each year, and a circular economy in construction is therefore of critical importance for a resource-efficient Europe.

A review of the congress by Agg-Net says that some EU member states had not reached the targets set by the Waste Framework Directive, whilst the level of construction and demolition waste recycling varies dramatically across Europe. The EC says the level ranges from less than 10% to over 90%. [3] This has led EQAR to reiterate a call made at a previous congress for the improvement and unification of the framework conditions for construction material recycling:

“EQAR believes that by creating a single European market for recycled construction materials, utilization rates could be markedly increased. EQAR says regional demand for recycled construction materials is frequently subject to fluctuations which could be compensated for by exchanging recycled products across Europe’s internal borders. EQAR is therefore calling for standardization of environmental compatibility classes for aggregates, to bring about a harmonized product status for recycled construction materials on a European level. To help increase acceptance of recycled construction materials, in 2013 EQAR adopted a European quality assurance system for recycled construction materials, which aims to ensure uniformity of quality through independent external monitoring of recycled products.”

Speaking at the September event, Vincent Basuya, EC Policy Officer for Sustainable Construction, provided an update on the progress of the Construction & Demolition Waste Management Protocol, which is expected to contain numerous examples of best practice in construction and demolition waste recycling and to serve as an essential guide for action in EU member states. However, EQAR is concerned over the lack of urgency in the standardisation of quality-assured recycled construction materials, which has prompted the organisation to reiterate its call for EU-wide regulation in this area, to run in parallel to the protocol. According to Agg-Net, so far only five EU countries have adopted their own end-of-waste criteria with varying levels of regulation.

A Circular Economy in Construction: the UK

The EC’s Circular Economy Package, published in December 2015, followed a series of consultations which asked member states for their views on the technical workings of existing waste legislation; the functioning of waste markets in the EU; and measures that might be adopted to expedite the transition to a circular economy. In particular, member states were asked: “What are the most successful measures taken in your country, at national, regional, or local level, to facilitate the transition to a circular economy? (These can include legislative initiatives, financial instruments such as taxation, support programmes, awareness campaigns, public procurement, etc.). Are there any particular lessons learned from these measures, and could they in your view be usefully replicated in other countries or regions?”

The UK Government published two documents which set out its response to the consultations. In summary, it highlighted three measures which had been adopted in the UK and could be usefully replicated elsewhere in the EU: the facilitation of resource-efficient business models (through resource-efficient production techniques and technological solutions, for example); the adoption of a systems approach that makes better use of data; and the promotion of voluntary agreements. It provided a number of examples of government actions, including the Construction 2025 industrial strategy, and government funding of the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), which helps businesses, local authorities and households to become more efficient in their use of resources.

Among its recommendations, the Government said that EU funded research, pilot projects and case studies had the potential to deliver practical solutions to increasing resource efficiency, and this research should be disseminated to a wider audience. It also argued that the EU should adopt “a holistic approach to developing the new circular economy package as a whole – the impact of waste prevention actions needs to be taken into account in considering the ‘waste part of the circle.'” A further recommendation was that “the EU should support the establishment of EU-wide networks to promote industrial symbiosis” (i.e. the process whereby one industry’s waste becomes another industry’s raw materials):

“The network should engage traditionally separate industries and other organisations to foster innovative strategies for more sustainable resource use (including materials, energy, water, assets, expertise, logistics, etc.). Through the network, business opportunities would be identified leading to mutually advantageous transactions for innovative sourcing of required inputs and value-added destinations for non-product outputs. Organisations would also benefit from being exposed to best practice and knowledge transfer, resulting in cultural and process changes. An industrial symbiosis methodology has been pioneered in the UK and we would be happy to share our experiences.”

In short, the views of the UK Government in 2015 appear to be in harmony with the views of EQAR on the need for a single European market for recycled construction materials. Given the referendum result, it is also interesting to note that another recommendation was that the EU “should maintain the integrity of the EU single market and support measures to deliver growth and innovation, avoiding and where appropriate reducing burdens on business, especially SMEs.”

‘Carbon-negative’ manufacturing and recycled aggregates

In February this year, one company that specialises in aggregate production in the UK said it was uniquely placed to benefit from the EC Circular Economy Package, having obtained planning permission to build a third ‘carbon-negative’ manufacturing facility on the outskirts of Leeds. Carbon8 Aggregates have a facility at Brandon in Suffolk and their second plant was built at Avonmouth in 2015. The £4m. plant at Leeds is the result of a joint planning application with local independent block makers Thomas Armstrong who will build a new plant alongside Carbon8’s aggregate operation. Thomas Armstrong, trading as Stocks Blocks, will use the aggregate in the production of construction blocks.

Carbon8 says that the new facility will be capable of transforming 50,000 tonnes of waste flue-gas treatment residues, derived from energy-from-waste facilities, into approximately 110,000 tonnes of lightweight secondary aggregate. Stephen Roscoe, Carbon8’s technical director, said: “We are already in advanced discussions regarding contracts for more than 50% of the residues into Leeds and, due to the imminent closure of coal-fired power stations in the region, we’re also seeing strong demand from block makers for our aggregate, which will replace the power station ash frequently used in block manufacture.”

Carbon8 use an award-winning patented process known as accelerated carbonation technology (ACT) to manufacture a high-quality lightweight aggregate called C8Aggregate (C8A). The company says that by permanently capturing more carbon dioxide than is generated during its manufacture, the ACT process means C8A is the world’s first truly carbon-negative aggregate. The three sites will have a combined capacity of more than 130,000 tonnes of flue-gas treatment residues a year, and the Leeds site is said to mark a significant step in Carbon8’s strategy to develop five sites nationally with a total capacity of 250,000 tonnes a year. Work on the Leeds site was expected to begin in August this year. [4]

Also in the UK, the company Powerday opened a new materials recovery facility in December 2015 which the company says will be able to process 330,000 tonnes of waste a year from the London area. Located in Enfield on the site of a former waste transfer station operated by the company, the facility will process construction and commercial waste, “producing high-quality recycled materials and renewable fuel.” Mick Crossan from Powerday said the facility “provides greater options for clients and a further high-volume production site for refuse derived fuels (RDF), making it an attractive collection point for RDF collectors currently exporting to Europe and Scandinavia via the London ports.” [5]

Also in London, the company Brett Aggregates is making a contribution to the development of the circular economy through its involvement in the restoration and regeneration of Battersea Power Station. The Grade II* listed building and its surroundings are being transformed into a new residential area comprising over two million square feet of offices, apartments, retail and leisure outlets, cultural venues, and eighteen acres of public space. An article by Agg-Net says that the company is working in close collaboration with the McGee Group, “one of the contractors on the Battersea Power Station site given the task to excavate 400,000 tonnes of materials and to build a huge basement area.” All excavated material is transported by McGee to a Brett facility in West London, “where it is crushed and screened to produce recycled aggregates ready for use in the redevelopment project. The two companies are working together to ensure that this process is achieved with maximum efficiency and with as few truck movements as possible in order to reduce their carbon footprint.”

Finally, a major exhibition for the waste management and recycling industry was held at the NEC in Birmingham in September. ‘Recycling and Waste Management’ is an annual event organised in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Waste Management which the organisers say attracts more than 500 exhibitors and 13,000 visitors. The event showcases the latest innovations in recycling and reprocessing technology, including the recycling of electrical and electronic waste, as well as developments in ‘Energy from Waste’ technologies such as anaerobic digestion and biomass. The event also showcases the latest machines for sorting and separation, size reduction, and the movement of materials within materials recovery facilities, waste transfer stations and other recycling facilities. The event was held in parallel with three other major exhibitions, also at the NEC: The Energy Event, The Renewables Event and The Water Event. For the latest news on this annual event, see the RWM Exhibition website.

Notes

[1] For details of the EC Waste Framework Directive as regards construction and demolition waste, see this article on the EC website.

[2] For details of the EC Circular Economy Package, see the EC Press Release, published in December 2015.

[3] Ibid (as note 1).

[4] An article by Agg-Net summarises a report by Off-Highway Research, a provider of market intelligence for the construction equipment sector, titled The Impact of Brexit on the UK Construction Equipment Industry. The summary says: “The unexpected result of the June referendum has already had a number of effects on the industry, including lower than expected equipment sales and price pressure on imports due to the depreciation in the pound.” There is now a large question mark over the impact of a UK withdrawal and the potential loss of EU incentives such as the EC Circular Economy Package.

[5] The family-run firm was also ordered to pay a fine this year of £1.2m. for two historical waste offences, dating from 2010, following an investigation and prosecution by the Environment Agency. See the article on letsrecycle.com.

Photograph

Photograph: Battersea Power Station, ‘Spot the Difference’ © Copyright Paul Farmer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. This photograph was taken in 2014 and the caption says: “The four chimneys of Battersea Power Station are going to be dismantled and rebuilt.” A shared description says: “Battersea Power Station is a former power station on the south bank of the Thames. Battersea A was opened in 1935 and Battersea B in 1955. The power station stopped generating in 1983. It is a Grade II* listed building and an iconic landmark. Many plans for its redevelopment have come and gone.” However, the current plans are in progress: work began in 2013 and Phase 1 of the project is scheduled for completion in 2017. The building and its surroundings are in the process of being transformed into a new residential area comprising over two million square feet of offices, apartments, retail and leisure outlets, cultural venues, and eighteen acres of public space. All excavated material from the site is being recycled into aggregates ready for use in the redevelopment project.

In or Out? Environmental campaigners discuss the EU referendum

How will Thursday’s vote affect environmental policy? The RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts, World Wildlife Fund and Friends of the Earth examine the evidence

June 22nd 2016
On Thursday 23rd June, the UK is holding a referendum on its membership of the European Union. Two issues have tended to dominate the debate. For those who want Britain to leave, the main issue is immigration; for those who want Britain to remain, it’s the economy. But how will the outcome affect environmental policy?

Organisations such as the RSPB and Friends of the Earth have been working to ensure that the environment is not forgotten in the debate about EU membership. The RSPB has canvassed views from representatives of the two official campaigns, ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ and ‘Vote Leave,’ asking them to explain how their proposals would help protect the environment. [1]

Speaking on behalf of the remain campaign, Caroline Lucas MP gave three reasons why staying in the EU would benefit the environment. Firstly, it meant Britain was party to a set of common rules that serve environmental protection and set limits to pollution and waste; the EU’s Birds and Habitats Directives and the EU’s Maritime Safety Agency were cited as examples. Secondly, she argued that the EU helps to tackle climate change by setting ambitious plans for reducing energy consumption, limiting carbon emissions, and transitioning to renewable energy sources. Thirdly, she referred to EU’s funding for research on environmental protection: “The EU LIFE programme,” she said, “worth over £600 million, backs 11 UK environment projects in the areas of environment policy, nature and biodiversity. In addition to this, the EU’s research programme is expected to provide £8.3 billion in funding for cutting edge research at our universities, which will help us develop new sustainable technology and further our understanding of our planet and habitat.” She also mentioned EU’s action to regulate pesticides that are known to kill bees, and work on banning the hunting of seals and dolphins.

George Eustice MP, Minister for Farming, Food & the Marine Environment, spoke on behalf of the leave campaign. He said: “It is time to question the lazy assumption that environmental improvement can only occur when democratic government is set aside in favour of a pan-European legal system, and when the public are disempowered… We should not seek to side step the public through technocratic EU law. Instead we should engage the public to secure genuine, politically-led change.” He referred to the Berne Convention and its legally-binding commitments to improve habitats and protect wildlife, which the UK signed up to in the late 1970s. If the UK had stuck with that model, he said, and taken responsibility ourselves for delivering improvements through tailored national legislation, progress would have happened more effectively and perhaps faster. “Instead,” he said, “we abdicated all responsibility to the EU and sat on our hands like infants waiting to be told what to do. It’s time to grow up and take control.”

How do these arguments stack up? The RSPB says EU policy has had both positive and negative consequences for the environment: “Current evidence suggests that the EU has had a positive impact through some of its environment policies, most notably through the Birds and Habitats Directives but also by setting water quality, climate change, air quality and renewable energy targets. However, significant concerns remain about some sectoral policies (such as for agriculture and fisheries) and environmentally harmful subsidies.”

The RSPB highlights two aspects of EU policy to illustrate this point. Firstly, farming policy; and secondly, nature legislation. [2]

On farming policy, the RSPB says: “Agriculture policy in the EU was historically about driving up food production. As a result trees, hedgerows and wild flowers disappeared from our countryside – squeezed out by bigger fields, ever-bigger farm machinery and an increasing reliance on pesticides. This intensification of agriculture is the number one cause of declines in the UK’s wildlife in recent decades… Changes have reduced some of the harmful impacts, and a small proportion of the EU Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) budget does now go towards supporting nature-friendly farmers and the great work they do. But the EU’s agriculture policy continues to fail farmers and our wildlife, whilst accounting for almost 40% of the EU budget – there’s a long way to go to reach a truly sustainable agriculture policy for the EU.”

On the other hand, the RSPB says the EU’s nature conservation laws “have been a driving force for establishing and strengthening nature conservation measures in the UK and other Member States. These laws provide protection for wildlife, in particular by safeguarding places that are important for them. Over 20,000 square kilometres of land are protected in the UK alone – including the New Forest, Ramsey Island, and the Moray Firth. These laws have been a lifeline for otters, marsh fritillary butterflies and bitterns, among many others.”

To examine these issues in more detail, the RSPB joined forces with the Wildlife Trusts and the World Wildlife Fund in March to commission a report by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), an independent research institute. [3] The report examines the EU’s track record on the environment and produces the evidence which is summarised above. In addition, the report looks at different UK exit scenarios and considers the arrangements that would need to be established to maintain some of the existing environmental protection provided by EU membership.

Two exit scenarios are examined: one is leaving the EU but staying in the European Economic Area or European Free Trade Association; the second is a complete exit and total independence. On these exit scenarios, the report says: “Recent UK government policy has tended to favour deregulation and competitiveness over environmental regulation, so leaving the EU would result (in the immediate term at least) in considerable uncertainty for wildlife, and for business investment in green infrastructure.”

This last point is taken up in a blog post by RSPB Chief Executive Mike Clarke. He says the RSPB is delighted that both campaigns responded positively to the challenge to set out how their respective positions will deliver for nature. “However,” he says, “no one from the ‘Leave’ campaign has yet been able to reassure us that we wouldn’t need to start again from scratch were we to leave the EU. What will happen to nature in the meantime? Recent calls from supporters of ‘Leave’ to scrap the Nature Directives – which have been proven to work so effectively where properly implemented – are of great concern.”

The IEEP report says that “Britain’s membership of the EU has, on balance, delivered benefits for our natural environment that would be hard to replicate if we left,” and this view is echoed by Mike Clarke. He concludes: “In weighing up the current evidence, the uncertainties and the balance of risks, we have concluded that the safer option for nature is for the UK to remain a part of the European Union.”

Friends of the Earth: “If we leave the EU, the impact on our environment will be negative and long term.”

In July 2015, Friends of the Earth produced a policy position paper on the UK’s membership of the EU. [4] The paper summarises the environmental gains but also points out the problems: “the Common Agriculture Policy, for example, has proved an environmental disaster.” It also points to the potentially damaging effects to the environment of the TTIP negotiations, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership currently under discussion with the EU and the USA as trading partners. The paper calls for the EU to change its priorities, improve existing legislation, and reinvigorate democracy.

Leaving the EU, however, would have a negative impact on the environment. The paper states: “To protect the environment and human health, we need to take action before damage occurs. Yet UK politicians routinely argue against precautionary decision-making… Fortunately, the precautionary principle is enshrined in EU treaties. EU-wide laws also prevent countries gaining a competitive advantage in their industries by setting lower environmental standards. If we leave the EU, the impact on our environment will be negative and long term.”

In a series of blog posts, Friends of the Earth campaigners describe the environmental gains of EU membership in more detail:

  1. Cleaner Beaches: Campaigner Anna Baum says the UK pumped untreated sewage into the sea until 1998, longer than any other country in Europe. Successful legal action by the European Commission to enforce the EU’s 1976 Bathing Water Directive resulted in improvements to many of the UK’s beaches, but only 60% meet the new ‘Excellent’ standard of the revised 2006 Bathing Water Directive: “If the UK leaves the EU, we will no longer be subject to the Bathing Water Directive. Without external EU pressure it seems likely that standards will slip.”
  2. Protecting Bees from Harmful Pesticides: In 2013 a majority of EU member states voted to restrict the use of three pesticides known to be harmful to bees, following a report by scientists across the EU into the reasons for declining bee populations, with 33 species considered to be under threat of extinction. Sam Lowe says: “If we weren’t in the EU, these dangerous pesticides would never have been restricted in the UK. The UK vigorously opposed the introduction of the restrictions despite the scientific evidence.”
  3. Protecting Biodiversity and Natural Habitats: The EU is currently reviewing its Nature Directives and is under pressure to relax them, on the grounds that they hamper development and economic growth, and impose costs and regulatory ‘red tape’ on business. Sam Lowe says the UK has a poor track record of putting nature first: “The farming minister and prominent leave campaigner, George Eustice, told The Guardian that the birds and habitats directives would go if we vote to leave the EU, describing them as ‘spirit crushing’.” [5]
  4. Rethinking Waste: The Circular Economy: EU Directives such as the Landfill Directive and the Waste Framework Directive have set targets for recycling and the amount of waste going to landfill sites. “All of this has led to a cultural shift in favour of recycling,” says Henry Chown, with the UK close to meeting the target of recycling 50% of household waste by 2020. However: “If we left the EU, the first thing we’d miss out on would be the Circular Economy Package.”
  5. Tackling Climate Change: Reducing carbon emissions and the burning of fossil fuels will help to tackle climate change. In 2009, the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive set a European-wide target of achieving 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. It also set national targets and requested member states to produce action plans setting out how they would meet their obligations. Sam Lowe says: “This has had a huge impact on the UK. It has been largely responsible for the rapid growth in renewable electricity that we have seen in the last five years.” However: “The UK has been one of the fiercest critics of renewable energy targets. As a result, the next phase of the Renewable Energy Directive looks to be far weaker than what is needed… Recent government attacks on solar and onshore wind suggest an uncertain outlook for UK renewables post-Brexit.”
  6. Improving Air Quality: Sam Lowe says: “EU action on pollution has led to big improvements in the quality of our air but much more needs to be done.” For example, the UK has broken EU safety limits for nitrogen dioxide emissions for a number of years, which led environmental law firm Client Earth to take the UK Government to court. This resulted in the Supreme Court ruling that the government must take “immediate action” to meet EU safety standards. Given the UK’s track record, it seems highly likely that leaving the EU would lead to a lowering of safety standards.
  7. Protection from Harmful Chemicals: Dr Michael Warhurst is an Executive Director of CHEM Trust, a UK charity that aims to prevent chemical products from causing long-term damage to the environment and human health by ensuring that safer alternatives are used instead of more harmful ones. Writing for Friends of the Earth, he says EU chemical regulations in the form of REACH represents the world’s leading chemicals regulatory system. The system improves our knowledge of chemical hazards, helps companies use chemicals more safely, and restricts the use of some of the worst chemicals. “The UK has not been at the forefront of trying to ensure tight controls over chemicals (unlike Sweden or Denmark),” he says, “so we consider it unlikely that a UK outside the EU would put in place measures comparable to those in the EU.”
  8. Sustainable Fishing: Finally, in a guest post, Griffin Carpenter and Bryce Stewart, two academics working in environmental economics and maritime ecosystem management, unravel some of the misconceptions surrounding the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy. A recent analysis of 118 years of statistics revealed that the vast majority of the decline in fish stocks occurred prior to the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy in 1983: “In fact, the policy is now overall helping, not harming, the country’s fisheries. Since EU policy was reformed in 2002, the health of many fish stocks has improved. By 2011 the majority of assessed fisheries were considered to be sustainably fished… The Water Framework Directive and Marine Strategy Framework Directive commit EU members to restore and protect the environment. It is therefore unclear why the UK would want to abandon ship at this point.”

Acknowledgement

Photo: Cors Caron and the Afon Teifi near Tregaron, Ceredigion © Copyright Roger Kidd and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. The photo shows the River Teifi “flowing through the extensive raised bog of Cors Caron at its southern end, seen from the old Teifi bridge at Pont Einon. Cors Caron is a raised bog system covering more than 325 hectares. It is 6 kilometres in length and provides a habitat for a wide range of wildlife and plants. The bog itself was formed 12,000 years ago when the last of the Ice Age glaciers melted away. A large shallow lake was left, which very gradually filled with sediments and vegetation, forming peat and later, acid peat. In 1955, Cors Caron was declared a National Nature Reserve in order to preserve this increasingly scarce land form. In 1993, Cors Caron was placed on a list of wetland sites of international importance under the terms of the Ramsar Convention.”

The Afon Teifi / River Teifi is listed as a Natura 2000 site, protected under the EU Habitats Directive since 1998. The EU data says the site covers a total of 715 hectares and protects 8 species of the Nature Directives and 6 habitat types of the Habitats Directive. Natural Resources Wales says: “Wales has 20 Special Protection Areas for vulnerable birds and 92 Special Areas of Conservation for other rare species and threatened natural habitats. Together they are known as Natura 2000, and along with areas across Europe, they form an unparalleled network of international importance for nature conservation. Wales’ Natura 2000 network covers more than 700,000 hectares (8.5% of Welsh land area and 35% of territorial waters).” Management of these sites was helped by funding from the EU’s LIFE Programme.

References

[1] ‘The RSPB: EU referendum: Statements from the official campaigns’.

[2] ‘The RSPB: EU referendum: What does the EU do for nature?’

[3] The EU, the environment and potential consequences of a UK departure from the Union, Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP). Available as a PDF download from the IEEP website. The report is summarised in ‘The EU & Our Environment: What UK membership means for the environment, and potential consequences of a UK departure from the Union’ (a joint publication from the RSPB, WWF and The Wildlife Trusts, 1 June 2016). Available as a PDF download from the RSPB website.

[4] ‘Our Position Paper on EU Membership,’ Friends of the Earth, July 2015. Available as a PDF download from the Friends of the Earth website.

[5] ‘Brexit would free UK from ‘spirit-crushing’ green directives, says minister’, Arthur Neslen in The Guardian.

Scientists warn of widespread pollution from historic landfills

4,000 old landfill sites are at risk of flooding, some containing hazardous waste

March 9th 2016
Scientists at the British Geological Survey and Queen Mary College, University of London, are warning that the UK faces the risk of pollutants leaking out from the large number of historic landfill sites that pre-date EU waste regulations introduced in the 1990s. It is estimated that there are 21,027 historic landfills in the UK, with 1,264 sites situated in estuaries and coastal areas at risk of erosion, and a further 2,946 sites located on floodplains. Current regulations require landfills to be sealed with a protective lining, thereby insulating the waste from the surrounding land and watercourses. However, older landfill sites, some of which date from the late nineteenth century, are unlikely to have such protection, leaving them at risk of flooding from coastal erosion or severe weather such as heavy rain and storm surges.

A report produced by CIRIA in 2012 [1] says that the number of historic landfills is likely to be an under-estimate owing to a large number of unrecorded illegal sites. In addition, as the 21,000 historic landfills were developed when there were no legal requirements for their management or monitoring, records of the waste that was deposited in them can be incomplete or non-existent. Speaking to The Independent, Dr Daren Gooddy, an environmental chemist at the British Geological Survey, said he was particularly concerned about those historic landfills that are located in areas with a high flood risk and that contain dangerous substances such as hazardous chemicals and asbestos. He calculated that there are 1,655 such sites. “While it’s hard to say for sure, I would suggest that many of these legacy sites are vulnerable to flooding,” he said. “Even when flooding does not occur these sites leach out contaminated waste, which generally gets transported towards the nearest river.”

Dr Kate Spencer, environmental chemist at Queen Mary College, University of London, has been carrying out research to assess the potential impact of flooding and coastal erosion on historic landfill sites on low-lying coastal areas. Her research team is working with the Environment Agency to create a vulnerability ranking which will help to identify those sites that present the greatest danger, based on the risk of flooding and the contents of the landfill. “The work we’ve done in the South-East suggests that there has already been widespread pollution from historic landfills,” she said. “At one site we actually found a blue poison bottle from a pharmacist that had a skull and crossbones on it, with a stopper and liquid inside.”

In a blog post for Friends of the Earth, Guy Shrubsole reports on a visit in 2015 to a leaking landfill at Tilbury on the Thames estuary. Walking along the coast, he discovered that a two kilometre stretch of the Thames foreshore was filled with waste. “But this wasn’t just rubbish deposited by the waters of the Thames as it sweeps through London,” he says. “It was clearly eroding out of the sandy banks next to the shoreline, lapped by high tides. The remains of a former sea wall, derelict and ineffective, could still be seen below the high-water mark. It was providing no defence at all to the hungry estuary, which had chewed away at the land to reveal layers and layers of landfilled refuse.”

Guy Shrubsole says that maps produced by the Environment Agency show there are several historic landfills in the Tilbury area, but tidal defences at such sites are not maintained, leaving them with no protection from tidal surges and rising sea levels. “No one is taking any responsibility for the huge amounts of waste that is now very clearly leaking out of the old Tilbury landfills,” he says. “And this is just one example. If, as the research suggests, there are thousands of old landfills at risk of leaking their wastes into watercourses and the sea across the UK, then this is a massive, ticking time bomb.”

Dr Kate Spencer said that historic landfill sites “date back to a time when there were no protective linings, no regulation about what went in and little in the way of records about the contents. Many are on coastlines highly vulnerable to coastal erosion, storm surges and flooding and the big concern is that they will become even more vulnerable as climate change makes storms more frequent and intense.”

As we reported in a previous news item, scientists from the British Geological Survey have carried out research into river pollution from historic landfill sites. The focus of their investigation was Port Meadow which lies on the banks of the River Thames, north-west of Oxford, where 11 such sites are located. Their research, based on ammonium sampling, concluded that there are potentially thousands of historic landfill sites that are currently leaching large amounts of nitrogen into major rivers, which can damage water quality and trigger nutrient pollution. As climate change makes flooding more likely, leakages from landfills located on floodplains are also likely to increase.

Reference
[1] Cooper, N., Bower, G,. Tyson, R., Flikweert, J., Rayner, S., Hallas, A.: Guidance on the Management of Landfill Sites and Land Contamination on Eroding or Low-Lying Coastlines (C718). CIRIA, 2012.

Acknowledgement
Photograph: Cottenham Landfill, near Chittering, Cambridgeshire © Copyright Hugh Venables and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Pilot wetlands project reduces phosphates from sewage effluent

Norfolk Rivers Trust wetlands project is reducing phosphate levels by 90%, say project managers

Oct 13th 2015

An integrated wetlands project managed by Norfolk Rivers Trust is piloting a new method of reducing phosphate levels in effluent legally discharged from Anglian Water’s sewage treatment works near Cromer in north Norfolk. The wetlands have been created alongside the River Mun as it runs through the Templewood Estate near Northrepps. and the scheme is the result of a partnership between the Norfolk Rivers Trust and the owner of the estate, Eddie Anderson, who lives at Templewood House and owns the first mile of the river.

Construction of the wetlands started a year ago when three shallow lagoons were dug on the estate and filled with 18,000 emergent aquatic plants. The uppermost lagoon is situated 250 metres away from the Northrepps sewage treatment works and the output of the works is piped directly into this lagoon. The water is then cascaded through each subsequent lagoon, with the plants and silt trapping the phosphates before returning the water to the five-mile long River Mun, which rises in Northrepps and enters the North Sea at Mundesley, a few miles south-east of Cromer. The project ran for twelve months and finished at the end of September 2015, and the managers of the project are now gauging the results.

According to the Eastern Daily Press, the project managers say the new wetlands are removing about 90% of the phosphates which would otherwise be fertilising the algae that had been blooming rapidly in the River Mun. As a result, they have recorded a huge increase in wildlife, including a 700% leap in Red and Amber-listed protected birds, and 16 species of dragonfly.

Jonathan Lewis, Project Officer for the Norfolk Rivers Trust, said: “These integrated constructed wetlands were pioneered in Ireland 30 years ago. This is the first one in Norfolk and we are pioneering it as a natural, sustainable method which could bring both economic, ecological and community benefits. The treated water is cleaned to human standards of safety, but the standards for wildlife are very different. In terms of algal growth, to have so much phosphate in there is like chucking a load of Miracle-Gro in the river. It creates this boom-and-bust of oxygen and the rapid amount of plant growth.”

He explained how the scheme works to reduce the phosphate levels: “The wetlands are filled with these emergent aquatic plants,” he said, “and the initial gain from them in terms of phosphate is not much – they take it up, but then they put it back when they die in the winter. But they bind it into the silt and they provide a complexity to the way the water flows through the wetland. One layer is aerobic, so there is oxygen there, but there is an anaerobic section as well and it is that combination which traps the phosphates and allows the aerated water to move through.”

One motivation for the project stems from the state of a lake situated in the middle of the Templewood Estate. Jonathan Lewis said the lake has been destroyed by eutrophication, “due to the algae that has grown profusely with the nutrients in the water – and most of that is phosphates from the water treatment works. Anglian Water is treating the domestic sewage from Northrepps and what they put into the river is completely legal, but we know it is not clean. But we cannot just say Anglian Water is responsible for polluting the river, and we want to establish and confirm good relations with them.”

Anglian Water and the WFD (Water Framework Directive)

In response, Anglian Water said simply reducing phosphate limits in treated water was not an option under the EU’s Water Framework Directive (WFD) which puts the emphasis on more sustainable ways of improving the health and ecology of rivers and watercourses. Emma Staples from Anglian Water said: “The situation with phosphates is quite an interesting one. It comes from household detergents, shampoos and washing powders, and as a result it is due to be limited in certain products by 2017. We do treat for it and we remove as much as possible to comply with the regulations that are set, but the EU Water Framework Directive says we are not allowed to simply add more treatment to bring the levels down. Any type of treatment is expensive and has big energy costs and big environmental costs, so the WFD is essentially saying that carbon-expensive treatment processes are not sustainable for the long term. So we need to look at more sustainable ways of looking at water quality. That is the premise that underpins the catchment management approach which we are working on nationally with the Rivers Trust.”

The new regulations that will come into force in 2017 will limit the amount of phosphates in household items such as dishwasher powders, shampoos and household laundry detergents, thereby reducing the amount of phosphates getting into the sewage system in the first place. Emma Staples said such measures, coupled with community projects like the Norfolk Rivers Trust wetlands scheme, could be part of the long-term solution. “Community projects like the one at Northrepps are to be applauded,” she said. “Those community initiatives are going to be really key because they are a generally sustainable way to solve the problem. We are keen to support that kind of work.”

The development of the Norfolk wetlands was aided by the help of 30 volunteers from neighbouring villages, and Jonathan Lewis of the Norfolk Rivers Trust said he was impressed by the community involvement in the project: “The river touches seven parishes and everyone along the river has shown an interest,” he said. “This is a tiny set-up, but it is the first in the UK so it is a model we could see more often. One of the designers was a hydrologist and he said this is 16% of the cost of a traditional phosphate-stripping device, and 23% of the running cost. If you can find a bit of land that is flat and low enough to take this water, it is a no-brainer.”

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who visited the wetlands recently, said the WFD should be amended to make such initiatives a legal requirement: “The 90% reduction in phosphates is incredible, but it also indicates that the existing legislation is flawed,” he said. “Anglian Water can say they are meeting the legislative requirements – and they are – but is that generating clean and healthy rivers? It is not. Just looking at the watercourse here demonstrated the impact of phosphates coming out of sewage, so it seems to me that there is a case for amending the European directives to require this kind of approach to be taken elsewhere. There could be a big environmental gain at very little cost. There has been a big increase in bird life, which is very exciting, and I am very keen for Anglian Water to work very closely with the Norfolk Rivers Trust to achieve similar gains elsewhere in the county.”

Phosphate concentrations in European rivers have declined over the last two decades, says EEA

In a recent report, the European Environment Agency (EEA) says: “The continuing presence of pollutants in Europe’s waters threatens aquatic ecosystems and raises concerns for public health. Discharge from urban waste water treatment, and industrial effluents and losses from farming, are the main sources of water pollution.”

The EEA says that improvements in waste water treatment, together with measures to reduce agricultural inputs of nitrate at a national level and at a European level (the Nitrates Directive), have seen nitrate concentrations in European rivers decline by an average of 20% over the period 1992 to 2012. Phosphate concentrations have also declined: “Many years of investment in the sewage system, and better waste water treatment under the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive – together with national legislation – have led to some remarkable improvements. Europe’s waters are much cleaner today than they were 25 years ago when large quantities of untreated or partially treated urban and industrial waste water were discharged into water. Levels of oxygen-consuming substances, ammonium, and phosphate have decreased markedly in European rivers over the last two decades.”

However, the EEA also says that more work needs to be done and highlights the importance of waste water treatment: “Although considerable success has been achieved in reducing the discharge of pollutants into Europe’s waters in recent decades, challenges remain for urban and industrial waste water and for pollution from agricultural sources. Waste water treatment must continue to play a critical role in the protection of Europe’s surface waters, and investment will be required to upgrade waste water treatment and to maintain infrastructure in many European countries. Measures are needed to ensure the removal of emerging pollutants and to reduce storm water discharges.”

The UK Government is currently facing a legal challenge over the state of England’s rivers, in a case brought to the High Court by the World Wildlife Fund in conjunction with the Angling Trust and Fish Legal – see our news item “UK Government faces legal action over health of England’s rivers” for more information.

For the latest news on the Norfolk wetlands project, see the Eastern Daily Press.

For the background to the project, see the Norfolk Rivers Trust.

Yorkshire aggregate suppliers aim to raise standards in the use of recycled construction materials

Three companies are seeking accreditation for high-quality recycled aggregates used on roads across Yorkshire

Oct 8th 2015

Three aggregate suppliers based in Yorkshire have joined forces to raise standards in the use of recycled construction materials. The three companies are hoping to achieve accreditation from the Yorkshire Highways and Utilities Committee for Type 1 recycled aggregates used in highways and utilities contracts. Mone Brothers, based in Leeds, are helping E J Lidster, based in Barnsley, and Mike Wakefield Tippers, based in Hull, in the bid for accreditation.

Mone Brothers supplies a wide range of construction products and has recently diversified into quarrying, recycling and plant hire. Agg-Net reports that “the business has contributed towards many significant UK construction and civil engineering projects and was heavily involved in recycling rubble from the old Yorkshire Post building for use as Type 1 on roads across the region.”

E J Lidster runs a recycling centre in South Yorkshire and the company is also involved in plant hire, haulage, demolition and site clearance. Mike Wakefield Tippers supply a range of natural and recycled aggregates across East Yorkshire and also has a recycling centre.

Steve Horsley, Operations Director for Mone Brothers, said the company is working closely with E J Lidster and Mike Wakefield Tippers “to ensure that their recycled construction materials conform to the most stringent of standards for civil engineering contracts across Yorkshire. We have already helped the two companies hit the benchmark in SMR (structural material for reinstatement). Between us we have many years of knowledge of the recycling, quarrying and aggregates sectors so we are well placed to provide the best possible materials. We pride ourselves in the manufacture of recycled Type 1 and SMR and we feel it is vital that we help to raise the bar for other companies operating in the sector as well as assisting with their sales strategies.”

Acknowledgement

Photograph: View towards the Yorkshire Aggregates recycling centre © Copyright Jonathan Thacker and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.