Planning system stifling the circular economy

11th April 2017

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  • Business & Industry ,
  • Built environment ,
  • Planning ,
  • Manufacturing ,
  • Waste


Radha Neaupane

The planning system needs greater flexibility if the waste industry is to introduce circular economy business models, the Environmental Services Association (ESA) said.

In a report, the trade body said the waste industry increasingly resembles the logistics sector, with materials moved according to markets.

However, many local authorities still practice the strict culture of control that existed when most waste was sent to landfill, the ESA said. This was constraining the ability of waste companies to create a network of facilities that allow the movement of materials to areas where they can be used cost-effectively in manufacturing processes, it warned.

According to the ESA, some planning authorities had imposed mileage limits on the haulage of materials to and from waste and recycling facilities either within local plan policies or through planning conditions on consented development.

The report argues that this is stifling competition and is difficult to enforce. It also fails to acknowledge that some waste facilities could have a highly specialised role requiring a large catchment area extending beyond a planning authority’s administrative boundary.

The ESA’s policy adviser, Stephen Freeland said: ‘Many local authorities need adopt a more responsive approach to planning for waste management which better recognises the variable and dynamic nature of the space in which our industry now operates.

‘Few other sectors face the same planning and political obsession about the origin of material or commodities, and where these should be transported to. To hamstring the resource and waste management industry in such a way will likely hamper investment and progress towards the objectives of the circular economy.’

Other barriers imposed by planning authorities on waste management highlighted in the report include:

  • Industrial units can be converted for many waste management processes without planning permission, but some councils have been confused over application of the use classes order and whether planning permission is required.
  • There is inconsistency regarding conditions attached to planning permission on the type of waste facilities can accept, with some containing long, prescriptive lists of what is allowed and what is excluded.
  • Overlapping interests and requirements within both the planning and permitting regimes has led to duplication of information requests, which is costly and increases the administration burden. The report suggest that planning authorities refrain from duplicating the work of the Environment Agency by trying to regulate pollution control through planning consent conditions.
  • Inflexible conditions, such as specifying site operating hours can prevent waste or recycling collections being timed to avoid the most congested times of day. Operational times for other industrial activities are not restricted in this way, said the ESA.
  • Planning authorities should consider giving extra weight to some waste management processes that have specific local needs when considering applications in the green belt. For example, anaerobic digestion of food and organic waste is generally more suited to semi-rural rather than urban environments.
  • Operators of waste management plants should be consulted if a new development is proposed within 250 metres of a waste site boundary.


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