Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
TUESDAY 31 OCTOBER 2000
140. You do not think at all that the draft
might not have been the document that ministers wished to see?
(Mr Adriano) That may have been a factor too.
141. You are agreeing with me?
(Mr McCall) I think there was an element of rush about
the emergence of the document, I certainly got that impression.
142. An element of rush, it was promised and
promised and promised, was it not?
(Mr McCall) The Environment Minister was saying that
we had to appreciate when he launched the document that this was
a massive change. I did not pick up in the document elements of
massive change, that is why we think much more has to be done
and Government has to lead.
143. What was the basis for your suggestion,
amongst others, that there should be a tax on incineration?
(Mr McCall) Obviously Landfill Tax has caused that
bottom of the hierarchy to be shunned, it costs money. We are
told that landfill is not such a good thing, we will accept that.
I think an incineration tax would buttress the higher, better
elements in the hierarchy which are so definitely being given
a cold shoulder to in the case of this long-term contract in Surrey.
They pay lip service to it. No, an incineration tax to me seems
absolutely vital to kick-start the rest of the hierarchy, including
(Mr Adriano) And to create more of a level playing
field because incineration is also quite heavily subsidised by
virtue of the PFI which, although in theory is available for all
forms of waste minimisation and sustainable waste management,
is tending to find its way into very large projects.
144. Do you think the introduction of an incineration
taxand to be effective it would have to be significantwould
be in such conflict with these financial incentives which are
around that it could in a stroke wipe them out?
(Mr Adriano) I think it would be an appropriate step
to take to create that level playing field, and also if more stringent
conditions were attached to PFIs the whole economics of incineration
proposal would change dramatically.
145. But would you not simply be meaning people
in Surrey would pay more in council tax because would not the
incineration tax be passed on to them?
(Mr McCall) Probably, we do not know the contract
146. So you would suffer the problem of incineration
and pay for it as well.
(Mr McCall) First of all, Surrey community taxpayers
have been told they will have a reduction in waste as a result
of these proposals, fair enough. I think it is very interesting
to examine what people are prepared to pay for waste water, liquid
waste, sewage, to be disposed of per household and how little,
by comparison, is paid on the black bins which go away with household
waste. I actually do not hear in the agitated corridors of Surrey
where incineration is such a big subject at the moment, people
saying "Cost is what we are worried about", it is the
lack of choice they are given. The helplessness of the local community
saying, "We would love to do more, we have lived abroad,
we have seen how it is done elsewhere, we are in a global world
now and we do not seem to do it very well when we come back home."
147. What suggestions do you have for the Committee
to ensure that the public are properly informed about the safety
of incineration plants?
(Mr McCall) I would like to see, first of all, a very
much stronger Environment Agency particularly with this forecast
build up. It is interesting in our area, we have two different
sections of the Environment Agency, two different offices, looking
at three different proposals in Surrey. Now that cannot be very
sensible. It so happens our office is further away in Kent than
the one for Redhill which is in Frimley in Hampshire. It seems
to me the Environment Agency needs to be restructured to get in
specialists who know about these plants and can actually get out
and do some proper monitoring. The public are told they are safe,
they then find the monitoring is done by the operator, then they
find a lot of the monitoring does not apply except once or twice
a year to particulates and so on. Well, when you take your car
to be serviced or have its MOT you organise it so it should pass
its test. We want to see this done continuously as it is elsewhere.
We want to see it done so independents are doing it. When you
have enforcement notices being ignored at Edmonton, where clinical
waste continued to be burned when emission limits were being exceeded,
and they were taken to court and fined a paltry sum, it shows
the system is not working and no wonder the public are concerned.
148. Do you see perhaps a role for parish councils
and district councils being more pro-active?
(Mr McCall) You have to be very technically educated
to understand these problems and you have to be able to give a
lot of time to it. Even the bigger district councils are concerned
about how they will monitor air quality in their areas. It is
a significant problem. Just as our local health authority say,
"We do not have the money or the resources to understand
this big technology", so I think air quality is a major concern
for the districts.
149. Do you accept there is a meaningful distinction
to be made between the new generation incinerators and the older
(Mr McCall) There is a distinction but when you find
that effectively the permitted emissions have been set by what
technology will do rather than, is it actually harmless to humans,
then I really have no confidence in it. I believe the industry
for waste incineration made absolutely sure in the new directive,
tough as it is, there was still room for manoeuvre and you have
periods of up to four hours in upset conditions which can be discounted
from the emission readings, you have five half-hour periods in
every 24 hours if your equipment for monitoring is not measuring
properly. "Well, of course, the speedometer was not working
properly." The new regime is very loose.
150. To whom would you look for confidence?
(Mr McCall) I would say that the European Directive
really should cause the Environment Agency to say, "Are we
doing enough to make sure the human health side of this is taken
into account?" We have letters from the Environment Agency
which say, "Yes, they must be harmless but we look at what
is a reasonable danger." That I do not see in the legislation,
it seems to have grown out of practice. "Standards that are
achievable". I actually want to know that the Directive is
being achieved, not whether the technology is there to do it.
I am not really interested to know whether the Environment Agency
say that the harm to human health is not going to occur beyond
"an acceptable level." They should not decide that.
They are not even experts in health. They gave evidence to the
House of Lords Select Committee only last year
151. To whom would you look?
(Mr McCall) A reconstituted Agency is necessary with
proper health skills and the proper technology and the right to
152. Do you see the need for a nominated officer
in a specific local authority which has an incinerator within
its borders being established?
(Mr McCall) I do and I see a great budgetary need
for that person too.
153. Do you think there is a risk that incinerators
will end up being sited in poorer areas, where perhaps there is
going to be less public resistance to their construction?
(Mr McCall) Landfill and clay pits are often found
on the extremities of administrative boundaries. I think there
is the risk of that. So far it is quite clear to me that the regional
planning has not played nearly a sufficient role in deciding these
issues. I want to see that happen.
154. That just hints to me that perhaps your
incineration plant should go down to Sussex, is that unfair?
(Mr McCall) We want to see something, first of all,
which is a sensible, best environmental option, not mass burn
without any material recycling built into the front. It is just
local refuse carts turning up at the momentis that the
right way to go for the next 25 years? It must be not. No, we
do not just see it as a question of move. We heard last week about
the importance of segregation and I think Keith Collins says you
can burn some things but perhaps you should single them out to
burn them. I think there really needs to be community education
as to why facilities are necessary, what they are, how they will
be controlled. At the moment it is really passed from planning
authority to Environment Agency and back to the operator, and
the community at large is left very confused.
(Mr Adriano) Could I add that we have heard varying
views on the number of incinerators which may be built. The Minister,
when he was in the process of finalising his strategy, apparently
was of the view that applications for incinerators should be put
to him for his own final approval. Given the point you have made
and given the fact that nobody actually finally believes, because
of political pressures and realities, there will be that many
built, I think that would be a very, very good thing for the Minister
to reconsider doing.
155. Do you believe the provision of free or
reduced tariffs for heating, hot water and electricity to local
residents in your area would help win them over to incineration?
(Mr Adriano) If it was presented in that way, it would
be giving something back to the community, but the reality I think
is that combined heat and power plant in our part of the world,
particularly where the incinerator is proposed, would not work
from the point of view of heat, because there are not sufficient
people living in the area. These only make sense, I think, in
156. How democratically accountable do you think
the planning process currently is as regards where these sites
(Mr McCall) First of all, there is a requirement that
there be local waste plans for a sufficient period forward. In
fact the Surrey one is dated 1997 and is supposed to look forward
to 2010. It seems to me a nonsense occurs when you in 1999 award
a 25 year contract which effectively determines the main means
of disposal for a period double the length of the local plan.
The fact that local plan was not plan-led in terms of planning
law was, I think, deeply disappointing to the community. So I
believe there is much to do and I strongly support some of the
remarks from the witnesses who are appearing next from the Planning
Officers Society, and they certainly embrace the need to look
at the regional side of it, and that will be not an easy task.
157. But you are criticising Surrey County Council
for failing to come to grips with where these sites, if there
should be any, should be based. They chose to deflect that decision
to to the contractors. If it goes to a regional level or if you
are asking the Minister to make decisions about individual sites
and plant, surely that becomes even more remote from the community?
(Mr McCall) I do not think so. I think you get nearer
the sensible decision-making process which you have when you settle
the decisions for new airports, new major hospitals, new roads.
Waste is so important it certainly should not just be left to
the contractor, it should not just be left to the person who pays
that contractor, that same authority. There is a regional aspect
to consider. I believe even if it is unpopular, central government
probably has to take a greater role here.
158. But on the assumption that for important
sites like this there is a public inquiryif there is not
a public inquiry I think that would certainly be the caseare
not those factors likely to be taken into account by the planning
(Mr McCall) They certainly are. Having sat through
the Redhill Inquiry, one is very impressed with that system, but
I think the inspector has the difficulty that he has only before
him that application and some of the material which he would like
to have before him probably does not exist; regional planning
does not really exist on this. RPG 9 now asks for this, the latest
planning guidance documents 10 and 11 certainly look for it, but
at this moment we are asking the inspectors to take these decisions
without that help.
159. You are a local community action group
which is getting engaged with a planning application for one particular
plant, surely if this is removed to the regional level or to the
ministerial level will we not be in a position where communities
are going to cease to be able to be positively engaged in the
process and involved in the planning of waste facilities? At the
moment you are able to do so if there are planning inquiries,
as one assumes there should be, for plants of this importance.
(Mr McCall) I think it is perfectly possible to take
part in that inquiry process and very important to do so. We maintain
that it may be an expensive process but I think it is a much better
way for it to be seen, and these are major applications wherever
they are in the country.