One of the largest MBT waste processing sites in Europe is coming to North London and it's much closer than you think. The North London Waste Authority (NLWA) wants to build an industrial-scale waste processing plant in our community to manage waste from up to seven London boroughs, and other parties. They plan to do this on land that is very close to houses and schools and is currently a mature wildlife habitat that acts as a green buffer from the North Circular. It will also increase traffic congestion in an already congested area and further pollute the already poor air quality, which will affect the health of nearby residents.
The Examination in Public (EiP) of the North London Waste Plan (NLWP) was to have taken place for six days over this week and next, with sessions examining the soundness of different aspects of the plan. At an EiP, a planning authority must demonstrate to a Planning Inspector that their proposed plan is sound. The first morning was for NLWP, the waste planning authority for the seven North London boroughs of Barnet, Haringey, Enfield, Waltham Forest, Camden, Islington and Hackney, to demonstrate that their plan is legal. For example, the Localism Act imposes a legal duty on Planning Authorities to cooperate with one another regarding the sustainable development or use of land that has a significant impact on at least two planning areas.
South East Waste Planning Authority Advisory Group (SEWPAG) and East of England Waste Technical Advisory Body (EEWTAB), representing the waste planning authorities of the East and South-East of England had submitted a joint written statement prior to the hearing. They complained that the NLWP had failed to cooperate with them. Because some districts generate more waste than they can cope with, and others have more capacity to manage waste than they need, there is a system of “apportionment” where waste authorities are allocated the amount of waste that they must manage. Some are therefore helping others. Most of the landfill of London’s waste that happens outside London is accepted under this apportionment system, and some extra to it.
Although the NLWP envisages gradually reducing North London’s reliance on such landfill to zero by 2031, the East and South-East waste authorities would prefer this to be sooner, are doubtful of the accuracy of the NLWP’s landfill reduction figures, and would, anyway, prefer smaller apportionments: but there is little they can do about that. However, they claimed that nearly all the authorities who accept waste from North London had received no communication, let alone cooperation, relating to formulation of the NLWP. Oxfordshire County Council had written to the NLWP and received no reply. Some types of landfill site were due to close, and others to open, so discussion about alternative provision was necessary but lacking. “This additional work has not been carried out” alleged these authorities, who take nearly a million tonnes of waste per year from North London.
The PWA planning team studied this joint SEWPAG and EEWTAB submission as part of our preparation for the hearing, but could not assess, in advance, how much impact it might have.
As it was, the NLWP official could do little to rebut these allegations, save for mention of having met at regional advisory board meetings, one of which he missed while taking annual leave. There was no answer in terms of specific discussions to agree particular matters of concern. Instead the NLWP’s main defence came from the barrister they hired to argue that the legal duty to cooperate applies only to strategic matters, and the matters complained of were not strategic. Hence, she reasoned, NLWP was legally compliant.
The North London Waste Authority’s barrister had evidently worried about this problem prior to the hearing. He distributed, to all of us at the table, a three-page written legal submission which argued that the complaint did not relate to the development and use of land in the NLWP, and that cooperation and engagement had taken place within the processes of the making of the London Plan, and of the Regional Technical Advisory Boards.
Readers may feel that commonsense should have guided the NLWP to make sure, through face to face discussion with their Councillor and officer waste management partners outside London, that the latter were supportive of the NLWP, or at least reluctantly acquiescent to the point that “cooperation” was a reality. And that colleagues would cover for one another’s annual leave.
Even after this very full discussion, the Planning Inspector was left in such serious doubt whether the NLWP was legal, that he decided to adjourn the EiP, to give himself two weeks to consider the matter in depth, and give his detailed written opinion one way or the other. Thereafter, the NLWP and any other interested party will have a further week in which to respond, before the Inspector finalises his decision on this point. If he rules that cooperation has taken place, the hearing will resume, but not before September 2012. If he rules that there has not been cooperation, that is what he called a “showstopper”, and the NLWP will have failed its EiP for being unlawful. A new Plan will then have to be produced, consulted on and examined, before North London has a valid Waste Plan.
Further details will be made available on the NLWP examination website.
The PWA team were content with this outcome, because it is consistent with our considered view that the NLWP is deficient in multiple respects, and not only in its selection of the Pinkham Way site. But those of us who have worked as local government professionals were saddened by the state of affairs revealed at the hearing.