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Government seeks to end waste site construction on green belt

17 Oct 2014

Conor McGlone

Developers will find it more difficult to get planning consent to build waste facilities in the green belt under new government rules.

In an update to the national planning policy for waste, published on 16 October, the government said companies and councils looking to develop facilities will have to look for suitable sites on brownfield land before exploring other options.

Responses to a consultation on waste policy, which ran from July, were released on the same day, confirming that planning permission to develop waste facilities on green belt land would only be approved under “very special circumstances”.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles said these measures would ensure the green belt could continue to offer a “strong defence” against urban sprawl in towns and cities, and would “bring waste into line with the policies on other development”.

The new rules also mean that councils can no longer give special consideration to needs based on location or the wider economic benefits of a potential site, over other considerations as justification for building waste facilities on green belt land.

The update follows the release of statistics from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) showing that green belt land, which makes up 13% of England’s land area, declined by 0.03% last year.

Total green belt land fell by 540 hectares to a total of 1.6 million hectares in 2013/14. Three local authorities – Rochford, South Gloucestershire and West Lancashire – reduced the size of their green belt land last year.

Planning guidance on housing, published on 6 October, stated that green belt boundaries should only be changed in “exceptional cases” and any unmet housing need would not justify the harm done to the green belt by “inappropriate development”.

Concerns over “inflexible” policy

While the policy states that planning authorities should consider “any adverse effect on a site of international importance for nature conservation” and any waste facilities should operate without “harming the environment”, some environmental groups have voiced concerns over the government’s appetite for brownfield development.

Earlier this month, the Land Trust and Buglife argued that a large number of brownfield sites are not suitable for development due to their value to society and the environment as public open spaces.

In addition, three quarters of respondents to the government’s consultation said its updated policy on waste was “not flexible enough” and would have “a negative impact” on the industry.

According to a report from the Green Investment Bank published in July, the UK needs to invest an extra £5bn into waste infrastructure in order to close the residual waste capacity gap over the next six years (

That is equivalent to building ten EfW plants a year for the rest of the decade at a capital cost of £750 per tonne.

It was also felt that applications for new anaerobic digestion and composting plants could be blocked under the rules, despite being better suited to rural locations that are closer to their feedstocks.

Respondents were also concerned that the change in policy approach could lead to facilities being located further from waste arisings, leading to higher carbon emissions from transportation.

Despite this, the government confirmed it would push on with hardening planning rules because it attached “great importance to the protection of the green belt

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