The future of SITA

Charles Newman caught up with SITA’s CEO David Palmer-Jones to discuss the company’s plans for the future

David Palmer-Jones has been doing more interviews than usual recently. It reflects a shift in attitude, a desire to speak up about some of the problems facing UK Plc, problems that also trouble SITA UK, the organisation Palmer-Jones heads.

A spate of rejected planning applications has been costly, and Palmer-Jones is concerned that the UK won’t have the facilities in place to meet its evolving demand for waste management. “The drivers are in place”, he says, in particular the landfill tax, which is a blunt but effective instrument, “but there is no national, or even regional strategy [for developing infrastructure].”

The difficulty is getting plans approved. Although warm to the idea of localism, Palmer-Jones feels the approach needs refining: “I was with Defra the other day, asking them to tell us what they want – if you don’t want larger energy from waste (EfW), which has economies of scale, if you want smaller community-size facilities, then say that, but that doesn’t take away the issue of planning, it means there will be more plants!”

Planning Ahead - SITA's CEO David Palmer-JonesRecounting this conversation, he says: “You have to give us a clear steer of what you think you would like as politicians to have, and the waste and resource industry can cater for that, but constantly rejecting plans isn’t giving us the right signal.”

In Palmer-Jones’s opinion, we should just about hit our 2013 landfill targets, but he’s concerned about missing a longer-term opportunity: “I fear that people will turn to our industry and say, ‘What have you been doing?’”

It’s not just EfW that are not being approved, but also anaerobic digestion (AD) and composting facilities. “People don’t want it near to them, that’s the issue. Even though these facilities create five times as many jobs as landfill.”

More encouragement is required: “I’m a great believer of making sure that local authorities, local communities that are accepting these types of infrastructure are rewarded for that.”

However, on the recent fervour for incentives Palmer-Jones is much more reserved. Speaking in his Maidenhead office, he notes that many services, such as Warwick (which SITA manages), are achieving rates of more than 60 per cent without incentives. (Despite the acclaim, the Royal B