Sustainability

Councils call for landfill tax freeze

landfill

The Local Government Association (LGA) has written to the Treasury to urge government to consider freezing landfill tax at the 2014/15 rate of £80 in its upcoming Budget (to be published on 20 March) in order to ‘contain councils’ costs to three per cent’ and save taxpayers from having to pay an extra £70 million in escalating landfill costs.

Currently, councils have to pay £64 per tonne of waste sent to landfill, but in an effort to reduce the amount of residual waste sent to the UK’s increasingly strained landfills and promote recycling and recovery, government has imposed an ‘escalating’ tax, set to peak at £80 in 2014/15. It has not yet been announced whether landfill tax will continue to increase after this time.

The LGA, which represents 423 local authorities in England and Wales, has said that government should now act to freeze landfill tax at the 2014/15 rate to ensure that councils do not have to pay anymore than the expected £720 million in landfill costs, ‘compared to a larger increase in council costs and additional burden of £70 million to the tax payer based on continuation of the landfill escalator at its current rate [eight pounds per year]’.

Further, the LGA has called for increased investment in waste management services as councils will have to make ‘significant capital investments’ and ‘increase revenue spend’ to cater for expected population rises of 20 per cent by 2033 (as estimated by CLG Household Projections) and meet the EU 2020 targets on landfill diversion and recycling.

The LGA submission to HM Treasury document reads: ‘Freezing the landfill tax at the 2014/15 rate would help contain council costs and the burden on the local taxpayer. The rate at this point will be £80 per tonne of waste landfilled, which would continue to provide an effective incentive to divert waste from landfill…

‘Significant investment in infrastructure will be required to meet the [EU] recycling targets. As waste infrastructure projects often need several years’ lead time, we urge central government, in collaboration with local government, industry and other partners in the waste supply chain, to explore solutions to the gaps in waste infrastructure.’

 ‘Sufficient infrastructure’ to meet targets

The LGA goes on to highlight that the government’s recent withdrawal of PFI funding for three waste contracts has further burdened councils with extra ‘revenue costs’, as ‘more material is landfilled’.

Defra’s reason for withdrawing the funding, however, calls into question the LGA’s claim; upon announcing the decision, the department explained: ‘We now expect to have sufficient infrastructure in England to enable the UK to meet the EU target of reducing waste sent to landfill.’

Indeed, the landfill tax has largely been seen as a highly effective mechanism for driving waste treatment up the hierarchy. Some, including Barry Sherman MP, co-chair of the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resources Group, have called on the Chancellor to increase the tax, while others insist it should at least rise in line with the Retail Price Index (RPI).

Last December, the Environmental Services Association (ESA) released a report, ‘Beyond Landfill’, claiming that the landfill tax had been ‘a great success’ – so successful in diverting waste from landfill, in fact, that its time had passed, and the association called on government to develop other green taxes to drive treatment further up the waste hierarchy.

‘Scrap the Planning Inspectorate’

Government’s perceived ‘interference’ in local authority level decisions has also led to LGA member Councillor Robert Long (former Chairman of Essex’s Maldon District Council) to call for the scrapping of the Planning Inspectorate. 

The call comes after many councils have seen their planning committee’s decisions overturned after contracts (such as those relating to waste management infrastructure) were called in for public inquiry

Writing in a blog on LGA’s website, Long says: ‘If ever an organisation was so often criticised and found wanting by so many local authorities, aligned to a feeling of utter amazement and helplessness, it is the Planning Inspectorate.’ 

Voicing frustration at the ‘fireproof’ decisions made by inspectors sitting in ‘their untouchable ivory towers’, Long said that up to 90 per cent of local authorities who have ‘suffered’ at the hands of the Planning Inspectorate would be in favour of scrapping the body and replacing it with a ‘new system organised by local government itself’. 

Long writes: ‘[L]ocal ward councillors who know their own areas far better than any planning inspector (who probably lives in the Outer Hebrides) are left fuming at illogical decisions affecting their wards – with the added insult of being unable to challenge them. 

‘If you make a fuss and try to point out the obvious anomalies and inconsistences in their reports, you are told that your only redress is a judicial review. And not many local authorities could afford to follow that route in today's financial climate… Secretary of State Eric Pickles announced the ‘great coming of the Localism Bill' and the promise that we would now make our own decisions relating to our districts. It would appear that no-one told the Planning Inspectorate or, indeed, explained the meaning of localism.’