EA permitting capacity barrier to waste sector contribution to ‘new deal’

The Environmental Services Association (ESA) has expressed concerns over a lack of permitting capacity at the Environment Agency (EA) in response to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement of a significant infrastructure investment in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Number 10 Downing StreetIn an announcement yesterday (30 June), Johnson announced that the government would be bringing forward £5 billion capital investment projects to support jobs and economic recovery, allowing the UK to “build back better, build back greener, build back faster”.

In response to the ‘new deal’ announcement, Executive Director of the waste management sector trade association the ESA, Jacob Hayler, said the waste management sector was ready to back the government’s ‘build, build, build’ plans, citing £5 billion of investment already made in new recycling and waste treatment infrastructure over the last 10 years.

Hayler said: “[The waste management sector is] poised to deliver millions of pounds of further investment in shovel-ready projects and green jobs around the country, particularly in regions in need of assistance to ‘level up’ the UK. We have already written to government setting out our potential role in the Green Recovery and our pipeline of projects for the next 12 months and beyond.”

However, Hayler warned that the sector needed “clarity” over the future of the Resources and Waste Strategy, which has seen a number of consultations delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and that a lack of permitting capacity at the EA was resulting in “vital projects being unnecessarily delayed for months, and, in some cases, years”.

He added: “What should be a fifteen-week process can currently take closer to fifteen months and unless permitting capacity is increased, this will constrain our ability to support a near-term green recovery to the fullest extent.”

Despite the bombast of the prime minister’s announcement yesterday, some were left disappointed at the detail within what the prime minister calls a ‘new deal’. While funding was outlined for electric transport options and low-emissions vehicles and a commitment was made to plant 75,000 hectares of trees every year by 2025, the plan is light on significant actions to support a ‘green recovery’.

The government states that Chancellor Rishi Sunak will reveal more plans in a speech next week, while the upcoming Spending Review and Autumn Budget will be used to set the direction for the rest of the current parliament.

In response to the announcement, Shaun Spiers, Executive Director of Green Alliance, stated: "The government is strongly committed to fighting climate change and restoring the natural world. Now, as the government lifts the lockdown, it also has to revive the economy. Fortunately, tackling the environmental challenge will help revive the economy and create good jobs: there is no conflict between the two.

“Boris Johnson's speech should have fired the starting gun on a healthier, more resilient future for the UK. Unfortunately, the PM seems to have got off to false start.

“This statement today is about putting shovels in the ground, but there is no point in that in the long term if it digs the UK deeper into trouble. Whether it’s ‘build, build, build’ or ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’, thousands of constituents around the country are today lobbying their MPs to say they want a truly green recovery.

“Let's hope the Chancellor is listening and ups the government's game next week - putting people, climate and nature front and centre of the government’s recovery strategy."