Budget cuts and Brexit see green waste site applications drop to 5-year low

PLANNING applications for new environmentally friendly waste sites have fallen by 20 per cent in a year amid the budget squeeze on local authorities and uncertainty following the Brexit vote, according to new research.

Applications fell from 237 in 2014-15 to 189 in 2015-16, the lowest total in five years after a second successive annual drop, law firm EMW said.

The figures include applications for recycling sites, composting and anaerobic digestion centres, and incineration plants with energy recovery.

EMW attributed the drop to squeezed town hall budgets, which is making it harder for councils to fund new green waste projects.

The EU referendum may also have been a factor, as projects could have been put on hold over concerns about the future of EU subsidies for recycling and waste energy production.

However, the firm warned that without enough new sites, the current system risks becoming overstretched as the population continues to rise. This could lead to increased use of older, less efficient methods, such as landfill.

The research also shows that rising taxes has made using traditional waste management sites increasingly expensive. In 2016, landfill tax hit £84.40 per tonne, up from an initial rate of just £7 when it was introduced in 1996.

"Budget cuts and Brexit have placed the UK's waste management sector in limbo," James Geary, principal at EMW, said.

"Continued investment in expanding and upgrading our waste management capacity to cope with growing demand and to meet increasingly stringent environmental protection targets is vital. These figures cast doubt on whether enough is being done."

As the population grows, he added, ensuring the waste management sector is sustainable will become more pressing - and potentially more controversial.

"Building more new sites may not be popular with local residents, but investing in cleaner, greener technology may help to allay some of those concerns," Geary said.

"Now that the landscape has changed with Brexit, re-evaluating the effectiveness of subsidy arrangements and focusing on investment plans should be a renewed priority. Policymakers and local authorities may need to look again at how to incentivise and support more efficient, eco-friendly waste management solutions alongside more traditional options."