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DEFRA criticised for moving too slowly...
DEFRA criticised for moving too slowly

By Mark Smulian

Government foot-dragging on environmental protection has left many councils facing huge fines for failing to cut their use of landfill sites.

A report by the National Audit Office, parliament's spending watchdog, predicts councils will face penalties totalling£205m by 2013 because they will bury an excess 1.4m tonnes of biodegrable waste.

The report, Reducing the reliance on landfill in England, warns recycling and composting will be insufficient, and councils' ability to use incinerators was hampered by public opposition.

Strict enforcement of environmental protection was important to public acceptance, the report says.

But it found 'delays by the Department [for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs] in implementing policies to reduce pollution from the waste management sector have undermined public confidence'.

Even with public support, long lead times on planning and building incinerators and mechanical processing plants would still leave many councils short of capacity.

It urged DEFRA to focus on the 25 authorities that collectively send half of all municipal waste to landfill, 19 of which face 'a considerable challenge' in meeting the targets.

Two of those criticised, Surrey CC and Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority, denied being 'very unlikely' to meet the targets.

A Surrey spokesman said: 'We will use spare incinerator capacity in Kent until two new facilities can be built. Recycling will be raised to 60% and the rest will go to the new plants.'

Merseyside said it would procure new facilities for 2008 but would need to buy spare capacity elsewhere.

The Local Government Association has called for discretionary powers for councils to charge households for waste.

Report summary

Target Biodegrable waste landfilled cut to 50% of 1995 levels by 2013, and 35% by 2020.

Penalty Councils fined£150 for every tonne landfilled above the targets.

Incinerators Typical cost£40m-£100m, planning permission, six-26 months, private finance initiative deals: two years.

Most adrift of targets Bradford City MDC, Leeds City Council, Lincolnshire CC, Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority, Surrey CC.

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