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London Waste and Recycling Board Order 2008

Volume 703: debated on Tuesday 8 July 2008

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the London Waste and Recycling Board Order 2008.

The noble Lord said: The draft order sets out the proposed constitution and membership of the London Waste and Recycling Board. The purpose of the board is to improve the environmental sustainability of waste management across London.

I am reminded by officials, by the way, how much the noble Baronesses, Lady Hanham and Lady Hamwee, pressed the point when the original legislation was going through. They got that spot on.

The order takes forward the Government’s commitment, following the review of the Mayor of London’s powers, to set up a pan-London body including the mayor and the boroughs. During the passage of the Greater London Authority Act through Parliament, the Government agreed to put the body on to a statutory basis, and provision is made for this in the GLA Act. This has support from all interested parties, in particular from London Councils and the Mayor of London.

The board will be able to look strategically at waste and recycling issues across the capital, and help drive improvements. In particular, it will aim to improve environmental performance in waste management, increase recycling and decrease the amount of waste sent to landfill to ensure that London is well placed to meet European and domestic targets. In view of the importance of tackling the top of the waste hierarchy, the board’s objectives also focus on minimising the amount of waste produced and increasing re-use.

The Government have always considered that the board offers an excellent framework for the mayor and London boroughs to work together to achieve these objectives. We recognise that the mayor sets out the pan-London vision in his regional strategies, but also respects the boroughs’ role in delivering waste services to residents.

The mayor and London Councils have recently written to us with a joint proposal for an eight-member board, chaired by the mayor or by a representative appointed by him. The remaining members of the board will be four councillors from London boroughs, chosen by London Councils, and three independent members from the private, community and academic sectors, two of whom will be chosen by London Councils and one by the mayor. The order reflects this jointly agreed proposal, and has been welcomed by all parties in the other place. Unlike the first order, this one went through the other place last week.

The Government have announced that we will make £60 million available to the board over the next three years. The fund will be managed by the board in whatever way it sees fit to meet its objectives. There is widespread agreement that London needs additional infrastructure, in particular for organics and food waste, and that the fund can facilitate this.

We very much welcome the new mayor’s personal interest in giving the board strategic direction. I also welcome his commitment of £24 million to the board, which has been set aside for commercial waste projects by the London Development Agency. It is therefore expected that the board will be able to work on both commercial and municipal waste streams and, we hope, to identify synergies and opportunities.

The board will be able to identify where partnerships will be beneficial, and potentially to promote and facilitate them. These could be partnerships between the boroughs, or between the commercial and municipal waste sectors, where economies and efficiency savings can be made, or which realise the potential for making things easier for residents.

We have adopted a flexible approach to the board determining its own proceedings and operation, including the ability to appoint staff and sub-committees to consider particular issues as it sees fit. In order to ensure proper accountability and transparency, the board must set out its priorities and strategy before it can award any funds. It must also provide an annual report on its activities.

In order to promote openness, we have also proposed public access to the board’s meetings along similar lines to those used by local authorities. I am always reminded that the access of the public to local authorities was the result of a Private Member’s Bill proposed way, way back by a very young Member of Parliament then called Margaret Thatcher—a good case of freedom of information there, when you think about it. I shall not say anything else. The board will be audited by the Audit Commission, and its accounts will be published.

Although London’s recycling continues to improve, much still needs to be done to transform London’s waste management to an environmentally sustainable operation. There is agreement on the need to move forward and on the direction of travel, and the order will make that happen, and I commend it to the Committee. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the London Waste and Recycling Board Order 2008. 22nd report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Rooker.)

We welcome this proposal. Within the UK, the Greater London region poses particular challenges as regards local decision-making and regional co-ordination and strategy-making. I understand that various options were considered to find a way forward. The trick is not to divert waste authorities from their task of increasing waste recovery and recycling while reducing the use of landfill in line with the EU landfill directive and providing a co-ordinated waste strategy.

What assessment has been made of the ability of the London Waste and Recycling Board to meet these challenging targets? How does the Minister envisage that it will interact with the borough waste authorities to ensure that that strategy is reinforced and that investment is made without deflecting them from their key role? Presumably, dialogue will take place between the board and the boroughs.

I am sure that the Minister recognises the delicate balance that this order represents. We believe that a single waste authority which undermined the progress made by London boroughs would be a mistake. The advisory and co-ordinating role of the London Waste and Recycling Board is a sensible compromise and, like the Minister, we are delighted that London’s mayor will chair it. If we get this right, London can become a world leader in urban waste management.

We on these Benches welcome this order. As the Minister said, my noble friend Lady Hamwee very much welcomes it. She has asked me to remind the Committee that the board should be, in her words, “tough and ambitious”, and I am sure that will be the case.

I may have failed to hear the Minister mention the relevant figure as regards the Government’s financial backing for the board and I should be grateful if he would repeat it. Under Article 4(7)(c) of the order, the mayor’s representative may be removed if the mayor believes that he has,

“become unable, unfit or unsuitable to carry out that person’s duties”.

Does that mean that the mayor can more or less get rid of that person as he or she sees fit, or would these criteria be applied much more tightly? In what circumstances would that sub-paragraph be used?

What criteria will the Government use to judge the success of the board? What do they expect it to achieve in the next couple of years?

Article 4 applies specifically and exclusively to the mayor’s representative. However, the mayor must act reasonably at all times. You cannot act on a whim or a hunch. The mayor has appointed the representative and therefore must give a reason why he subsequently considers that the latter,

“has become unable, unfit or unsuitable to carry out that person’s duties”.

As I say, the mayor must act reasonably at all times. The important point to note is that the mayor will be given the power to appoint the representative. It will be his choice.

The overall figure for the current spending review period is £60 million. There is no commitment as regards funding under the next Comprehensive Spending Review, but that is the case as regards all other departments. This one is no different. The current profile spend of that £60 million is £19.8 million, £22.8 million and £17.4 million. That has been adjusted from the initial announcement, being mindful of pressure on the board in its crucial first year. Over half, some 52 per cent, will be capital funding.

I turn to the test of success. The London boroughs are all on board with this, which is crucial, and the mayor has embraced it; I understand that he said so in his manifesto and gave a firm commitment. We are very pleased about that. We fully expect to see him in the chair, at least for the first meeting, and that he will have a representative appointed. I understand that procedures are under way; announcements have not been made at present, but they will be made quite quickly once Parliament has approved the order. The recycling rate in London has increased by more than 14 percentage points since 2001, so there has been success in the London boroughs. The inner ones are more difficult. I myself in the past 12 months have transferred from an outer to an inner borough, and I know how much more difficult it is to recycle. It needs to improve significantly.

Twenty-two London boroughs have agreed to local area agreement targets that would result in an average recycling rate of more than 36 per cent between them by the year 2010-11; 10 London boroughs have proposed targets that would see a reduction in residual waste of around 10 per cent; six London boroughs aim to achieve an approximate doubling of their recycling and composting rates by 2010. In some ways the test is going to be, we hope, a dramatic improvement in recycling rates. The point is that the board can take a strategic look at London; it is not one-size-fits-all. That is the beauty of it. These waste authorities work hard and efficiently in the hands of the boroughs, but we need a pan-London view to ease their activities. Boroughs can work in combination where otherwise, if they worked without this kind of operation, one can imagine the paperwork that would flow between the treasurers about the split of money and so on. The private sector is also involved in these operations, so the board has incredible flexibility to get people to work together. I understand that the money is not new money; it is what goes to local authorities, many of which already receive it. In this case, it is sliced off for London so that we have a strategic pan-London view. That is quite important.

Regarding our overall recycling rates, some boroughs will move quicker than others, but they have all been set targets. For the board to be in line for money from the next Comprehensive Spending Review, operated by the Government in three years’ time, it will have to show success in what it has done with the £60 million—or, effectively, £84 million, because there is about £20 million more coming from the London Development Agency. That has to be the test. The boroughs and the board are better placed than central government to decide these actions. That is crucial, and it is what came across in the Greater London Bill. It is important, we thought, for the mayor to be involved and to take that pan-London view. I do not want to go over all the debates about one London authority for everything. One size does not fit all; that was our view.

There was a stakeholder event in January that showed support for the board and the associated fund. It identified some key priority areas, such as organics and food waste, as I have already mentioned, where there was an opportunity for the board to make a difference in London. It is the case that there is food waste—or, rather, surplus; “waste” is a bad word. There is at least one experimental plant in the country where food waste mixed with local authority green waste is running an anaerobic digestion plant of some 5,000 tonnes a year to see, experimentally, what the optimum size is. The person running it said that they thought that the optimum size would be about 15,000 tonnes a year. That needs to be organised. However, given that the waste is there anyway, the prize is electricity back into the grid and a product that can be used on the land. It is environmentally friendly all round. In other words, there is no incentive whatever to go to landfill. That really is a big prize. One would not imagine—I am thinking aloud—such plants in every borough. It would not be justified, given the planning conditions, the location and the amount of product. One has to look at that. A pan-London board could take a view on these issues. With a fairly substantial amount of money over three years, our expectation is that it could deliver real change. That will be the test: has there been real change over the three years?

On Question, Motion agreed to.

That completes the business before the Grand Committee this afternoon. The Committee stands adjourned.

The Committee adjourned at 4.26 pm.