Carl Sargeant Minister for Natural Resources
The problem of waste crime is large and growing with the cost to business estimated at around £569 million a year. I am concerned about the number of incidents which have occurred in recent years and sites which are operating in ways which potentially threaten human or environmental health.
At the same time, green growth is a key driver for our vision for the sustainable future of Wales. The state of our environment is, therefore, an important aspect for how we live now and the legacy we will leave for future generations. We want to provide opportunities for economic development in a way that is environmentally sustainable, socially inclusive and provides safer, cleaner and more resilient communities. The waste industry is key in helping us do this and to this end, the waste industry is carefully regulated to protect human health and the environment.
Most of the waste industry operates responsibly but there is a small part of the industry that fails to meet the required standards or operates outside the law. I want to outline our plans for tackling waste crime and poor performance in the waste management industry. We want to ensure legitimate businesses can operate on a level playing field, reduce unfair competition from unscrupulous operators and ensure that criminals are not polluting the environment, endangering human health or having an adverse effect on local communities. I have published the joint Government Response to the consultation held with Defra which set out our proposals for enhancing the enforcement powers used by Natural Resources Wales at regulated facilities. Improved compliance through regulation under the Environmental Permitting Regulations is important. Our regulator, Natural Resources Wales, is responsible for providing a risk-based approach to regulation of the waste industry to ensure the sustainable management of our natural resources for human and environmental well-being. They continue to strive towards better and compliant performance at permitted sites focusing their enforcement, inspection and permitting activities on those who fail to meet the required standards of their permits.
Following the consultation on proposals to enhance enforcement powers to tackle waste crime and poor performance in the waste industry, I have listened to the views of industry and the regulators and I am pleased to announce that I have today put forward legislation before the Assembly which will strengthen Natural Resources Wales’ powers under the environmental permitting regime.
The changes will:-
- enable the regulator to suspend a permit where an operator has breached a condition of their permit and there is a risk of pollution; this provision will enable the regulator to specify, in a suspension notice, the steps that must be taken by the operator to remedy the breach of the permit and to remove the risk of pollution;
- enable the regulator to require the operator to display a sign which informs the public that no further waste can be brought onto the facility in cases where a permit is suspended and there is a need to prevent more waste entering a site;
- enable the regulators to take steps to remove a risk of serious pollution;
- make it easier for the regulator to make an application to the High Court for an injunction to enforce compliance with an enforcement or suspension notice by removing certain preconditions.
I am also looking to make further changes to our legislation next year which will:-
- enable the regulator, in certain circumstances, to take steps to prohibit access to a site;
- widen the regulators’ ability to require the removal of waste from land in circumstances where the waste is being kept unlawfully.
I recognise that improved regulation is important to help achieve a waste industry capable of delivering a high level of compliance, reducing the burden on the taxpayer and the impact on human health and the environment. Through these changes, Natural Resources Wales will be able to take effective, quicker and more targeted enforcement action against those who repeatedly flout the law.
In addition, Natural Resources Wales, in their annual review of performance across the waste sector in Wales, found that the number of worst performing sites is going down. This is encouraging but we need to further improve standards at permitted facilities, prevent accidents and stop those who operate illegally. When large stockpiles of waste catch fire, it pollutes air and water and creates smells, noise or harmful dust and impacts on other businesses. Dealing with these problems can take significant amounts of time and resource to resolve which means substantial costs for both the regulator and the tax payer.
The Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales will continue to work together to address these issues and to identify areas where further action can be targeted to lessen the impacts of waste crime in Wales with a view to bringing forward further proposals for legislation as necessary. The Welsh Government has already identified one such approach where we can target further action to support our efforts to tackle waste crime. Our new Landfill Disposals Tax, which will eventually replace Landfill Tax in Wales in 2018, is being developed and I anticipate this useful tool will help to act as a financial deterrent to those who profit from waste crime. We shall ensure that waste crime does not pay.
Improving the powers of the regulator will help to resolve some of these issues but Natural Resources Wales cannot deliver improvements in isolation. We all have a Duty of Care and responsibility to ensure that the waste we generate is dealt with properly to prevent it causing a problem for our communities now and in the future. The Welsh Government expects public bodies, businesses and the citizens of Wales to fully meet their obligations in waste legislation and to improve and strengthen, where possible, their current arrangements to prevent waste where possible and to manage their waste when it arises.
The Government’s response to the consultation can be found online.
The Welsh Government’s proposals on the Landfill Disposal Tax consultation can be found online.