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Government bins site waste regulations, but war on waste goes on

26 March 2012

Last week, as a result of the government's Red Tape Challenge, environment secretary Caroline Spelman announced the removal of Site Waste Management Plans, arguing that they are one of 53 pieces of environmental legislation now considered “redundant”. Jon de Souza, director of Constructing Excellence, gives his reaction.

It is with disappointment that we greet the news that Site Waste Management Plan legislation is due to be scrapped as part of Government’s Red Tape Challenge.

According to figures from the Constructing Excellence KPIs, construction waste has been cut by a third since the legislation came into place in 2008. Although a number of companies had understood the business benefits of better managing waste prior to the legislation, this good practice, as industry performance figures demonstrated, was by no means widespread. The 2008 act essentially forced companies to consider how waste would be disposed of. Put simply the legislation was required as there was a market failure. Since then WRAP has launched its excellent Halving Waste to Landfill campaign which has seen leading-edge companies commit to making substantial improvements in their waste performance.

I understand the Defra argument in scrapping the legislation. Their view is that better site waste management is about better business and it’s not Government’s role to get businesses to make better decisions. If site waste only had an economic impact then I would have sympathy with this view but clearly that isn’t the case. Our construction market has in many cases lagged behind some of our European peers in how it considers aspects of environmental sustainability, including waste. The legislation provided an impetus for companies to better manage waste thereby having both economic and environmental benefits. While Government won’t legislate for the former it can and should for the latter.

The other argument is that the legislation has done its job - Site Waste Management Plans are now a normal part of project delivery having had them mandated for four years. The expectation is that Plans will continue to be created even when there is not legislation that requires them. I’m not sure this is the case. Many companies in our sector understand the link between environmental and economic performance – they get that managing waste properly is a benefit not a cost. But in these difficult economic times there will be swathes of the industry that see this Government roll back as an opportunity to go backwards themselves. Clearly, the positioning here is important as well. What kind of message does it send industry if the ‘greenest Government ever’ decides that Site Waste Management Plans are no longer necessary?

The Site Waste Management Plan legislation wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. And there were substantial issues around enforcement. But in our opinion that meant that the legislation needed to be improved and maybe the scope of the Plans to be widened to consider resource efficiency rather than just waste.

We at Constructing Excellence think this is a retrograde step and that the Government has sacrificed legislation where there is still risk of market failure to drive deregulation. The scrapping of the legislation is too much too soon. We will commit to working with industry to ensure that site waste good practice continues to be highlighted.

As such we commit to:

• Continuing to collect data on site waste as part of the KPI data collection process. We can then demonstrate any changes in industry performance as a result of the scrapping of the legislation (just as we were able to show improvements following its introduction)

• Urge the few Constructing Excellence members that are yet to do so to sign up to WRAP’s Halving Waste to Landfill campaign

• Refresh the links to site waste best practice on the Constructing Excellence website

• Work with other bodies including BRE, WRAP and UK-GBC to understand how the industry thinks this should be taken forward

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