Recycled waste could end up in landfill sites, warns watchdog

• Government failing to provide enough facilities
• Taxpayers could face multimillion-pound fines

Millions of people who recycle their rubbish could find it becomes a futile exercise due to the government's failure to provide enough facilities to prevent it from being dumped in landfill sites, a report from a Whitehall watchdog warns today.

Homeowners and tenants could also have to foot the bill for fines totalling hundreds of millions of pounds because their council has fallen behind in developing recycling schemes. The EU has set a deadline of 2013 to halve dumping in landfill sites; the government faces fines if it misses the target and will pass this on to councils.

The National Audit Office says there is little chance of completing a programme of building incinerators and large-scale recycling schemes by 2013.

The government had tried to fund the programme by raising cash from banks under the private finance initiative, but many of the schemes can no longer get money because of the credit crunch.

Since many involve building large incinerators, they are also running into opposition from residents, resulting in an average delay of more than 19 months in obtaining planning permission. It can take between five and nine years for a new plant to come on stream.

According to the auditors, only two big waste treatment plants in England have come on stream since the programme was launched in 1999 and another nine projects have been approved. A further 18 are in the pipeline.

The two completed schemes are in Leicester and east London. Other schemes for incinerators planned in 2003 and 2006 have not even started; they include Newhaven in East Sussex, Nottinghamshire and Cornwall.

The report says: "England is likely to meet its 2010 landfill reduction targets but to meet the 2013 target the Department [for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] will need to reduce substantially the time taken to procure projects and bring them into operation ... It will not be met if there continue to be programme delays or the infrastructure built does not work as efficiently as expected."

Edward Leigh, Tory chairman of the Commons public accounts committee, said: "The department sat on its hands for four years after the EU in 1999 set England a testing timetable for reducing the amount of biodegradable rubbish sent to landfill."

Councils also warned that they faced problems in meeting targets. Paul Bettison, chairman of the Local Government Association environment board, said: "Councils are pulling out the stops to deliver projects that will deal with waste. But the reality is the government has hit the council tax payer with a £1.5bn bill over the next three years by going back on its undertaking to refund money raised through landfill tax to local authorities. This is cash that could be used to build the facilities that are needed to divert waste away from landfill."


David Hencke, Westminster correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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