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Examination of Witness

Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee on 10th March 2020.

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Mayor Philip Glanville gave evidence.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet 2:00 pm, 10th March 2020

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. For the benefit of the record, I shall ask our councillor guest to identify himself in a moment. I am advised that there may be a Division on the Floor of the House. That is probably slightly private information, but I do not see any reason why the public should not know what is going on. If the Division bell rings, it will not mean that an inmate has escaped; it means we will all have to go over the road and vote. There will be injury time; whatever we have to take off for the vote, which will be 15 minutes, we will add back on again.

We have half an hour for this session with the representative of local government. By the way, the other thing I have to mention, in case anybody is concerned, is that we have endeavoured to let some daylight into the room by opening the blinds. Apparently, that interferes with the broadcasting quality, so if I have ruined the picture it is entirely my fault. We felt we were enough like mushrooms as it was without having complete darkness in here.

Without further ado, the Local Government Association. Councillor Glanville, would you like to introduce yourself and explain, for the benefit of the record, what you represent, please?

Mayor Glanville:

Thank you, Chair. I am Phil Glanville, the elected Mayor of Hackney and a representative of the Local Government Association. I serve on the relevant policy board covering the Bill.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

We are most grateful to you for coming in.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change)

Good afternoon, Mr Mayor. What consultations on the Bill have taken place while you have been a representative on the Local Government Association committee that has been dealing with Bill? Where have been the main disagreements with regard to local government interestsQ 48?

Mayor Glanville:

There has been extensive engagement. Obviously, the original Bill dates back to last year. Our committee has been looking at various aspects of the Bill and we have submitted our package of evidence to the Committee. We are seeing new powers and responsibilities for local government. I appeared before the waste reduction investigation that was conducted last year. There has been extensive engagement and investigation into some aspects of the Bill. The challenge for all of us is that the Bill is very ambitious and sets new targets. In some areas, such as biodiversity and air pollution, the relationship with local government and where responsibilities lie are less clear.

On areas such as waste, recycling, plastic pollution and single-use plastics, the engagement has been more extensive. It depends on the areas of the Bill we are talking about and the responsibilities that are in focus. The areas of disagreement are common to those that arise when local government takes representations. Where we take on new responsibilities, we need adequate time to prepare and adequate funding in order to do that.

We have a track record of delivering improved and innovative recycling services during a decade of funding changes as a result of austerity. We have continued to improve our recycling services, investing more than £4.2 billion of resources. If we were to move towards the types of changes suggested in the Bill, the burden could be increased by up to £700 million. We will provide further information as the LGA on that. Without that increase in resources, council tax payers will have to meet that uplift in our duties around waste and recycling, or other services will have to be cut.

Those sorts of challenges go across different parts of the Bill, whether it is the work on biodiversity and planning or the clear ambition to deal with air pollution. Some of those responsibilities do sit with local authorities and we are ready to rise to that challenge, but whole industries will see changes in regulation as a result of the Bill. We believe we can rise to that challenge, in partnership with Government and industry. I am sure that over the course of the next half hour we will explore some of those areas more specifically. The main areas of disagreement relate to having the right powers and funding to match our duties.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change)

Q That is very clear, certainly in terms of the ability of local government to deliver on the challenges set by the Bill. Are there particular areas that relate to the powers that local government has at the moment to do things that may be within, or possibly outside, some of the particular asks that the Bill will put on local government? Are there areas where local government may not have powers at the moment, for example on planning, in terms of biodiversity gain, and so on, and where further work will be needed should such aspirations be placed on local government as a result of the Bill?

Mayor Glanville:

Biodiversity and how the planning system could lead to the net gain that is the priority within the Bill is one of the key areas. We have a system of local planning authorities that is well established. The system has accommodated various changes relating to energy, carbon and sustainability over a number of years, and we have adapted to those changes and adopted them within both our local plan development and the way our committees regulate development.

The planning context is really important, before I come to the detail on biodiversity. We have seen 2.6 million homes consented to in the past six years. A million of those have yet to be built, in the context of a 40% reduction in funding for local planning authorities. We have seen some improvements. We can set fees that allow us to recover the costs of fulfilling our planning responsibilities as local authorities, but there is still a £180 million gap between the cost of fulfilling our responsibilities and the funding that we receive from planning fees.

If we introduce new responsibilities for biodiversity, the challenge is whether we will close the existing gap and ensure that a new gap does not develop. We need to ensure that local authorities have the expertise to meet those new biodiversity responsibilities. That could be addressed either through the wider financial settlement for local government, or through a fees regime. As it is written at the moment, the Bill does not suggest that local authorities will be pre-eminent in collecting any additional resources if a development does not meet biodiversity standards.

Many Members who are involved in constituency casework, as I am as a council leader, will know that planning is always contested. People see the impact of a new development very much in their local community. If we are saying that the impact of new developments on biodiversity will be fully recognised, which we welcome, we want to ensure that any compensation is either held within that development, and the development contributes to a net improvement in biodiversity, or, if not, that local planning authorities can use those resources for the local community. That could be by placing extra requirements on a development, or by using our expertise in tree planting, and improving diversity and green infrastructure in the local area. As things stand in the Bill, we fear that there may well be a levy, but the levy would not be recycled back into the planning system, or would not result in the net improvement in biodiversity that we all want to see.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

I will come back to you if I can, Dr Whitehead.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q Thank you very much for attending—it is much appreciated. The Government are committed to funding all new burdens on local authorities through the Bill, so I want to get your view quickly on that. I would also be interested to know, in the light of that, what opportunities the Bill offers local authorities, perhaps particularly referencing the fact that lots of local authorities have committed to their own climate and environmental standards, and to tackling the climate crisis. How do you think it might help you to deliver those?

Mayor Glanville:

It is a positive Bill in the sense that we all share its ambitions to respond to the climate emergency, uphold the principle of “polluter pays” when we are talking about waste and recycling, and embed high standards for air quality in domestic legislation. Local government shares all those ambitions.

To take waste and recycling, there are some ambitious principles set out in the Bill, especially for dealing with single-use plastics, encouraging deposit and return schemes and improving the way recycling is delivered. Underneath that, however, is the context that I set out of the challenge of local government finance. If we are to move to the type of systems that are set out in the Bill and introduce food recycling everywhere, it would require an uplift in resources.

I welcome what the Minister said about new burdens being met with resources, but often the detail about where those burdens lie comes later. I have some experience of taking part in discussions on measures such as the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. There is normally a dispute later between central and local government about what the new responsibilities are and where they are fully accommodated. You often get transition funding, which allows some adaptation and change, but the picture for long-term revenue for local government is still incredibly challenging. I know that we are all going into a spending review and some of those things might be addressed.

There are huge opportunities for local government, because when it comes to waste and recycling, we are obviously the processors of all our consumer waste. We all want to see less of that waste produced in the first place. As I said, I gave evidence last year. If we just focus on plastics and single-use plastics, that is obviously where a lot of residents and campaign organisations are focusing our minds, but with a true waste reduction strategy consumer packaging would not be produced in the first place and there would be more upstream regulation of the types of materials that go into our waste system.

Some 70% of councils have all seven common forms of plastic recycled in their waste streams, but other types of packaging that local authorities cannot process are still going into the waste streams. Consumers often think that they can recycle them and it can be frustrating for them when they find that they cannot. Those types of packaging obviously increase the amount of residual waste.

As the Bill develops and regulation flows from it, we are hoping not just that we will focus on the work that we all need to do to continue to improve the recycling end but that we will work at the producer end, which, obviously, individual local authorities and the LGA do not have the scope to focus on. That is where we can really add value. We can clarify some of the areas where local government needs to rise to the challenge, but also where industry and consumer behaviour need to change.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q So this is very much what is termed a framework Bill. I get the impression that the local authorities would welcome more public consultation and engagement to get this right for you and for the businesses that we heard from this morning.

Mayor Glanville:

Absolutely. As I said, we all face a tremendous amount of challenge from residents, consumers and activists. We all want to play our part in responding to the climate emergency. We as the Local Government Association have been doing a lot of peer-to-peer work. My board has created a climate change emergency action plan, and we are keen to continue that work. Where we would value a greater voice is at the political and officer level, if there is a taskforce linked to the Bill, especially on climate change emergency and action. I am told that there are still some details there to work through in terms of leading that full sector-led response.

Photo of Jessica Morden Jessica Morden Opposition Whip (Commons)

Can I ask two things? The Minister said that all new burdens would be met. What is the figure that you said initially that local government would need to do the work set outQ in the Bill?

Mayor Glanville:

Just on the area of waste and recycling, to meet the objectives that are set out in the Bill, we have done some internal modelling that said there would be a £700 million gap in local government funding to meet those new responsibilities and burdens. That is in the context of a total amount of around £4.2 billion spent on processing household waste. Of that, £700 million is spent on recycling, so it is a doubling of the recycling and reducing element that is outlined in the Bill.

Photo of Jessica Morden Jessica Morden Opposition Whip (Commons)

Q Waste crime is obviously a big problem, with organised criminals dumping vast amounts of waste. What powers, duties and resources does local government already have, and what does it need? Does the Bill address that issue adequately?

Mayor Glanville:

The challenge when taking enforcement action is the cost of bringing cases to court or issuing civil penalties. Local government has a lot of powers in that area, but it can sometimes be challenging to prove a cost-evidence base for implementing them, so anything to improve not just our powers but the ability to ensure that the polluter pays will help. That is the element that is always the challenge for local government.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

Many local authorities have declared climate emergencies. How will the Bill help local authorities to address those self-declared climate emergencies?Q

Mayor Glanville:

Local authorities across the country from Hackney to Hull have declared climate emergencies. The Local Government Association itself has. Local authorities are doing a lot of work outside the scope of the Bill on energy, and there is some detailed work going on at the LGA. The challenge with air pollution and some of the aspirations in the Bill is that many of the elements are reliant on industry and consumer change. There is a lot of work on clean air zones in local government. There is experimentation in places around Nottingham on levying parking charges in workplaces. Wider investment in sustainable and public transport is needed to ensure that our aspirations on air pollution can be met.

In the Bill, there is some positive work on the contribution of motor vessels on our waterways and improving regulation of them. The Bill strengthens elements relating to domestic pollution and domestic fuels, which we very much welcome as well.

We are very keen, as local government, to ensure that we do our part in responding to the climate emergency. There are some of those upstream, “producer pays” principles around waste and recycling—for example, the car industry switching to a more electric fleet, and I know there have been announcements on bus funding—but if we are talking about the types of shift that we are going to need in consumer behaviour in the way that we travel, further work will need to be done together on that.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West

First, I am particularly concerned with the new duty in clause 54 that local authorities are going to have to collect food waste every week. Most local authorities now have bi-weekly collections. Many do not collect food waste at all, so that would be a big investment in vehicles and staffing and then in anaerobic digestion facilities. You said that there is a £700 million gap for recycling. Is that inclusive of food waste or is another figure needed for local authorities to be able to fund the food waste duty that the Bill puts on them?Q

Mayor Glanville:

That is inclusive of food waste. You identify one of the challenges. Typologies change across the country. What is required to collect food waste and the density of infrastructure in a borough such as Hackney can be very different from what is required in large rural authorities. We are nervous about having duties that do not recognise those challenges and differences. Different local authorities have set different regulations around how often they collect residual waste. Some local authorities are still doing that weekly, some are doing it bi-weekly and some every three weeks, and they vary how often they collect recycling and food waste alongside that. Many inner London boroughs that have the challenges of density and flats are still collecting waste more often than areas where there are suburban typologies where people can store more waste in their homes. In a typology such as Hackney, where all of the residential growth has been around flats, it is often impossible to do that, given the size of flats.

We hope to see the work on the Bill and regulation recognise some of those differences and challenges and get to the position where food waste is available for everyone, but makes sure that it is done in the right way with the right change in industry and the capacity within industry to roll it out. Rolling it out everywhere weekly is part of the £700 million figure. Obviously, some local authorities have invested already. One of the challenges around burden is whether authorities that are already delivering on a weekly basis receive extra resources or will they only go to those authorities that have yet to make that investment? It is an equity, fairness and transparency question across local government.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West

Q I have a second question on air quality. The Mayor of London has committed to reach World Health Organisation standards by 2030. The Bill fails to set legally binding targets. What steps should local and national Government take to meet that ambition to meet WHO air quality limits by 2030? Do you think the Bill could be amended to make that happen?

Mayor Glanville:

Local government has not come to a position on the 2030 target. Speaking from the LGA perspective, we recognise that we need to have ambitious targets. We need to have a pathway to get there, which will require quite a lot of action around industry. It is not local government that is producing the transport—we are dealing with the consequences. While you can introduce clean air zones and have the work that combined authorities and the Mayor have done around ultra-low emission zones, investing in disabled transport, walking and clean bus fleets, all that will not get us to the 2030 target unless industry moves as well. If that target were put into the Bill, we would need to have a clear pathway of getting there and the resources for doing that. Many organisations, such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace want to get to that 2030 target. I think targets are really important, but only if you have a plan to get there. We risk setting targets that we will not meet if we do not maintain the confidence of that wider coalition—that is the challenge.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Four people still want ask questions and we have fewer than eight minutes in which to do that, so short questions and short answers, please.

Photo of Saqib Bhatti Saqib Bhatti Conservative, Meriden

You spoke about the Bill being ambitious, and legislation such as this should be ambitious. You talked about opportunities. Local councils up and down the country are doing Q things to be environmentally friendly. How does the Bill enhance the current activity? Are you looking at things such as procurement to assist in that?

Mayor Glanville:

It can provide an excellent framework, especially on the waste and resources piece, introducing more of those principles around producer- paying deposit and reuse schemes. Setting out a clear regulatory framework for that backs up the work that local government is already doing. As I have answered in response to other questions, we cannot just look at the waste and recycling end. We need national Government to make a clearer ask of industry.

Industry also welcomes having frameworks that we can all work to. I do not think it wants to put labels on consumer products that suggest that local recycling streams can accommodate that recycling and then find out that they cannot. That confusion is something that both local and national Government want to see resolved. As long as the balance between rights and responsibilities between local and national Government are right, something like the work on biodiversity can be a real improvement to the planning system. It has to be done in the right way and work with local government and residents’ expectations of local government. While we as a sector are representing ourselves, it is often the through the expectations of our residents that we will have some control and influence around implementing these policies. If the legislation is not drafted in the right way, we will not have that and people will say: “Why, if it is supposed to be improving local biodiversity, is it not contributing to it?”.

In the areas around tree management, we want to be clear about the role of, say, the Forestry Commission and what new statutory powers it is going to have and does it interact properly with the local planning and regulatory system?

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Labour, Erith and Thamesmead

Clauses 95 to 98 seek to create local nature recovery strategies across England. How will that help local authorities provide a more effective and joined-up nationwide strategy for nature recovery? We heard evidence earlier from Veolia, which has a number of refuse and recycling centres in your patchQ .

Mayor Glanville:

Can I clarify what Veolia said?

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Labour, Erith and Thamesmead

It was were talking about how it would like a more joined-up approach with the council and, along with others on the panel, about how businesses need more support to be able to deliver their recycling and waste strategies.

Mayor Glanville:

In terms of setting those strategies, it is making sure that if we have a duty to set them locally, and they are backed up within the planning system, we recognise the context of where local government is at the moment with resourcing.

There were questions earlier about how local government is rising to the challenge of the climate emergency. We, and many local authorities like Hackney, are investing in our agriculturalists and in the people who work in our parks. We have ambitious targets around planting trees and green infrastructure. We are resourcing that through our planning gain, within the existing planning system, and using policies around section 106 and the community infrastructure levy.

If local government is going to be doing even more, either the system that exists at the moment is going to have to accommodate that or those new duties are going have to be explored as well. Not every local authority is going to have tree specialists or still have a biodiversity officer. Over the period of austerity they have all too often been seen as back-office functions. There are real pressures within the planning system and pressures to make sure that we continue to deliver the housing numbers within our local plans.

It is right that we refocus on green infrastructure, biodiversity and a net increase, but without resources being in place we will either have to get them from the planning system or from some other settlement, to make sure we are able to deliver on those ambitions.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

I fear this is likely to be the last question.

Photo of Cherilyn Mackrory Cherilyn Mackrory Conservative, Truro and Falmouth

IQ will make it quick. Putting aside the specific issue of funding, which I believe has already been addressed this afternoon, can you tell me what else is important to ensure that local authorities can effectively deliver this Bill?

Mayor Glanville:

It is a continuing engagement. Obviously, as we have said, it is a framework Bill, which has advantages and disadvantages. There is a high degree of discussion around the Bill at the moment, including about what should be in it and how far it should move into clearly engaging on those ambitious targets and regulations. There is an opportunity in the engagement process with a Bill to engage with local government, with industry and with campaigners.

As you move towards regulations and statutory instruments, some of the focus and the ability for scrutiny in Parliament can be lost, along with local government’s ability to influence. We are keen to make sure that there is clarity in both those positions and that there will still be opportunities to engage around some of the specifics, as we move into further discussions about waste and recycling, air pollution, how we interact with the planning system, the work around flooding and water, and other key areas. There is still a huge amount that we can do. The Local Government Association is committed to rising to that challenge and contributing to making sure that this not just ambitious but implementable legislation at a national and local level.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Thank you, Mayor Glanville. Rather than chop you off mid-flow, I will terminate this session now. You are probably aware that the Committee has authorised the receipt of written submissions, so if there is anything that occurs to you that you wish us to have on behalf of your association then please put it in writing and let us have it.

Mayor Glanville:

Thank you, Chair.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Thank you for joining us this afternoon. Please could we now change over as swiftly as possible as I will try to start the next session at 2.30 pm, when it is supposed to begin.