Wednesday, 2 December 2009
John Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
I was on a television programme some nights ago being harangued by members of Fine Gael who were telling me I should do more about floods. In the audience was a Fine Gael councillor who had rezoned land in a flood plain. I now feel like I did on that night because, as Deputy Creighton will know, it was her party that introduced the legislation to provide for incineration and her party, along with other Opposition parties, that voted for this proposal in 1998. Those are the facts and the difficulties with which I must deal.
As the Deputy is aware, waste management infrastructure projects are advanced by private sector service providers or by local authorities. It is a matter for the promoters of such projects to seek and obtain the necessary regulatory approvals, i.e. planning permission and a waste licence. In carrying out their functions, planning authorities, including An Bord Pleanála, and the EPA in regard to waste licensing, act independently of the Minister. Similarly, the commencement notice is a matter for the local authority concerned and its private partner.
Since taking office, I have continually stressed my twin environmental priorities of dealing with climate change issues and ensuring that we make the necessary quantum leap in how we manage our waste. We must explore the full range of technical solutions in addition to modifying our behaviour in support of sustainable waste management. Undue emphasis on incineration as the cornerstone of waste management policy is detrimental to the development of alternative solutions and the transition to sustainable management of waste and resources. In particular, I am concerned that the provision of excess incinerator capacity can create an economic incentive to send waste to incineration which could effectively have been dealt with by reuse or recycling.
As a first step in my approach to modernising and reorienting the waste management sector, I arranged for an international consortium of consultants to undertake a comprehensive study on the waste sector, to cover a wide range of issues which will help identify how best to proceed with further efforts to reduce waste levels, improve recycling rates and deliver equitable and cost-effective waste management solutions. On 19 November, I published the consultants' report. This will be the launching pad for the policies we now need to mark a new departure in our approach to waste management.
I am discussing with my colleagues in Government proposals to give effect to recommendations of the waste management policy review which will, inter alia, ensure the proper ordering of the waste collection and wider waste management market. I want to provide certainty for those in the waste management sector and a framework within which the necessary legislative changes can be brought forward.
The quantities of residual waste currently being collected by the Dublin local authorities would not be sufficient to meet the put-or-pay requirement in the incinerator contract into which Dublin City Council has entered. We have recently seen further increases in recycling rates in Dublin with a corresponding drop in residual waste volumes. Importantly, the recommendations of the report published on 19 November, which I intend to implement, will have the effect of further reducing the volumes of residual waste generated and driving more waste towards recycling.
I am, therefore, concerned that the proposed incinerator will prove to be seriously oversized and that a liability for the ratepayer and taxpayer may ultimately arise. Dublin City Council is in a 25-year contract in regard to the incinerator and any liability is, therefore, potentially very substantial. In these circumstances, I have decided that the most appropriate course of action is to appoint an authorised person under section 224 of the Local Government Acts to conduct a full review of the financial implications of the project for the State in the event that the incinerator is oversized vis-À-vis the quantities of residual waste available in the Dublin area and the quantities controlled by Dublin City Council.