Definition of Waste Code of Practice and the regeneration of historic landfill sites – Where are We?

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The Specialist in Land Condition (SiLC) Register has been debating the regulatory approach and options for regeneration of landfill sites and use of the CL:AIRE Definition of Waste Code of Practice in England and Wales (DoWCoP) and the significant issues that are arising.  This article follows one which appeared in AGS Magazine during 2021[1].

On 21st June 2021, SiLC wrote to the Environment Agency (EA) and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to raise the profile of the problem citing that “due to the demand on UK land resources, brownfield regeneration professionals are beginning to consider redevelopment of historic landfills, whether or not permits have been surrendered, and areas infilled prior to waste management controls. This interest creates a fantastic opportunity to bring these sites back into beneficial use, however, we are noticing an increasing degree of inconsistency in how these sites are regulated via the implementation of current waste legislation.”

Responses were received from both DEFRA and the EA, which essentially welcomed our suggestions but requested feedback and evidence to support SiLC’s views to ensure that any change in approach is protective of human health and the environment – obviously, a shared goal of SiLC.

As part of our drive to gather this evidence and support change, on June 30th 2022, SiLC hosted its first ever live webinar entitled Regeneration of Historical Landfill Sites – Multi-Stakeholder Perspectives. We had an amazing response with 168 registering, 137 final attendees, with a further  31 viewing the recording. Feedback was great, with an average survey rating of 4.5 out of 5. This topic is clearly very relevant for brownfield professionals.

Key themes covered in the webinar included looking at the history and development of the DoWCoP and key decisions that under pinned this; presentation of case studies which illustrated DoWCoP could effectively be used for regeneration of historic landfills while securing environmental betterment and protection of health; and case studies that clearly showed significant issues with undertaking land regeneration under the permitting regime, namely that there are no suitable permits and the adoption of waste codes in permits hinder the suitable for use approach.

Alongside this webinar, SiLC undertook a survey during August and September 2022 requesting views on the use (and misuse) of the DoWCoP and in particular experiences of the difference between project and programme delivery via DoWCoP and permitting. We had an excellent response with 212 respondents, again demonstrating this is an important topic for brownfield professionals.  Responses were mainly from consultants, registered qualified persons and specialist remediation contractors (combined 89% of total), 6% of respondents were regulators.

Key themes from the survey were a clear drive on the part of regulators to permit more activities, leading to significant increased costs and delays in projects as reported by 48% of respondents.  The permitting system is overwhelmed, with the average determination time of 2 years recorded in the survey.  Whilst we were not surprised, it was stark reading to find that 17% of projects were abandoned because of this issue.  However, the survey did also indicate that there is still misunderstanding regarding the DoWCoP intended use and some delayed projects were highly likely to have been due to the code of practice being applied incorrectly.

SiLC are committed to raising standards, raising quality, and raising awareness. We intend to follow up this article with a more detailed breakdown of the survey results, share with CL:AIRE, continue evidence-based discussions with the EA and DEFRA and also consider how we can support industry to better understand available options for management of soils.  A framework for action will be included in our follow up AGS article.

[1] Missing a trick? Is an unnecessarily complex permitting regime for the re-use of materials derived from historical landfill sites stifling their redevelopment? AGS Magazine August / September 2021.

Prepared on behalf of SiLC by Danny Hope (Hydrock), Louise Beale (SLR Consulting), Clive Williams (Mott Macdonald) and Liz Hart (Hart Environmental Ltd).