NAO warns that slow reaction to EU directive means councils could face massive penalties for missing targets

A National Audit Office (NAO) report out today has said the government was too slow in acting to cut the amount of waste sent to landfill sites in England.

And it warned that if targets set by the EU in 1999 to reduce landfill waste by 2013 are missed then local authorities could face hundreds of millions of pounds in penalties.

Of the new waste treatment plants planned to tackle the problem, only two facilities are so far up and running, said committee chairman Edward Leigh.

He said the programme to build the plants under PFI is being held up by problems raising cash in the difficult economic climate and by planning system delays.

Leigh said that the government wasted a golden opportunity to get to grips with the task by not putting in place a practical national strategy until four years after the EU directive was issued.

“It wasn't until 2006 that it set up a national unit for managing delivery of the programme,” he added.

The NAO said that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has belatedly started to tackle the problem, but it can take between five and nine years to develop PFI waste projects and bring new facilities into use.

Leigh said: “As a result of DEFRA's early failure to recognise and promptly tackle the complex issues in building the required waste plants, the new plants are very slow to come on stream.”