Construction waste could ramp up development costs

Copyright: David Lawson

First published: Property Week April 2008

I’ve been kicked out of a few bars in my time but never banged up behind them. That could change.  I stopped drinking years ago, resisting even Welsh rugby Grand Slam glory to dive back into a barrel of Brains SA. But I still exhale poison, and like 3m other smokers the pavement is now my home.

Until, that is, I’m caught flicking a dog end in the gutter by some local gestapo and locked away with motley fly-tippers, cowboy shippers and dirty diggers for generating illegal waste. But at least there will be space for a quick drag. A legion of small developers threatened to swamp already overcrowded prisons until jail terms were removed from proposed penalties for faulty waste management.

   They could still end up subsidising the country’s soaring budget deficit, however. Fines up to £50,000 come into force this month as part of a crackdown on the industry’s appalling record on waste.  Big operators will remain untroubled, as they have spent the best part of a decade ensuring tight controls via ‘Considerate Contractor’ schemes. Tiddlers will also escape, as the rules apply only to schemes costing more than £300,000. But that will still overshadow thousands of developments and many will fall foul of the kind of nit-picking bureaucracy that always accompanies changes in the law.

   ‘Most people know about the new controls but that does not mean they are prepared for them,’ says Adam Robbins, an environmental engineer with consultant Aardvark EM. The government probably realised this during consultations, which is why it raised the threshold from £250,000 and dropped the threat of unlimited fines and jail in case the system was overwhelmed. How many will be caught in the web remains uncertain. That will be partly down to whether local authorities and the Environment Agency have the extra resources for inspectors.

  Costs are also in the melting pot for developers. They, or their main contractors, need to pay specialists to draw up and monitor site waste management plans [SWMP]. Staff need training in waste separation and record keeping.  Developers can’t shrug this off as the sole responsibility of a contractor, as many take on the role of project manager and will be liable to fines. And everyone suffers if a site is locked down.  Extra administration and training costs need to be factored into land prices but the real barrier to viability could be storage of waste, which must now be separated as part of wider controls involving careful disposal of different kinds of materials.

  Space could be a big problem, says Robbins. Tons of material is stripped and sent off site in even a modest development but this now has to be separated, tagged and stored. One of the key factors in an SWMP will be showing how material is recycled.  Finding that extra space – particularly in congested regeneration areas – will cost money but Robbins points out that recycling can help balance this out. Disposal to landfill costs £24/ton – a figure set to rise each year – then re-importing top soil to tidy up after completion adds another £9/ton.

 It also adds a green hue. Urban Splash was already recycling concrete on its Wills factory redevelopment in Bristol as part of its corporate policy but Aardvark found new potential by arranging for vast amounts of tons of silt dredged from a lake on the site to be reused for landscaping.

 Site Waste Management Plans

  SWMP regulations come in this month for construction projects where the tender price or estimated total cost is more than £300,000 [excl. VAT].  They set out how building materials and waste are to be managed to ensure efficient management and waste is disposed of legally with material recycled, reused or recovered.  It is the client’s or principal contractor’s responsibility to ensure the SWMP is written, followed, updated and reviewed every three months and a copy kept at the site.
 The SWMP must be written at the construction design stage, maintained during the project and kept for two years after completion. The client/principal contractor must also produce confirmation within three months of completion, that the plan was monitored and reviewed with an explanation of any deviation. The Environment Agency and local authorities will enforce regulations via a fixed penalty notice of £300 or prosecution which can lead to fines not exceeding £50,000.

UK Government Guidance [details on]