GREEDY DEFRA EATS UP THE VILLAGE COMPOST HEAP
Christopher Booker's Notebook
The Sunday Telegraph
14 September 2003, p. 16
Like other communities across the country, the villagers of Lympstone in Devon have for some years run an admirable collective composting scheme, whereby hedge clippings, vegetable waste and other organic refuse is collected from round the village, taken to a communal heap and sold back to villagers at £1.50 a bag. This popular scheme, run by Jenepher Allen, an occupational therapist, draws in 40 volunteers from all sections of the community.
Under European Union waste directives, which outlaw the use of compost except on land where it originated, schemes such as this would normally require villagers to pay £9,000 for a waste management licence. But because the schemes are seen as environmentally beneficial, Brussels has generously permitted the villagers exemption from this requirement.
For officials of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, however, this was a challenge they could not resist. They have produced a 132-page consultation paper on "exemptions" from licensing requirements, which emphasises the need to "allow and encourage genuine recovery operations". Defra adds that special consideration should be given to "small scale composting" schemes, which have "an important part to play in meeting Government targets".
Only at the end do the Defra officials come up with their masterstroke. Obviously what irks them most is the thought of all those villagers getting away with having to pay nothing at all. They thus propose that, in return for the privilege of being exempted from licensing, communal composting schemes must pay a "notification fee" and other charges, ranging between £833 and £1,633 in year one, and up to £1,502 for every year thereafter.
The trouble is that, with a mere £90 in the bank, there is no way the Lympstone scheme could afford to pay the officials £1,500 a year for the privilege of being exempted from waste management charges. So, without a drastic change of mind (the consultation ends this week), it looks as though almost all our community composting schemes will be forced to stop.
What was it that Edward Heath told us in 1971 about how joining the Common Market would in no way change our British way of life?
The secretary for Lympstone Compost sends us the following updates - January 2005:
There has been very little movement from DEFRA. The only notable "concession" is the proposal of a separate band of charging for those at the lower end of the scale of composting, which may still result in payment by community composting groups of something in excess of £300 per annum. By contrast, the Scottish Executive has waived all charges on community groups processing less than 100 tonnes of garden waste. As you can imagine, very few groups are in a position to pay licence exemption fees, nor do they feel that they should be obliged to pay for a voluntary service which is contributing to the UK's landfill reduction targets. Some groups do not even charge for the compost which is distributed in their communities, so have no income with which to pay. We have been alerted by the Chairman of the Community Composting Network that a final decision may be close.
Update - 31 March 2005:
Just to let you know that the axe is about to fall -- we are to be liable for charges from the 1st July, which, although somewhat lower than those originally proposed, will still be crippling and will probably close our enterprise. Apart from the loss to our community of a good service and to the local authority relief for their landfill problems, we have also been helped by a number of young adults with learning disabilities at our site, and the loss to them of a social outdoor activity each week will be considerable.