Defra reveals timetable to cut 'red tape'

15th October 2012


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Defra has published a breakdown of how it plans to improve environmental regulation over the next four years, following its pledge in March to streamline, consolidate or scrap 186 pieces of legislation as part of the red tape challenge

Defra’s implementation plan provides more detail as to how the 132 statutory instruments identified as in need of “improvement” are to be changed, alongside dates for when the alterations should be complete. None of the changes will result in fundamental reordering of the regulatory regime, confirmed IEMA’s policy director Martin Baxter.

“These regulations are in place to protect health and the environment, so it’s not surprising that there wasn’t a wholesale repeal of statutes. The key thing is that environmental outcomes are not being changed; organisations will have to meet the same level of environment performance,” he said.

Angus Evers, head of the environment group at SJ Berwin LLP and spokesperson for the UK Environmental Law Association (UKELA), agreed: “Defra is looking at some consolidation and simplification of areas like producer responsibility, but in the main this is about how the law is enforced, rather than any changes to the law itself.”

In the plan, Defra confirms that by April next year firms will be able to decide the sequencing of planning and permitting applications, and by April 2014 it will have simplified REACH rules by merging various enforcement regulations. Meanwhile, consultations on the producer responsibility regimes will launch in January, with a full review completed by 2014.

Alongside Defra’s work on legislation, the Environment Agency has announced it will be “streamlining” its guidance documents by 25% over the next 18 months. However, Evers questions this approach.

“I wonder how much scope there is for simplifying guidance, particularly on environmental permitting which saw a lot of guidance cut when the new regime was introduced in 2007,” he said. “And is there really any justification behind the figure of 25%? Or has the agency plucked a figure out of thin air that will make good headlines?

“As a practitioner, I find it helpful to have more detailed guidance, rather than something that’s woolly and can be interpreted in a number of different ways.”

Access to up-to-date guidance and legislation was identified as a key problem in the existing regulatory regime by UKELA in a report published in May, and one that Defra is aiming to combat with the launch of a new online library in April 2013.

The Defra-lex website will be a “one-stop shop” for all publications related to Defra legislation. “The concept is a great one, as long as it’s given the resources and funding to be kept up to date,” said Evers.

Defra’s implementation plans also reveal that the Environment Agency will continue to investigate how second- or third-party audits could potentially collect data for assessing regulatory compliance, with reports and further trials due in November 2013.

“The question is whether some form of enhanced certification process could generate the information regulators need to decide if further intervention with a company is necessary,” explained Baxter. “Also, the agency needs to see if the approach stacks up financially or whether firms will simply end up swapping the cost of one inspection for another.”

DECC has also revealed its response to the red tape challenge, including how it plans to scrap 86 “redundant” pieces of legislation and improve a further 48 statutory instruments, such as the legislation related to radioactive contaminated land.

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