Red tape review to alter 70% of regulation

20th March 2012

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Defra has pledged to scrap 53 environmental regulations and improve 132 more, in response to the government's red tape challenge review of legislation

Just 70 pieces of environmental regulation will be left untouched by Defra’s plans, with the department proposing to streamline the environmental permitting process, reduce the paperwork associated with managing and transferring waste, and scrap obsolete wildlife regulations.

Environment secretary Caroline Spelman said the plans will help to ensure the UK’s natural environment is protected by being “cheaper and easier for companies to follow”.

“This exercise was about getter better rules, not weaker ones…The results of the red tape challenge will be good for the environment and good for business,” she said.

As well as confirming the end of the Landfill Allowances Trading Scheme, which was outlined in its review of waste policy last year, Defra proposes repealing legislation requiring large construction sites to create a waste management plans, arguing the regulations are ineffective.

It also pledges to reduce the number of waste transfer notes that need to be completed by businesses, allowing instead for other forms of evidence instead and revealing plans for a new electronic system from January 2014.

Other potential changes to waste legislation include reviewing how the costs allocated to processing waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is passed on to producers and exempting more small businesses from the Battery Producer Regulations. These changes come despite Defra suggesting extending producer responsibility to cover WEEE in its action plan to improve the UK’s resource efficiency, published last week.

While the majority of reforms to the planning regulations will be published with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) alongside the 2012 Budget, Defra has confirmed it will be expanding exemptions for development projects on common land, so fewer will have to apply to the Planning Inspectorate for consent. The environment department will also be releasing new guidance to reduce incidences of contaminated land being remediated unnecessarily.

Defra’s plans also include changes to the environmental permitting regime by aligning planning and permitting applications – to allow businesses to apply for both simultaneously – and by incorporating water abstraction licenses and flood risk consents.

The Environment Agency (EA) has been tasked to take a lighter touch approach to enforcement, focusing on those operations that pose the greatest environmental risk and those with poor performances, with Defra confirming its expectations that third-party audits could reduce the number of EA inspections in future and highlighting the current EMS+ pilots.

Another important area of reform, according to Defra, is legislation related to air quality and industrial emissions, but the department does not confirm how it intends to improve regulations, confirming instead that it plans to review the impact of all existing legislation, including the Clean Air Act, over the next year, ahead of a public consultation.

The department does, however, confirm that it will pursuing reforms of European air quality legislation, in particular, seeking amendments for requirements related to nitrogen dioxide emissions, which the UK is unlikely to meet.

The reforms, according to Spelman, will help to save UK businesses £1 billion in the next five years. Estimated savings include £140 million annually from avoiding unnecessary contaminated land remediation and £29 million saved each year by scrapping REACH provisions that require the removal of asbestos from second-hand articles.

Initial reactions to the proposals have been broadly positive, with Peter Young, managing director of the Aldersgate Group, describing them as largely sensible.

“I see relatively little weakening of environmental protection for the savings and efficiencies identified… For those who still see this process as deregulation it is what is not said which fails to put that concern to rest,” he said.

“Points which trouble me by their absence include where new regulation is the right way to help the environment and competitiveness (for example mandatory carbon reporting) it would be introduced without hesitation.”

The Environmental Services Association’s head of regulation, Sam Corp, said: “The [measures] seem to have a struck a good balance between protecting vital environmental standards and reducing unnecessary regulation. We particularly welcome the proposals to streamline environmental permitting and increase its alignment with the planning regime.

“We will be looking carefully at the proposals for waste transfer notes, to ensure that any alternative system of recording waste movements does not make life easier for the minority who deliberately flout waste law.”

Defra will now begin a review of the 10,000 pages of environmental regulatory guidance currently available and, in a similar way to the forthcoming NPPF, look to cut it down substantially.

A full list of the proposals are available from the Defra website.

Will the red tape challenge reforms help businesses and the environment? Vote now


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