Updates on the ever-evolving world of environmental legislation: Pollution and a post-Brexit climbdown

28th September 2023


Pollution powers extended

Significant new draft legislation has been published that will give regulators the power to impose unlimited fines for environmental offences. Following a consultation, which had considerable public support, the current limit of £250k for civil penalties is to be scrapped and their scope significantly broadened to target a much wider range of offences.

The size of the penalties will be subject to sentencing guidelines and will take into account the extent of the pollution and degree of responsibility and harm, as well as the polluting company’s size and ability to pay. Perhaps crucially, they could be used to tackle the recurring issue of pollution by water companies and breaches of storm overflow permits. The new powers will come under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016.

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Scotland’s deposit return scheme delayed again

The start date for the Deposit and Return Scheme for Scotland Regulations 2020 has been delayed again. The regulations make provision for the operation of a deposit return scheme for drinks that are intended to be sold to consumers in Scotland and are contained in single-use packaging made from polyethylene terephthalate plastic, glass, aluminium and steel, and the packaging for them.

The scheme was set to be implemented on 1 July 2022, but an independent review moved the date to 16 August 2023. This has now been pushed back further to 1 March 2024.

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UKCA mark scrapped

The government has announced that businesses will be able to use the EU CE marking indefinitely. Following Brexit, the continuation of EU requirements relating to product marking, i.e. the CE mark, was permitted. This allowed any product bearing the CE mark to be placed on the market in Great Britain until 31 December 2022.

However, the deadline was pushed back on three separate occasions and finally extended until 21 December 2024. It has now been announced that the switch to UKCA marking will be delayed indefinitely.

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On the watchlist

Packaging regulations

Despite the parliamentary recess, some notable consultations have been published that could see significant legislation changes over the coming months. A review is being carried out on the draft producer responsibility obligations (packaging and packaging waste) regulations, which will introduce extended producer responsibility (EPR) for packaging. The EPR will require businesses to pay the full costs of dealing with the packaging they supply and use when it becomes waste. It is not now expected to launch until October 2025.

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Scotland reviews EPC scheme

Scotland has proposed reforms of its Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) scheme. The plans will cover both domestic and non-domestic EPCs, although some of the changes apply differently to domestic and non-domestic buildings as their use and energy efficiency context is very different.

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Possible EPC delays elsewhere

There is also some suggestion of delays to the EPC rental target in England and Wales. Two years ago, the government consulted on energy efficiency standards in rented homes and proposed a deadline for landlords in England and Wales to meet mandatory efficiency standards. These proposed deadlines may now be pushed back, along with a potential overhaul of the EPC system.

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In court

There is potential for six water companies to be forced into paying customers millions in compensation as the first collective class action is being brought against them for failing to properly report sewage spills and pollution incidents. cedr.ec/965

Lastly, in case law, in R. (on the application of Hillingdon LBC) v Mayor of London, a judicial review of the mayor of London’s decision to confirm the controversial emission zone charging order was refused.

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Neil Howe, PIEMA, is head of writing at Barbour EHS

Image credit: Shutterstock

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