With so much of UK environmental regulation passed down by Europe, Paul Suff suggests politicians give up on their unrealistic rally cry for deregulation
The outcome of the red tape challenge is not the disaster many environmentalists had feared.
Yes, only 70 existing sets of regulations are left unscathed by Defra’s plans, while 53 will be scrapped and 153 will be “improved” – mainly through “simplification” or merging (p.5). But most of the regulations being axed are largely obsolete.
Others, such as the requirement for site waste management plans, have not been effective, although that’s mainly owing to poor enforcement, and more perhaps could be achieved by showing construction companies just how much money could be saved by cutting down on waste.
One of the main reasons the government has not gone further is that the vast majority of environmental regulation originates in Brussels, leaving the UK with very little wriggle room to make changes. EU regulations, such as REACH for example, apply automatically.
Transposing directives gives member states more control, as European policymakers set out general rules and objectives, but leave it up to individual countries as to how to attain them. Domestic regulations must still comply with EU rules, however.
Some UK politicians believe that the transposition of EU legislation into national law often leads to requirements or procedures being added that are not required by the originating directive – so-called “gold-plating”.
That allegation was made last November by the chancellor when he announced a review of the Habitats and Wild Bird Directives. George Osborne told MPs then that he would ensure that “gold plating of EU rules on things like habitats aren’t placing ridiculous costs on British businesses”.
The findings of Defra’s review of the Directives reveal that the chancellor was mistaken, and there was no evidence of gold plating: in most cases the regulations implementing the Directives were working well, allowing development of key infrastructure to proceed and offering significant environmental protection.
So, like the outcome of the red tape challenge, very little will change in practice. Now, perhaps, it’s time to call a halt to demands for deregulation.