Reforms to environmental legislation could save businesses up to £300m a year, according to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson.

Government plans published yesterday outline 336 regulatory reforms covering agricultural, water and marine regulation, as well as environmental standards, as part of the government's Red Tape Challenge to remove "unnecessary regulatory burden" on companies while ensuring UK standards are maintained.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and its nine agencies, which include the Environment Agency and Marine Management Organisation, plans to consolidate legislation, reducing the overall number of regulations by 20 per cent since 2011.

The department said the proposals would reduce environmental legislation by 80 per cent in volume, making it easier to follow and reduce the time spend by businesses reporting information to the department and its regulatory bodies and agencies by a fifth, saving business around 850,000 working hours by April 2016.

The changes are expected to save business £1.5bn over five years - an increase on previously estimated savings of £1bn. Alongside the proposals, Defra has also launched the first online regulations portal in central government - called DefraLex - that it says will be a comprehensive database of the department's regulations.

Green groups have been critical of the government's push to cut environmental legislation, arguing it is yet another nail in the coffin of the coalition's pledge to lead the greenest government ever,

But Paterson insisted the new rules would be much clearer and easier to use, enabling the government to crack down on breaches without imposing impediments on industry.

"For the overwhelming majority of organisations behaving responsibly, I want to get out of their hair and let them get on with it. That is the best way of ensuring small businesses prosper, bringing security, jobs and growth," he said. "It also gives us in government more time to focus on the ‘bad guys', that small number who break the rules causing disproportionate harm."

Martin Baxter, executive director of policy at the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), said that the organisation was supportive of greater clarity, but cautioned against the loss of useful guidance for companies.

"Our concern would be that in the drive for simplicity and clarity the 'how to comply' aspect might be lost," he told BusinessGreen. "We support streamlining in principle - what we don't want is to throw out what might have been useful."