New cross-governmental unit formed as part of Red Tape Challenge review of environmental regulations

The Government has announced the formation of a new cross-government unit to improve implementation of the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives. The new ‘Major Infrastructure and Environment Unit’ is designed to help developers ensure that large infrastructure projects promote sustainable development and protect our most valued habitats and species.

The Unit is one of the key recommendations to come out of a recently published Government report which re-evaluates the way the Nature Directives are currently applied in England. This review was undertaken in response to the Treasury’s ‘Red Tape Challenge’, designed to cut unnecessary regulation to improve economic efficiency.

Announcing the review in last year’s Autumn Statement, Chancellor George Osborne suggested that simplifying the implementation of the nature Directives could help save businesses more than £1billion over five years. However, environmental groups raised concerns that the move would significantly weaken nature protection and lead to a presumption in favour of development.

Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, defended the review, stressing that it was ‘about getting better rules, not weaker ones’ and would be ‘good for the environment and good for business, because…[it makes] it easier for people to do the right thing, by making rules clearer’.

The review report also announces the intention to publish new guidance explaining to developers and regulators in much clearer terms what needs to be done to comply with the nature Directives.

The recommendations are designed to reduce the burden that the Directives currently place on businesses while maintaining and, where possible, enhancing the environment.

The full review report can be found on the Defra website.