Red Tape Challenge: Spotlight falls on the Environment

As part of the Government’s plan to reduce the regulatory burden to business, the so-called ‘Red Tape Challenge‘, the spotlight this month falls on the environment. Until the end of September comments are invited on all current environmental regulations (although comments have been welcome since the process began in April). Following the close of the spotlight period, Secretary of State Caroline Spelman and her ministerial team at Defra have three months to make a decision on which regulations should be kept and which scrapped. The presumption is that ‘burdensome’ regulations will go unless the Department can make a good case for why they should be retained.

A Defra press release, released earlier this month, makes it clear that businesses are the focus for the RTC exercise – but anyone can have their say on the RTC website and the BES encourages our members to do so.

Two hundred and eighty seven environmental regulations are up for consultation, including on issues such as waste, emissions and wildlife protection. The RTC “asks whether existing regulations are providing the environmental protection that is intended and therefore should be retained, or if they are unnecessarily burdensome or redundant and should be scrapped.” Suggestions are also welcome on how regulations should be simplified to make them easier to follow and more effective.

The press release suggests that “environmental policies often aim to encourage people to act in certain ways – and overly complex, burdensome regulation may not be the best way to do this.” The overall driver seems however to be one of saving money: “saving businesses millions in unnecessary costs.”

The BES is concerned by the RTC and was a signatory to a letter sent by Wildlife and Countryside Link to Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills in June, questioning the validity of the consultation process underpinning the RTC and suggesting that the RTC is insufficient as the sole public consultation tool which may result in regulation being scrapped. The letter also questioned the emphasis on ‘burden’, challenging the importance given to costs in scrutinising regulation, and not taking into account both costs and benefits.

It is also hard to see how much environmental regulation can be disposed of, given that much of it has been developed in response to European Directives and therefore in removing this regulation the UK would be likely to face legal challenge.

Partly as a result of the letter, a number of organisations (RSPB, Link, National Trust, Wildlife Trusts and others) have been invited to sit on a ‘Sounding Board’, to discuss the RTC with Defra and, the BES believes, to consider the comments received through the public consultation.

The BES encourages all members of the Society, all readers of the blog and Twitter feed to access the RTC and to emphasise the importance of regulation to achieve environmental protection. As Link emphasised in its letter “environmental legislation is fundamental to a proportionate and necessary approach to environmental protection“, whilst “most of our current regulations and legal protections have been hard-won and subject to the requisite democratic processes, including public debate, multiple consultation processes, and close parliamentary scrutiny“.

Have your say on environmental regulations through the RTC website.