The announcement in last year’s autumn budget statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there was going to be a review of the Habitats Regulations was a bit of a shock to everyone (including Defra it seemed). There was a lot of talk about how these EU originated regulations were both a burden and a ridiculous cost to British business. The terms of reference for the review referred to compliance cost, delays, regulations being applied too rigorously. The overall message was that this piece of wildlife legislation was a major obstacle in the way of getting Britain back to growth.
Cue major concern amongst the NGO community. The review only had four months to come up with some answers as the results were due to be announced in the 2012 budget in March. Natural England had to do some serious briefing for Government departments on how the regulations operated. Wildlife organisations were involved in getting legal opinions, writing case studies to highlight good and bad practice and outcomes and attending Defra organised meetings with a broad range of stakeholders.
In the end the results were not announced as part of the budget but were put out the following day. Why? Well it turns out that there is little or no evidence that the Habitats Regulations are causing problems! The report has a list of 28 measures for improvement, some of which are about holding more meetings to discuss things in more detail but others include making sure that we improve ecological knowledge in planning authorities so that better informed decisions can be made, providing better guidance for applicants, sharing of data, and monitoring of impacts once permissions have been given so that we can learn from the process – which may just speed up how things are progressed next time around.
However, just before we get too complacent, whilst so far things are looking positive, as with the Red Tape Challenge announcement earlier this week, the details will be in how we progress from here…
Frances Winder, Conservation Policy Officer