The Communities Secretary, Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, has published an explanatory memorandum denouncing the European Union’s proposals to strengthen environmental impact assessments (EIAs) – noting that they “impose significant costs on the planning system”, which he suggests are unnecessary because of “adequate domestic safeguards”.
In his statement, Mr Pickles lists a range of other directives which he suggests have created “regulatory creep” and which, in his view, impose “additional and expensive requirements on the planning system”. The other regulations highlighted are “the strategic environmental assessment directive, flooding directive, habitats directive, wild birds directive, waste framework directive, revised waste framework directive, Seveso II directive, public participation directive, renewable energy directive, energy performance of buildings directive, environmental noise directive, draft airport noise regulation, energy efficiency directive, draft regulation on trans-European energy infrastructure, water framework directive, air quality directive and the draft soil framework directive”.
We feel his statement fails to fully recognise the benefits these directives bring in helping to secure, protect and enhance our natural resources that deliver so many benefits – economic as well as social and environmental. Furthermore, such a public statement sends out a highly negative signal of intent, which undermines the Government’s own policy on valuing the National Environment as articulated within the Natural Environment White Paper, the National Ecosystem Assessment, the Natural Capital Committee and the Ecosystem Markets Task Force.
This brings me back to a blog by our own Frances Winder, written 12 months ago (following the 2011 Autumn Statement), to highlight concerns with Government’s now aborted plans to review the EU Habitats Directive. This blog usefully highlighted that if monitoring of planning decisions is undertaken, EU regulations can actually speed up the planning system, thus saving money.
Mr Pickles’ statement finally highlights that his department will consult next year on thresholds for the application of the EU EIA regime in order to identify projects falling below the threshold, to which additional EU requirements will not apply. In doing so he aims to “remove unnecessary provisions from our regulations, and to help provide greater clarity and certainty on what EU law does and does not require“.
The Trust will be making a robust response to this consultation, seeking to ensure the clarity we can all support also retains the means to help us secure our natural environment.
Steve Mulligan, Government Affairs Officer