Last week the Guardian reported that my MP Oliver Letwin, the Cabinet Office Minister, had met with officials from Natural England and the Environment Agency. Apparently he proposed that all environmental (wildlife, landscape, air pollution, noise etc etc) guidance should be condensed into a 50 page document in the style of the National Planning Policy Framework.
Yesterday Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman refused to deny the meeting took place, under cross questioning from the Environmental Audit Select Committee.
Writing yesterday Mark Prisk, Red Tape cutting Minister said on the Conservativehome website that the Business Department BiS estimate savings to business from cutting red tape of £3.2Bn in2011.
“Our assault on burdensome regulation reflects the core values of this Government – personal responsibility, individual freedom, support for risk-takers and job creators, and trust in people to make common sense decisions.” he said.
I was at a meeting last week with the European Commission – that great generator of burden for business (Prisk estimates half of all our “red tape” comes from Europe.) or indeed now the last bastion we have in the defence of the environment against an all-out war against regulation. We were discussing the various complaints that the EC are dealing with on matters where the UK is in breach of one EU Environmental Directive or another. My particular interest is the EIA Directive as regards Agriculture.
I was struck by one comment from the EC official who presides over these complaints, Jean-Christophe Brakeland. Brakeland started with some statstics: the UK is half way down the EU league table for active infringement cases, but 3rd highest for the number of cases in the EU Pilot mechanism whereby 3rd parties can ask the EU to take a complaint against the UK on their behalf (this is what we have done for EIA (agriculture).
Brakeland then went on to say how surprised he was when meeting UK officials last year in their “naive trust” that environmental regulations would be effectively implemented, and a belief that people or businesses would do the right thing, rather than blatantly ignore the rules and plough ahead, as we have found all too regularly with the EIA (Agriculture) Regulations.
Where will it end? There are some tests of this approach coming up soon – the break-neck review of the Habitats Regulations will be published on budget day, as will the National Planning Policy Framework. Expect to see more naive trust in people and businesses doing the right thing for the environment and less regulation.