This month, the Government has set a clear aim: to leave office having reduced the overall burden of regulation on businesses, including a review of some of our most important pieces of environmental legislation.
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act, the Wildlife and Countryside Act, the Climate Change Act, the Equalities Act, the Coastal Access Reports Regulation 2010, and 272 other environment laws and regulations are being scrutinised as part of the Government’s ‘Red Tape Challenge’ which was launched by Vince Cable on 7 April 2011 in a bid to boost short-term economic growth.
An official Red Tape Challenge website has been launched by the Cabinet Office listing over 21,000 regulations active in the UK today, asking for the public to tell Government which ones are working and which are not; what should be scrapped, what should be saved and what should be simplified. According to the website, “the default presumption will be that burdensome regulations will go”.
Every few weeks the Government will publish the regulations affecting one specific sector or industry. Ministers will then have three months to work out which regulations they want to keep and why. At the end of the three-month review following each sector, departments will set out which regulations will be repealed and by when.
Of specific interest to the BMC are the Environmental Regulations which fall under “general regulations” on the Cabinet Office website. This includes regulations which affect biodiversity, wildlife management, landscape, countryside and recreation. These regulations are designed to conserve vulnerable or rare species and habitats and protect important wildlife sites. They also include regulations on rights of way and protecting national parks. Similarly, the BMC will be looking at regulations which affect mining and quarrying. The questions specifically being asked on these regulations are;
- Should they be scrapped altogether?
- Can they be merged with existing regulations?
- Can we simplify them – or reduce the bureaucracy associated with them?
- Have you got any ideas to make these regulations better?
- Do you think they should be left as they are?
With so many regulations to consider, this won’t be an easy task and it appears that the only regulations not under scrutiny are those in relation to tax or national security. The overall process will last for two years, from April 2011 until April 2013. The UK Government is not considering or consulting on regulations that are the responsibility of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, they will look to work with the devolved administrations to discuss the deregulation agenda.
A number of environment and access campaigners have reacted strongly to the Government’s challenge, expressing concern that the prospect of laws like the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which governs the protection of wild birds, animals and plants, being ditched as restrictive ‘red tape’. There is also concern amongst some access campaigners that laws in place to protect our countryside and our rights to access this may be under threat.
The campaigning website 38 Degrees who successfully helped petition against the proposed sale of Forestry Commission land in England has started a new petition against the move, ‘Don’t scrap environment laws’.
The reality however, is that key pieces of legislation affecting our outdoors are unlikely to be affected. The Government has confirmed on its DEFRA website that it has no plans to remove important environmental protections. The BMC remains curious however, as to why this type of environmental legislation is even being considered for review.
The BMC will be raising this issue at its All Party Parliamentary Group meeting in the summer to try to get more details and to get a feel for the political appetite behind this red tape challenge. We will be responding in full at some point soon, and exploring not only the potential threats of this challenge but also the potential opportunities. Our response will be put on the website but if you have any thoughts in the mean time, please contact Cath at Cath@thebmc.co.uk.
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