Bid to cut environment red tape

The Government today called on businesses to suggest ways to reduce the "burden" of regulations which protect the environment, as part of its drive to cut red tape.

But the move was criticised by campaigners, who said it sent out the message that the Government which pledged to be the greenest ever did not care about the environment.

Ministers said that over the next three weeks the red tape challenge, which aims to reduce regulation for businesses, would be focusing on the 287 environmental regulations that apply to companies.

The rules cover issues such as wildlife protection, rubbish and climate change emissions.

Environment Minister Jim Paice said regulation was important for protecting the environment but some of the rules were complicated, ineffective or obsolete.

Legislation which is already being scrapped includes the Grey Squirrels Order 1937, which makes it a criminal offence for a landowner not to report sightings of the now-widespread species.

Areas being simplified include reducing the number of separate environmental permits businesses need to cover waste, pollution control and groundwater use.

The Government is calling for ideas on simplifying rules or finding alternative ways to regulate in areas such as voluntary labelling for energy efficiency, instead of the current mandatory A-G ratings on products.

Mr Paice said: "This is not about reducing our standards. Regulation has an important role to play in protecting our environment and our natural resources, but some of the rules we ask businesses to follow are either too complicated, ineffective or just obsolete.

"The red tape challenge is a chance to tell us how we can protect the environment in a more effective and simpler way that puts fewer burdens on businesses."

But environmental groups have raised concerns about the scope of the review, which includes major pieces of legislation such as the Climate Change Act, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act and the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Tom Franklin, chief executive of Ramblers, said: "Describing huge swathes of environmental law which is dedicated to protecting our countryside, the air we breathe and the places where we walk and live as 'red tape' makes claims of a 'greenest government' seem like a farce.

"The laws to open up our countryside and ensure that it is protected have been hard fought for and any attempt to remove this framework will be resisted.

"I encourage everyone who cares about the environment, our green spaces and our ability to access them, to tell the Government not to strip away these important laws like red tape."

Margaret Ounsley, head of public affairs at wildlife charity WWF-UK, said the review "seems to be sending out the message they don't care about the environment".

For the Government which described itself as the greenest ever to include legislation such as the Climate Change Act did not make any sense, she said.

She credited the Government with more common sense than to let any of the legislation go, but said the "tragedy" was that it had been included in the red tape challenge in the first place.

Climate Change Minister Charles Hendry insisted that the Government had no intention of drawing back from commitments to tackle climate change.

"Quite the opposite, if we are going to tackle climate change we must work with industry to reduce our emissions.

"It is vital that we make sure our regulations are supporting that effort, not undermining it with red tape that is ineffective, burdensome or unnecessary."

Friends of the Earth's policy and campaigns director Craig Bennett said: "Environmental regulations can be good news for business - they give certainty about the Government's commitment to building a stable, clean and healthy future and encourage firms to invest in new technologies and industries.

"This initiative sends completely the wrong signals about the Government's commitment to being the greenest ever and undermines those businesses that want to operate to high green standards."


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