Government to scrap 53 green rules


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Indy Politics

The Government today insisted it was not rolling back environmental safeguards as it announced it was scrapping 53 "obsolete" green rules and improving 132 more.

Regulations on pollution, waste disposal, noise and wildlife will be simplified, merged or removed, in moves which the Environment Department (Defra) claims will save businesses £1 billion over five years. Some 70 rules remain as they are.

But environmentalists accused ministers of "tinkering with vital legislation", and urged them to focus on boosting the green economy instead.

Environmental regulations which are being changed as part of the "red tape challenge" to reduce costs to businesses include allowing sale of second-hand items containing asbestos, as long as people's health will be protected.

The department said the move, which would affect items such as machinery, gas cylinders and museum artefacts, was in line with Health and Safety Executive advice that asbestos should be left in place if it is in good condition and unlikely to be disturbed, and would save businesses £29 million a year.

New guidance will also be introduced on cleaning up contaminated land, as Defra said expensive clean-up operations were being undertaken unnecessarily.

The Environment Department also said it would be seeking a review of EU rules on air pollution to make it less likely countries would break them, especially for the pollutant nitrogen dioxide.

Last year, MPs accused the Government of seeking to dilute the rules rather than get to grips with the problem, which has seen the UK fail to meet EU targets.

Rules that are being scrapped include regulations which have been replaced by more recent legislation, for example old rules governing commons.

And out-of-date measures such as the regulation forbidding wildfowling on Sundays in certain counties - thought to be in place as part of Sunday observance, but which has little conservation benefit - will go.

Defra said it would stop unnecessary and time-consuming paperwork for businesses on transferring their waste, reduce the obligations on small businesses to recycle batteries and take steps to tackle the costs of recycling electronic equipment.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said: "I want to be very clear that this is not about rolling back environmental safeguards, nor it is it just about cutting regulation to stimulate growth.

"We've always said that we were going to keep the vitally important protection our environment needs. This was about getting better rules, not weaker ones.

"The results of the red tape challenge will be good for the environment and good for business, because as well as upholding environmental protection we will remove unnecessary bureaucracy to allow businesses to free up resources to invest in growth.

"We're making it easier for people to do the right thing, by making rules clearer and by getting rid of old, unworkable regulations."

But Craig Bennett, director of policy and campaigns at Friends of the Earth, said: "Ministers are spending valuable time and money tinkering with vital regulations with no evidence that it won't simply create extra confusion and costs for businesses - as well as play havoc with the environment.

"The Government claims this bureaucratic tidying-up exercise will save £1 billion, but there's not a shred of evidence to back up his claim - if they want to save cash they should scrap the red tape challenge instead.

"Ministers should be focusing on fixing our broken economy by mobilising investment for clean British industries rather than entangling themselves in red tape drudgery."

The RSPB welcomed news that the Government had listened to the wishes of the public who called for environmental protection rules to remain.

The wildlife charity's conservation director Martin Harper said: "More than 15,000 people responded to the RSPB's call to step up for nature by emailing business secretary Vince Cable highlighting the importance of good environmental regulations.

"We understand the need to come up with smarter regulation and when a set of laws have been written and amended over many years then there is often a need to simplify and streamline them.

"However we will be watching this process closely to ensure they consult properly and come up with legislation that does the same important job.

"Environmental regulation is vital for ensuring our wildlife and natural habitats are allowed to flourish, our air and water is kept clean and our climate is protected."

He also warned that later in the week, the Government was set to unveil the outcome of its review into implementing EU rules protecting habitats and wildlife, and the final version of controversial slimmed-down planning regulations.

"Let's hope these announcements are as positive for the environment as today's," he added.

The announcement by Defra comes as a YouGov poll revealed that just 4% of people believed environmental regulations were too strong, and that 10 times as many (40%) believed they were too weak.