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Is UK Environmental Legislation fit for purpose? – new report published NB EMBARGO

May 16, 2012

Further information
Vicki Elcoate

Legislation that protects the environment across the UK poses problems for people who have to use and comply with it, and is becoming increasingly fragmented across the UK, a new report finds (published on May 23rd).

The report highlights a number of specific problem areas and practices that adversely affect the coherence, integration and transparency of environmental legislation in the UK. It also highlights problems with legislative scrutiny processes.

There are many reasons for these problems, from lack of integration and coherence at the European level (where most UK environmental law comes from), technical complexities, and fast moving policies that require legislation under tight deadlines.

The report was researched and written by the UK Environmental Law Association, King’s College London and Cardiff University.

It finds that: “Incoherent, poorly integrated or opaque laws can cause uncertainty, wasted time and increased costs, impede understanding and awareness of the requirements, and undermine access to justice and the rule of law. For the law to work for a better environment, it is crucial that governments and regulators address these issues”. In his foreword, UKELA’s President, Lord Carnwath, refers to “the contrast between the relative simplicity of the basic objectives, and the complexity of the machinery by which we try to give them effect”.

Researchers on the project interviewed dozens of lawyers, people whose work for industrial companies involves environmental matters, and environmental law experts from a range of backgrounds. It focused on four areas: waste; water; environmental permitting (rules that govern industrial processes) and the overlap between environmental and habitats assessment and planning law.

Industry consultees in particular emphasised that lack of clarity in environmental legislation leads to uncertainty, wasted time, financial costs and failure to comply with the law.

The report recommends that improvements are vital in maintaining the effectiveness (including on cost grounds) and acceptability of environmental legislation:

· Legislation should be consolidated more routinely and points of intersection between different legislative regimes examined and simplified where possible (the Westminster government’s Red Tape Challenge provides scope for such developments, as does the Welsh Government’s current examination of its environmental protection regimes);

· Guidance associated with legislation should be up-to-date, consistent and appropriate for its audience and function, whilst not replacing the role of legislation;

· Further scope for streamlining enforcement powers should be considered;

· Clearer web-based information should be available, including consolidated and up-to-date versions of legislation (DEFRA is developing a new website – Defra-Lex - which should help with this);

· Best legislative practice across the UK should be shared;

· The legal roles of environmental principles to guide courts, decision-makers and practitioners in relation to environmental legislation should be further considered;

· More work should be done to monitor and understand the fragmentation of UK environmental legislation being increasingly brought about by devolution;

· Some longer-term institutional possibilities, such as an environmental commission (or similar body) that can focus on securing good quality environmental legislation, could be considered in the future if problems with environmental quality persist.

Notes to the editors:

Advance copies of the report are available if requested with an embargo of 5.30pm May 23rd. The report (and the underlying reports that inform the short summary report) will then be available at www.ukela.org.

UK Environmental Law Association - Better law for the environment
Registered charity 299498; company registered in England number 2133283
Registered office: One Glass Wharf, Bristol, BS2 0ZX


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