DEFRA review of Habitats Regulations confirms environmental standards are not a brake on development
DEFRA has published its review of the Habitats Regulations. These are the most important mechanisms the UK has for protecting our internationally important wildlife sites, such as estuary and marsh habitat for birds. The DEFRA review restates the Government’s support for the Birds and Habitats Directives, and demonstrates that these vital environmental safeguards do not act as a brake on economic development. The review found no evidence to back up the suggestion made by the Chancellor, George Osborne, in his Autumn Budget Statement that the regulations are “a ridiculous cost on British business”. The Government’s own review has shown that these comments were misleading rhetoric, with no factual basis. The RSPB gave a cautious welcome to the proposed creation of a Major Infrastructure and Environment Unit. NGOs such as the RSPB will continue to persuade the Government that there is no contradiction between environmental protection and economic growth.
Environmental safeguards are ‘no brake on development’
22 March 2012 (RSPB)
European directives provide protection for sites of international importance, such as Dungeness, in Kent
The RSPB has welcomed the findings of Defra’s review of the Habitats Regulations as a victory for facts over political rhetoric.
The Directives and regulations are the most important mechanisms for protecting our internationally important wildlife sites – those for which England has a global responsibility. The Government’s review, published today, restates the Government’s support for the Birds and Habitats Directives, and demonstrates that these vital environmental safeguards do not act as a brake on economic development.
Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Conservation Director, said: “We are pleased that the regulations have stood up to scrutiny, just as we always knew they would.
“No evidence was found to back up the suggestion made by the Chancellor, George Osborne, in his Autumn Budget Statement that the regulations are “a ridiculous cost on British business”. The Government’s own review has shown that these comments were misleading rhetoric, with no factual basis”.
The review confirms that the regulations only contributed to delays in English planning decisions when there were gaps in data, or when important areas for wildlife, especially at sea, were not protected.
Martin Harper continued: “We welcome their acknowledgement that these information gaps are a problem. The RSPB has been saying this for more than a decade. But the Government must recognise that tackling this issue will require investment in surveys, and we remain concerned that the review does not outline any plans to do this.
The RSPB also gave a cautious welcome to the proposed creation of a Major Infrastructure and Environment Unit. The purpose of this Unit is to prevent delays to nationally important projects, by helping developers to integrate these Directives into their planning in a positive way.
Objective voice for nature
Martin Harper explained: “If used properly, this Unit could certainly benefit both developers and the environment, but we are concerned that it may further undermine Natural England’s ability to act as an objective voice for nature. We will be watching the evolution of this new body carefully, and will be seeking clarification of its relationship with existing Government agencies. We still think there is a fundamental need for independent advice from statutory bodies.
“The Unit will also require clear standards of evidence to ensure that decision-makers are fully and impartially informed about the impacts of proposed developments. This will enable robust and sound decisions to be made, based on evidence rather than anecdote. This will minimise environmental impacts and secure compensation for any unavoidable damage.
“We sincerely hope that this positive direction of travel is maintained when we see the final National Planning Policy Framework next Tuesday. It is essential that this important document does not make it harder to refuse developments that cause unacceptable damage to the environment.
“We remain determined to persuade the Government that there is no contradiction between environmental protection and economic growth. Safeguarding precious wildlife and vital habitats is essential to the UK’s long-term economic competitiveness and quality of life
Update from DEFRA 22.3.2012
Habitats and Wild Birds Directives Implementation Review
The Government strongly supports the aims of the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives to protect our rarest and most threatened habitats and species, which contribute to the economic value of our natural environment.
In November 2011 the Government announced a review of the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives, as currently implemented in England, with a view to reducing burdens on business while maintaining the integrity of the purpose of the Directives.
Report of the Review
The Government published the Report of the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives Implementation Review on 22 March 2012.
The report sets out the conclusions of the Government’s Review and the actions that Government will take, in partnership with the public, private and voluntary sectors, to improve implementation and in doing so strengthen the environmental purpose and integrity of the Directives.
Findings of the Review
The Review found that in the large majority of cases the implementation of the Directives is working well, allowing both development of key infrastructure and ensuring that a high level of environmental protection is maintained.
However, some cases do encounter delays, although the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives may only be one contributory factor.
From the evidence received and analysis undertaken, the Review identifiedfour key areas where change will improve the implementation of the Directives for the benefit of both the economy and the environment:
- Facilitating nationally significant infrastructure projects
- Improving implementation processes and streamlining guidance
- Improving the quality, quantity and sharing of data
- Improving the customer experience
In the longer term, the Review commits to assessing how we can move towards a broader ecosystems approach; for example by examining its role in helping to make strategic choices about mitigation and compensation where a number of projects are impacting on the same area.
Implementing the report
Defra will oversee implementation of the package of measures, working with other Government departments and agencies. An implementation plan for the measures in the Review is being developed, and a number of them will be included in Defra’s Business Plan
All measures in the Review have a clear date for delivery. Work on many will be starting work now with consultations and other activities planned over the next 6-12 months.
Defra Ministers will be holding a meeting for stakeholders in September 2012 to assess how far the recommendations of the Review have been delivered. We will be publishing a report on progress on implementation by March 2013.
Background to the Review
In the Autumn Statement in November 2011, the Government announced a review the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives, as currently implemented in England (and relevant offshore waters), focussing on obligations affecting authorisations for developments, with a view to reducing burdens on business while maintaining the integrity of the purpose of the Directives.
- Examination into how well the Habitats and Birds Directives are being implemented in England (news release, 29 November 2011)
Habitats and Wild Birds Directives “working well”, Defra review finds
The review into how well the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives are working inEngland was published today and makes a number of recommendations to improve the laws by reducing the regulatory burden on business and by making it easier for some developments to go ahead. One of these will see the establishment of a new cross-Government unit to help developers deliver large infrastructure projects that promote sustainable development, the review said.
Commenting on the Budget, the RSPB said:
‘We must see an economic plan for growth which puts the environment at the heart of decision making’
Budget 2012: Environment is key to our economic future
21 March 2012 (RSPB)
In his Budget speech today, Chancellor George Osborne continued the UK along an economic path which locks us into unsustainable, high-carbon, short-term growth.
Responding to the speech Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: ‘While the Chancellor waves the flag for carbon reduction initiatives and green investment with one hand, he is pushing through tax incentives for oil and gas drilling off the coast of Scotland with the other.
‘His plan for growth clearly involves building more infrastructure, more roads and more runways, but this must be compatible with the green economy we have been promised so many times by this Government.
‘In the Autumn statement last year George Osborne set out a plan for short sighted economic growth based on the mistaken belief that environmental protection is a burden on business. In today’s speech he has continued to commit us to that path, locking us into an unsustainable economic plan that fails to take into account the very real value of our wildlife and countryside.
‘We must see an economic plan for growth which puts the environment at the heart of decision making’
‘The chancellor told us today that ‘environmentally sustainable has to be fiscally sustainable’. This works both ways, and we must see an economic plan for growth which puts the environment at the heart of decision making.
‘In the opening paragraph of the Government’s own Natural Environment White paper last year we were told that, ‘a healthy, properly functioning natural environment is the foundation of sustained economic growth, prospering communities and personal well being’. However the Treasury is being allowed to lead the charge without heeding these wise words from elsewhere in the Government.
‘We know that many Liberal Democrats and pro-environment Conservatives are concerned about the impact of untrammelled growth in our countryside. They reflect the views of many members of the public for whom our natural environment is one of our most precious assets. If these views are ignored the Chancellor and his allies risk alienating a large section of our society.
‘The announcement of new tax breaks for oil and gas exploration off the Shetland Islands is a cause for concern for both the climate and for the wildlife in that region. If oil and gas are going to be pushed further to the centre of our energy strategy, this is only acceptable if matched with robust environmental safeguards.
‘We agree that development is necessary if the UK is to remain competitive, we agree that our economy needs to grow to enable all of us to prosper. But this must not happen at the cost of our environment.’
The Government is expected to release full details of its review of the Habitats Regulations – the most important system of protection for wildlife rich habitats – tomorrow, and on Tuesday next week will unveil its long awaited reform of the planning system.