Realign The Regulations

Are the Scottish proposals on integrating regulation and permitting an opportunity to align the regulations UK-wide? Kirston Elton, principal permitting coordinator at Wardell Armstrong asks the question…

With the consultation on Scotland’s proposed integrated regulation and permitting, could this be an opportunity to align regulatory approaches across the UK so that companies who have a presence in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, have greater certainty? While I am not advocating a move away from devolution, maybe there is an opportunity to provide a taste of permitting and regulatory alignment between the three countries that can not only assist cross-border operations, but also enable companies to be able to work within at least broadly similar regulatory principals, if a single permitting regime is not possible. This could include:

  • A common maximum determination period
  • Common permit types and templates for selected activities
  • Shared permitting resources to reduce permitting queues and peer review
  • Common fees and charges or application multipliers

My own experience of operating between the home nations under various regulations makes me wonder how, rather than whether, the Scottish proposals could be an opportunity for us all to look how we in the environmental sector – whether regulator, regulated or government – can streamline aspects of permitting into a common approach. Could the Scottish proposals not be used as part of a wider opportunity to bring permitting towards a similar approach between all four regulators, while incorporating learning and development from all four into Scottish integrated approaches, but also EPR? This would focus environmental protection, enable the regulators to deliver on permitting and reduce delays, while encouraging development in the waste and environmental sectors and a major opportunity for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to pool their collective minds and create truly integrated permitting and regulatory approaches together.

Could a standard application process or even shared permitting resources be possibilities? Are permitting requirements really that different between the nations that this would be impossible? Whether its hazardous waste or the general principals of permitting determination, there are clear opportunities for greater alignment and regulatory certainty between the countries and to learn from one another, without compromising environmental protection or national autonomy. After all, environmental protection and business practice doesn’t necessarily change by driving a few miles over a border. Would a common determination approach and timescales work across all three countries and their regulators?

Having permitted a variety of facilities across these national borders, it is clear that even where the regulations are the same (England and Wales), there are substantial differences of approach. Should there not be some degree of similarity across environmental protection in the UK? The approach taken by Scotland through integrated regulation will result in a greater alignment with England and Scotland to a degree – through an integrated approach, but are waste operations that different across the borders that this couldn’t be taken to a point that was truly advantageous to the regulated community who work cross-border, as well as benefitting environmental protection and the regulators themselves? Could we envisage a suite of common standard rules permits between the three regulators? Each national regulator would then be able to set their own national priorities for compliance and areas of permitting where alignment wasn’t possible or practical.

With EPR reaching its tenth birthday very soon, this could be a real opportunity for a fresh look at the general principals and provisions through the lens of developing Scottish integrated regulation. This opportunity for greater and closer working together between the four agencies and, dare I suggest, a sharing of resources for permit determination, fighting waste crime and other common aspects that are clearly present across the UK, could present us with the ability to develop a new approach to regulation across the home nations, together. After all, Scotland can provide some useful points as to where EPR may be able to go or goals it could be developed to achieve using the power of hindsight, while EPR may provide the Scottish approach with some clear learning points for success. How can we bring the two approaches together to not only learn from each other and modernise regulation while preserving both environmental quality and national sovereignty and provide a greater element of regulatory alignment to benefit the environment and business? This is something that would be a goal worth achieving, surely?

 

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  1. Aligning the environmental permitting regulations UK wide makes sense on many levels. It could be enforced without undermining the remit of each the respective nations Environment Agencies and would greatly simplify compliance for industry. Unfortunately, political will is required and in Scotland at least, that is unlikely to happen as harmonising UK legislation goes against the political agenda of the current Scottish Government.

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