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‘Bureaucratic mess’ EU red-tape holding back post-Brexit Britain’s environmental policy

News‘Bureaucratic mess’ EU red-tape holding back post-Brexit Britain’s environmental policy

As Professor of Environmental Law at University College London (UCL), Eloise Scotford argues post-Brexit Britain is in an odd position with a whole range of leftover EU red tape which could threaten attempts to develop a new environmental policy free from the control of Brussels. She said: “The majority of EU environmental law that applied to this country pre-exit has been retained.

“In that process, there were gaps, which is the motivation for what is now the Environment Act and Continuity Act in Scotland.

“Legislation is planned in Wales, but this has been held up politically, and Northern Ireland is in a very complicated position.

“The puzzle is putting this together with what we retained from EU law under the Withdrawal Act 2018.

“In England, there’s a huge volume linked to the Environment Act, so legally it’s very tricky to read these bodies together, because they’re both on-the-foot.

“The issue is that we are faced with two tier regulation. And there is a risk that the uninitiated will just go to the Environment Act, look for the targets, and say that’s our environmental law post-Brexit.

“But, actually, the majority of air quality standards right now are in retained EU law, and this has stronger enforcement architecture because the legal consequences of standards being breached are harsher.”

Ms Scotford also added that, despite the UK’s departure from the EU, there could be tension between European and British environmental law due to left over legislation.

This is because European legislation requires that the exceedance of air pollution targets is dealt with in “as short a time as possible” while on the other hand the British Environment Act uses wording that is less intrusive “as soon as reasonably applicable”. 

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She said: “Air Quality Partners now means local authorities can identify the big source of air pollution at the moment, let’s say a highway, and bring in whichever authority is responsible for regulating it to work on a solution.

“We’re beyond air quality being a siloed part of local authorities, so having investment in air quality personnel is important and integrating within wider structures is crucial.

“There is potentially hope authorities will get more assistance from organisations involved in the air quality partnerships, too, which could create efficiencies.

“A worst case scenario example would be every authority asking Highways England to be their Air Quality Partner separately – that would be a bureaucratic mess.

“But if they join together and say ‘actually, many of us need to have this arrangement, why don’t we do it together?’ you can imagine that being quite effective.”

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