Fee increase planned by EA for controversial licences

The Environment Agency for England and Wales has published proposals to conduct extended consultations of applications that raise "significant public concern". The Agency expects 20 to 50 applications to qualify each year, and has proposed raising fees to cover the costs of more comprehensive consultation.

Although extended consultation of this type is not required by law, the EA has identified increasing public concern of environmental impacts as the motivating force behind its proposal for a more thorough consultation regime for controversial applications.

Based on seven pilot projects that have used the extended consultation methods, EA costs for staff and incidental expenses ranged from £20,000 to £60,000. The EA does not see the costs of such consultations being covered by its general budget and proposes either increases to the fees paid by the applicant or increases to fees and charges for the particular licensable activity (i.e waste management, water abstraction). The latter option would spread the cost across one industry.

The applications awarded an extended consultation would face a three-stage process:

  • wider announcements that the application has been received and greater opportunity for the public to voice its opinions
  • publication of the Agency’s proposed decision and feedback from the public
  • publication of the Agency’s decision, with explanation.

Applications selected for extended consultation are expected to fall within one of the following categories:

  • burning waste as fuel
  • incinerating hazardous wastes or large quantities of waste
  • operating large industrial plants such as power stations, chemical plants or steel works
  • operating new nuclear facilities or major new nuclear plants at existing nuclear sites
  • increasing the discharge limits of radioactive substances from nuclear installations
  • transferring radioactive wastes to a novel location
  • the development of major water supply reservoir schemes, or
  • where there would be significant discharges to bathing waters.

It is likely that such extended consultations will require more time than the four-month period provided by law. The EA will seek consent from applicants to go beyond the four-month limit.

Local authorities often employ many of the methods the EA proposes to include in its extended consultations. Therefore, the EA states that: “Much can be gained by a closer working relationship and more regular meetings between local authority officers and Agency staff regarding the Agency’s determination of environmental licences. In particular, local authorities will be able to contribute to selecting applications for inclusion in this process, and advise on arrangements for public meetings. It may be appropriate for the local authority to chair the meetings where a planning permission is a prerequisite to the granting of an environmental licence.”

Seven pilot projects have been undertaken by the EA to test the extended consultation procedures. “Not all of the methods that we used were as successful as we would have liked,” an EA spokesperson told edie. “It’s given us an idea of what works and what doesn’t.” The seven pilots have not been named, but descriptions are available:

  • Four applications involving waste to energy incineration in cement and lime manufacturing
  • One application involving the installation of pollution control equipment at a large, coal-fired power station
  • One major revamp to a large wastewater treatment plant.

Comments regarding the proposals for extended consultation are requested by 15 October 1999.

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