This was the message that the EA’s director of operations, Dr Paul Leinster, tried to get across when addressing industry insiders at seminar discussing the implementation of the Environmental Permitting Programme (EPP) in London on Tuesday.

Speaking at the Environmental Services Association event, he described how the EPP, part of Government’s wider Better Regulation initiative, is designed to reduce costs for business and regulators by cutting red tape, without changing levels of protection for the environment and human health.

It aims to do this by streamlining and simplifying the nuts and bolts of the current permitting system, making it more straightforward to obtain, vary or transfer a permit.

The EPP is initially looking at waste management licensing and pollution prevention control but is being designed to be able to be rolled out to cover more of the EA’s regulatory areas at a future date.

The EA and Defra are currently in the second round of public consultation, after taking on board suggestions from NGOs, the public sector and industry which, according to Dr Leinster, gave the original proposals ‘a cautious thumbs up’.

“It’s an exciting time for the EPP,” he said.

“It’s good that we see business, regulators and Government working together to reduce the burden of administration.”

He said the aim of the exercise was to focus on the outcome, rather than rigidly regulating how that outcome was achieved and, while there would be some companies which were uncomfortable without that formal structure, the EA believes most will welcome the flexibility.

At the end of the day, he said, the regulations were being designed to make the most efficient use of both the regulator’s and industry’s resources while ensuring that the environment and public health are still properly protected.

He was keen to emphasise that EA and Defra did not see reducing the bureaucratic burden as deregulation or lowering environmental standards, but rather about more sensible use of both the regulators’ and industry’s time and resources.

For the ESA, whose members are mainly from the waste sector, this had a particular relevance, he argued.

He said the waste industry was unique among those regulated by the EA in that there were those who actively sought to abuse the system for personal profit.

“We don’t have illegal water operators or illegal nuclear operators, but we do have illegal waste operators,” he said.

“By reducing the burden on business that’s operating well we’re able to focus on those who are not. This is good news for the majority of companies who operate in an environmentally responsible manner and bad news for the cowboys.”

He said the EPP was expected to save industry and regulators a total of around £90 million over the next ten years, do to the reduced regulatory burden.

In practical terms it meant less site inspections and those inspections which were still considered necessary would be based on risk rather than being carried out simply for the sake of having inspections.

To put this in context, he said, it had meant 40,000 less inspections in the last year, as well as removing the need for 4,500 licences, saving industry millions of pounds.

But, he warned, regulators could not go for this ‘light touch’ approach and expect industry to comply without upping the stakes for those who gambled on operating illegally and there would need to be stiffer penalties for those who abused the system.

Dr Leinster also said he would like to see a two-tier penalty with different penalties for honest businesses which made a mistake and fly-by-night operators intentionally trying to get away with breaking the law without regard for health or the environment.

Responsible businesses should welcome the changes, he said, as good regulation provided an level playing field and the certainty needed for forward planning.

Can’t have a low penalty, low regulation system – low regulation will mean stiffer penalties for those who do abuse the system also want to see different penalties for those who make mistakes and those who deliberately flout the rules.

Good regulation is good for business as it provides a level playing field and the certainty needed for forward planning.

The EPP is expected to come into force on time, by April 2008, and those wishing to comment on the consultation can do so on the Defra website.

The deadline for comments is December 8.

Sam Bond

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