Environment Law Update: Miscellaneous 2

United Kingdom
United Kingdom

Budget

The Environmental Audit Committee has published its sixth report for the 1999-2000 Session, entitled "Budget 2000 and the Environment". The Report looks at the environmental dimension of the Budget 2000 in the light of the Committee's earlier work on the Pre-Budget Report 1999 and the Government response. The Committee fully recognises the positive aspects of the Government's achievements in the environmental taxation field however feels that the Government should go further and set out a detailed plan for developing, implementing and evaluating its programme of environmental tax reform. The Committee reports that progress does not yet amount to a reformed tax system with sufficient incentives to reduce environmental damage. The Committee specifically points to areas where reform must play a more effective role and examples include: waste, where the Committee recognises that the UK is falling behind EU Directive targets; water, where the Committee criticises the Government for failing to implement a pesticide tax; and new development, where the Committee claims there are still fiscal incentives in favour of greenfield rather than brownfield sites. The Report also contains the Minutes of Evidence and ten Appendices consisting of memoranda submitted by various organisations including Friends of the Earth and the Environmental Industries Commission.
(SO, 20 July 2000)

Wildlife sites

It was announced at the end of August that a consultation on the new proposed Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) in England, covering 81 new sites of a total of 300,000 hectares is open until 16 November 2000. All of the sites were selected by English Nature and if designated as SACs, it will increase the number of SACs by 50%.
(DETR & English Nature News Releases, 24 August 2000)

Environment Agency

In the Environment Agency's 1999 - 2000 Annual Report and Accounts, it is reported that industrial pollution incidents have decreased by almost 30% from last year and there were 10% fewer water pollution incidents. Good news was also reported for wildlife species, including the return of the otter to many catchments for the first time in 20 or 30 years. Fish were restored to more than 150 kilometres of fishless rivers. The Agency has prioritised its flood warning system last year and comments that it is critical its advice is taken on flood plain development. The Agency reports that it is developing indicators to show future trends in the state of our environment relating to wildlife stocks, water quality and air quality, among others.
(EA, September 2000)

Garden hedges

The Government has proposed new measures to give local councils powers to intervene in neighbourhood quarrels that involve overgrown garden hedges. The move follows public consultation where the majority of 3,000 respondents were in favour of giving local authorities legal powers to order hedge-cutting action. The move is targeted at nuisance garden hedges such as Leylandii.
(DETR News Release, 10 August 2000)

Pension funds

With effect from 3 July, the Occupational Pensions Schemes (Investment and Assignment, Forfeiture, Bankruptcy, etc) Amendment Regulations 1999 (SI 1999 No. 1849) require pension funds to provide a statement of investment principles and policies, to include the extent to which social, environmental or ethical considerations are taken into account in the selection of investments. The Regulations do not require funds to take on ethical investment policies, but it would seem unlikely that many will ignore this issue. Trustees, however, must treat the interests of the beneficiaries as paramount and the projected returns for ethical investments should not be worse than for comparable non-ethical investments (see article entitled 'Pensions update - socially responsible investment').
(SO, July 2000)

Environmental risk assessment

The DETR has published revised Guidelines for Environmental Risk Assessment and Management. The Guidelines amend the 1995 version and emphasise the establishment of risk assessment and risk management as essential elements of a structured decision-making processes. The Guidelines cover many areas including: the social aspects of risk, problem formulation, risk screening and prioritisation, quantification of risk, evaluating the significance of a risk, options appraisal and monitoring. Three case studies are included as an annex to the Guidelines covering genetically modified sugar beet, road transport and coastal flooding. The Guidelines have been produced in association with the Environment Agency and the Institute for Environment and Health.
(DETR, July 2000)

League of polluters

The Environment Agency has again "named and shamed" companies which have appeared in court most frequently or received the largest fines for environmental offences. In a slightly softer approach than the March 1999 "Hall of Shame", the Agency's report this year has been called "Spotlight on Business Environmental Performance". This year, the report also includes news of reductions in pollution by many industries following severe criticism for the lack of this information last year. The water industry is ranked as by far the worst polluter in terms of number of court appearances. The industry also fairs badly in terms of top polluters by size of fines. The Environment Agency Chairman on launching the report, announced his concern that it is often cheaper to commit an offence than comply with the law. The Environment Minister supported this concern by calling for a substantial increase in the level of fines.
(EA, July 2000)

Transport

The DETR has announced a £180 billion investment programme of public and private money to modernise the national transport system, aimed at cutting congestion and offering improved public transport services. "Transport 2010 - The 10 Year Plan" includes measures to increase by 50% passenger use on railways, widen 360 miles of trunk road and motorway, achieve a 10% growth in passenger use on bus services, up to 25 new light rail projects in major cities, lower emissions and better air quality, safer roads and railways and resources to enable the Mayor of London to reduce crowding on the Underground and road congestion. In the first 3 years, London will be given £3.2 billion.
(DETR, July 2000)

Aggregates levy

Further to the Chancellor's announcement in this year's Budget that an aggregates levy will be introduced in the UK from April 2002, a consultation document has been published by HM Treasury inviting comments on the objectives of the Sustainability Fund under the aggregates levy. It was announced that the revenues from the levy will be recycled through a 0.1% cut in employer National Insurance Contributions and other measures aimed at delivering environment benefits to areas subject to the environmental costs of quarrying. The Fund is to be viewed as an instrument for correcting the market failures associated with the production of aggregates. Comments were requested by 6th October 2000.
(HM Treasury, August 2000)