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PERMISSION TO EXPLAIN

Defra's forthcoming Environmental Permitting Programme is an attempt to streamline a sometimes muddled system.Steve Forster evaluates its chances.

Defra's five-year strategy, 'Delivering the essentials of life', contains a strong commitment to better regulation and states its aim of modernising environmental permitting systems.

The department now wants to stream ne and simplify the Pollution Pre ention & Control (PPC) and Waste Management Licen ng (WML) regimes into one system of permitting and compliance. This process, known as the Environmental Permitting Programme (EPP), is scheduled for implementation in late 2007 or early 2008.

Defra considers the PPC and WML systems to be good candidates for reform because some businesses operate with both types of permit, sometimes on the same site. Also, some waste operations are currently permitted under PPC, while others fall under WML.

Although PPC and WML are the st targets, Defra says other permitting regimes may also be brought under EPP. Its public consultation document, launched on 20 February in collaboration with the Environment Agency and the Welsh Assembly government, sets out general proposals for a uni ed system.

Within an agenda of not undermining environmental protection or human health, it aims to provide industry and regulators with fewer, simpler rules and clearer practical guidance.

Defra estimates that by reducing the administrative burden on industry, coupled with regulatory ef ncies, implementation of EPP could result in annual savings of about £26M - £11M to industry and £15M to the regulator.

Speci proposals under EPP include changes to the way applications are made and determined; the variation, transfer and surrender of permits; and procedures for demonstrating the competence of operators.

EPP is designed to allow stakeholders to focus more on environmental outcomes rather than how they are achieved. Detailed proposals are absent from the consultation, so an examination of precisely how this will be achieved in practice, for what is essentially a diverse range of industry and activity sectors, is not possible.

As with similar initiatives, the devil is inevitably in the detail. It remains to be seen how the concerns and desires of the specialised land remediation sector may be accommodated within such a universal initiative.

The Environmental Industries Commission (EIC), as one of the largest and most representative groupings of contaminated land remediation practitioners in the UK, has submitted a detailed response focusing on the views and concerns of its members on the potential impact of EPP.

Generally, EIC cautiously welcomes the EPP's objectives and proposed changes, although formal endorsement must be reserved pending detailed consideration of the second public consultation exercise, due in the autumn.

This will include the legal framework required to effect the planned changes. Consultation on the detailed general and sectorspeci guidance which will accompany the new legislation would also be highly welcome.

Having already successfully campaigned for an improved and streamlined remediation licensing regime, the new Mobile Treatment Licence (MTL), the EIC feels the EPP proposal appear to provide a mechanism for further improvements to the regulation of remediation.

However there is one major caveat - that the progress achieved by the introduction of the MTL should not be lost. While Defra has privately stated this will not happen, the speci c policy and guidance details will need to be evaluated.

The key areas where EIC thinks the MTL could be enhanced by the EPP proposals include incorporation of all other permits into one environ ental permit, including abstraction licences and discharge consents; increasing the range of mechanisms for demonstrating operator technical competence beyond those currently enshrined in law; and the maintenance of the single MTLmultiple site deployment principle.

Unfortunately, the broader issue of integrating planning and environmental permitting will not undergo formal consultation until later next year, that process being informed by the results of the EPP consultation exercise.

Nevertheless, EIC's view is that since land and groundwater remediation is driven primarily by regeneration and/or regulatory or voluntary intervention as a result of environmental pollution, this is not waste management per se.

Rather, there is now considerable and growing support within the remediation community for one single remediation permit as a means of placing appropriate emphasis on the cost-effective successful delivery of significant net environmental benefits.

Using EPP as a platform for change, it is hoped Defra will take this golden opportunity to combine all aspects of regulatory control of remediation by closer links with, or preferably regulation under, the planning system.

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