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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Pollution Prevention and Control (England and Wales) Regulations 2000

First Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Monday 10 July 2000

[Mr. John McWilliam in the Chair]

Draft Pollution Prevention and Control (England and Wales) Regulations 2000

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Pollution Prevention and Control (England and Wales) Regulations 2000.

It is a pleasure to be serving yet again under your wise chairmanship, Mr. McWilliam. The purpose of the regulations to which we are asking the Committee to agree is essentially to implement EC directive 96/61 on integrated pollution prevention and control. The regulations maintain a single, coherent regime for controlling pollution emissions from industry.

Pollution from industry is regulated under part I of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which established two parallel regimes. The local air pollution control regime, which is operated by local authorities, controls emissions to air from smaller industrial installations. The integrated pollution control regime, which is operated by the Environment Agency, controls emissions to air, land and water from larger industrial installations. The regimes have been operating for 10 years and have proved to be very successful. They have been so successful that they have provided a model for the integrated pollution prevention and control directive, which introduces the concept of integrated pollution control throughout Europe, so creating a level playing field for our industry.

The regulations, which are to be made under the Pollution Prevention and Control Act 1999, upgrade the current pollution control regime to meet EC requirements while maintaining broadly the existing form of regulatory arrangements. They are the product of a comprehensive consultation process with industry, regulators and other interested parties, which has spanned four years. The quality of the contributions that we have received during the consultation has enabled us to develop the regulations in a way that strikes a balance between protecting the environment and ensuring that industry's legitimate concerns are addressed.

Under the current integrated pollution control regime, operators are required to adopt a proportionate response to dealing with pollution, using the best available technology not entailing excessive costs. In a sector dominated by acronyms, that is known as BATNEEC. The directive adopts that central concept for integrated pollution prevention and control. It requires operators to use the best available techniques—subject, of course to an assessment of the costs and benefits—to prevent or reduce pollution from their installation to the air, water or land. However, integrated pollution prevention and control goes further and requires operators to consider all the environmental impacts of their installation—waste, noise, energy efficiency and the need to restore the site to a satisfactory condition when operations have ceased.

The benefits to the environment of considering all those impacts in an integrated and holistic fashion are obvious and should be reflected, year on year, in reduced emissions as shown in the monitoring information that operators will be required to provide. However, considering those additional impacts should also benefit operators. For example, reducing the waste produced by an installation and increasing energy efficiency will help to save operators' money.

The integrated pollution prevention and control directive covers the majority of installations that are subject to integrated pollution control and some that are subject to local air pollution control. It also requires regulation of some sectors that had not previously been subject to this type of pollution control. To avoid the confusion that could result from a multiplicity of slightly different pollution control regimes operating in tandem, the regulations cover all installations that are included in the directive and all other installations that are regulated by part I of the 1990 Act.

Although the regulations cover installations that are regulated by local air pollution control and are not covered by the directive, they will not be subject to integrated control. They will continue to have their emissions to air only regulated by the new regime. One main difference between the regulations and part I of the 1990 Act is that local authorities will for the first time be responsible for some integrated permitting in relation to those installations that have been regulated by local air pollution control, but which will now be regulated by integrated pollution prevention and control. Local authorities have managed their responsibilities under LAPC capably and achieved high rates of compliance with upgrading schedules. We are confident that they will continue that good work as part of pollution prevention and control.

We have not sought to reinvent the wheel. The regulations maintain many of the provisions of the 1990 Act. For example, the procedures for determining permit applications, for appealing against the regulator's decisions and for taking enforcement action remain substantially unchanged. However, we have taken the opportunity presented by the need to implement the directive to make several improvements. First, although the application procedure is largely unchanged, the Environment Agency has produced new standard application forms. Those should help to focus operators' minds on exactly what information is required and reduce the chances of them producing inappropriate, unnecessary or incomplete information, which are common problems under integrated pollution control. We have also modernised the applications procedures by allowing operators to submit applications electronically.

The second improvement relates to the speed at which regulators determine applications. Regulators in the United Kingdom have the quickest turnaround times in Europe, but we have reduced those even further for some applications. If an application to vary a permit will have a positive effect on the environment, we have reduced the time for a determination from four to three months so that the benefits are realised more swiftly.

Thirdly, the 1990 Act requires authorisations under integrated pollution control—IPC—and local air pollution control—LAPC—to be reviewed every four years. Review periods for a particular sector will now be determined by the regulator. They will depend on a number of factors, including sectoral investment cycles and the risk that the process presents to the environment, which will be set out in guidance to the regulator.

Fourthly, the directive allows requirements for some types of installation to be set out in general binding rules that can be used instead of site-specific permit conditions. That is good news for the environment industry and regulators. They will reduce regulatory effort and, as a consequence, the fees paid by operators while ensuring that we maintain the same high level of environmental protection. We shall develop such rules in collaboration with the Environment Agency and industry over the coming months.

We estimate that about 7,000 installations in England and Wales will be subject to the directive. They must all be brought into the new regime by the directive deadline of 30 October 2007. We will be doing that on a phased basis starting early next year. The timetable for bringing each sector into permitting is set out in schedule 3 to the regulations. It is partly determined by the availability of European guidance on best value techniques. It also reflects existing permitting cycles under the integrated pollution control as well as other concerns. As part of the action plan for farming, we have decided to defer the introduction of integrated pollution prevention and control for pig and poultry farming until 2007.

The timetable in the schedule for bringing landfill sites into permitting is notional. The Government are considering how to implement the landfill directive, which covers integrated pollution prevention and control sites and other sites. We will shortly issue a consultation paper. It is likely that landfills will be brought into integrated pollution prevention and control on a phased basis from 2002. However, until we have determined the nature of that phasing, we cannot set out a detailed timetable. We have, therefore, given all sites a notional phase-in date of 2007, although we expect to change that in due course.

Operators that are regulated by integrated pollution prevention and control will be eligible to enter into a negotiated agreement with the Government to reduce their energy consumption and receive an 80 per cent. rebate on the climate change levy that will be introduced next April. I understand that representatives of practically all sectors that are regulated under IPPC have concluded agreements, or are negotiating them. We have recently completed a consultation exercise on the case for transferring certain processes from local air pollution control, or LAPC, to IPPC, which would extend the range of activities that could qualify for the rebate. If we decide to do that, we will again need to amend the regulations.

The regulations provide the core of the new IPPC regime. I have to concede that they are in places somewhat arcane. Their operation will be supported by guidance from the Secretary of State. Last week, I placed copies of our draft guidance in the Library. We hope to issue the first edition of that guidance around the end of this month. However, we recognise the need to take views from industry and the wider community on how the operation of the new arrangements can best be clarified in guidance. We shall therefore invite comments on the initial version of the guidance during the next few months, with a view to producing a revision next year.

I can confirm that the draft regulations are, in my view, compatible with the European convention on human rights.

The regulations provide the basis for the development of a new and more extensive pollution control regime. It will balance the concerns of industry with the need for proper environmental protection, and discharge our European obligations. I hope that Committee members will agree to the regulations.

4.42 pm

 
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