Examination of Witnesses (Questions 980-989)|
WEDNESDAY 5 NOVEMBER 2003
980. My principal questions have been asked
by Baroness Gould and Lord Lang, but following up on the hare
started by Lord MacGregor, I think you mentioned that the ship-breakers
actually had other permissions to get as well as yours and Lord
MacGregor referred to the very large number of authorities which
people do actually have to get permission from for certain activities.
I am not too familiar, and probably should be, with the way regulatory
impact assessments work but do you have any role in trying to
simplify procedures and coordinate procedures for the people who
are subject to these requirements?
(Dr Leinster) Yes, we do and one of the
main areas of our work just now is looking at new regulatory regimes
coming in and also existing regulation. But if I could touch on
the interface between planning and environmental licensing, they
are separate just now. For waste licensing we cannot issue a waste
licence unless there is an existing planning permission for that
facility. In terms of some of our other regimes like pollution,
prevention and control, we can issue a licence even if there is
not a planning consent for that facility. What we would like to
see is parallel tracking of those two processes because sometimes,
especially on the public consultation and the public understanding
of what is done within which, there is quite a bit of confusion.
So we would like to see, as I say, parallel tracking of the licensing
decisions and the locational planning decisions.
981. Could I just ask what you mean by "parallel
tracking". Do you mean you put in applications at the same
time and hope that the stages go together?
(Dr Leinster) Well, rather than hope you would actually
coordinate. So we would agree with the planning officers within
that local authority when we are going to consult, whether or
not we could have joint public meetings, how we are going to make
sure that the decisions come out together.
982. Looking at this from the applicant's point
of view, surely the planning authority has much wider interests
and responsibilities than you do and therefore it would be sensible
for your application to be made first as being the cheaper and
the narrower before the applicant has to embark upon a process
which would be absolutely nugatory if on the last day you both
produced and one of you said yes and the other said no? Surely
that would mean that parallel tracking would actually be contra
to the applicant's interest?
(Dr Leinster) I do not think so and I think the locational
planning one is the one which should go first because the locational
planning one is the one which has the wider interest and it is
the one which, for example, would take into consideration aesthetic
issues and transport, which we do not consider. So I think there
is a lot of merit in taking it together so that all of the issues
can be considered at the one time rather than what could happen
is that people will say, "Well, no, we can't discuss that
because that's for that group of people, for the Environment Agency
to talk about," and when we go out on a consultation people
start asking us questions which are really the role and responsibility
of the planners.
983. Are you consulting the interest groups
of potential applicants in formulating this policy?
(Dr Leinster) Yes, we are.
984. May I ask one separate question. There
is a splendid concept called BATNEEC, I understand, which is best
available technology not entailing excessive cost. Who decides
and how do they decide what constitutes excessive cost?
(Dr Leinster) It is tricky. BATNEEC has in fact been
overtaken now by BAT, which is best available techniques taking
into account the economic affordability. BATNEEC was the UK derivation
and now under pollution prevention and control, which is a European
directive, we now have BAT.
985. Is that a change in anything but nomenclature,
the economic affordability?
(Dr Leinster) No. It is exactly the same as not entailing
excessive cost, yes. The process which is going on within thatand
we have been very supportive of this process ever since the beginningis
that there is a European Union unit in Seville which has been
established to write what are called BAT reference documents and
these describe the best available techniques for particular industrial
sectors and they are agreed and discussed on the European-wide
basis. What happens is that a lot of research goes on. Industry
is involved with it, government departments from all the Member
States are involved in this process and you look at what the leading
edge companies are doing, those companies which have been in the
business a long time, what techniques they have in place to mitigate
and control pollution. They then come up with what is called a
European breath(?) note but it is a BAT reference document which
describes for a particular sector the technologies which can be
adopted. That takes into account the economics of it. There is
also a number of horizontal documents being written and one of
those is economic appraisal. How do you carry out a BAT reference?
How do you carry out the economic appraisal of a facility? That
is still really under discussion. What we then do in England and
Wales is to take those reference documents and translate those
into what we expect to see from different industrial sectors,
so what we would expect to see from a municipal waste incinerator,
from a textile works, from a chemical works and then the applicant,
when they write in to us, demonstrates how they either meet the
BAT as described in the reference document or how they are going
to propose to meet it over a given period of time. We then incorporate
that within our permit conditions.
986. I am slightly awe-struck. May I ask one
further question on this. Given that all the European countries
are setting themselves targets for a reduction in the production
of certain pollutants such as carbon and given that their targets
appear to differ, how do you reconcile the differences within
a common BAT regime?
(Dr Leinster) BAT describes a range, it does not describe
a prescribed number, and it is really technology-led. So one of
the things in our appraisal that we do when we are issuing a permit
is to look at the facility operating to BAT but then looking at
what the impacts of the emissions from that facility will be on
the receiving environment and making sure that the impacts on
the receiving environment are within environmental quality standards.
So you can have a level of variability depending on what the receiving
environment is like as well.
Lord Elton: I think this could go on for some
time but that is it for now.
987. I could not help thinking there is nothing
like a simple acronym and that was nothing like a simple acronym!
I am very conscious of time. Could I just put one final question.
You heard the final question I put to the OFT because they are
a non-ministerial department, whereas you are an executive non-departmental
public body. Is that a status which creates no problems? Would
there be an advantage in being a non-ministerial department?
(Baroness Young of Old Scone) I have
to confess when I came to the Environment Agency I immediately
developed a deep longing to become a non-ministerial department
but probably not for the most honourable of motives. I think on
mature reflection, we did a bit of a review of this about a year
ago and came to the conclusion that it was probably not the best
status for us. I think, despite the lure of being your own boss
and accountable direct to Parliament, in reality for something
like the environment it can only be delivered through a huge range
of government departments. I think we do need a minister at the
Cabinet table batting on behalf of the environment, fully informed
by the sort of advice and information that we can give him. We
also had a purely practical problem and that was if we all became
civil servants we would cost more and we cannot afford it. We
would rather put the money into the environment than into our
salaries and pension schemes.
988. It is actually as a result of internal
consideration that you have reached that conclusion, that the
existing status is on balance appropriate?
(Baroness Young of Old Scone) Yes. We would, however,
like a shift in the dividing line between our role and our Government
sponsor's role. Clearly Government is responsible for policy but
we believe that perhaps the balance of work to implement policy
ought to be shifted gently so that we had a bigger role in actually
designing the regulatory instruments and the regulations that
we act within. We believe that they would be more effective and
more fit for purpose if they were informed by the experience of
the practical regulator and the fact that we are very, very close
to the industries that we regulate so we would have the ability
to have a good conversation with them about what an effective
risk-based, proportionate, transparent, fit for purpose regime
would look like.
989. So you would like to have a greater input?
(Baroness Young of Old Scone) We would quite like
to perhaps kick the ball off in the first instance. I think one
of the problems at the moment is that government departments tend
to design the regulations and ask for us to comment, by which
time there is a certain kind of amour propre about what
they contain. We would quite like to be in the position where
perhaps jointly with our Government sponsors we were tasking the
lawyers with the design so that we were in on the ground floor,
as it were, of the design.
Chairman: Yes. Thank you very much. I am very
conscious of time and we are running over somewhat as a consequence
of the division. Thank you very much for being with us this afternoon.
That has been extremely helpful. Thank you for the paper you put
in in advance, it has been most valuable.