Tuesday 26 April 2011

Is the environment just “red tape” to business?

Taking a look at regulation to see if there is anything that can be rationalised is, perhaps, not a bad thing in itself. I don’t like the pandering to popular paranoia that seems to underpin the exercise, as I said in my last blog; however it might be argued that regulation does bare re-examination from time to time.

What is more, DEFRA has now written a “mythbuster” claiming that the aim is not to scrap important environmental regulations (http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2011/04/24/myth-bust-red-tape-challenge/). I am not sure how convincing this is. If this is the case then why are the very regulations that the DEFRA mythbuster claims will not be removed listed in the public consultation? If DEFRA sets hares running by listing environmental regulation that could get a shake up then it should not be too surprised when it gets a firm response from the public. This is not myth busting, it is public consultation and I thought that was the idea.

However, there is something more worrying underneath this exercise. Department sources are again saying things like they’ve “got to look at things from both sides…”. They don’t wish to “side” with either the environment or business and are implying that sustainable development is about balancing the environment with business and society. This is an attempt to change a 25 year old definition of sustainable development which seems to be going almost unnoticed. Sustainable development is about delivering win-win-win solutions, delivering environmental, economic and societal objectives together in a mutually supportive way. The nature of the discussion at the moment implies that environmental regulation has gone too far and needs to be brought back under control so that poor old business has a chance to thrive again. This is a 1960’s approach. In the 21st century business will only thrive in a healthy, protected environment.

I also do not believe that businesses themselves wish to be stereotyped as inevitably a sector that wishes to throw-off environmental regulation, cast a blind-eye to any environmental damage and get on with the important work of making money. A high quality environment is now seen as a business asset (for instance boosting house values, attracting inward investment and keeping good staff) and there is an increasing number of studies that show how a high quality environment and a stimulated economy go hand in hand. See for example Ruth Chambers’ (Council for National Parks) blog (http://parkcampaigner.wordpress.com/) for a couple of examples of how good regulation in National Parks has stimulated the economy, not held it back.

So – presumptions about environmental regulation constraining and acting as a burden on business should not be the background to any review. A sensible review should be more open ended, should not start with the expected answer (slash red tape) and may indeed find that we need more environmental regulation not less.

If you are worried about this you may wish to consider signing the 38 degrees petition: http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/dont-scrap-environment-laws#petition, as well as making comments on the DEFRA web site: (http://www.redtapechallenge.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/environment/).

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