Government’s business taskforce slams EC EIA plans and other environmental EU legislation as 'burdens on developers'

David Cameron has backed calls by the government’s business taskforce for EU legislation on planning, chemicals and waste to be simplified, claiming they are hindering growth. Particularly, the group singled out European Commission’s proposals to revise the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive, and criticised them for 'significantly increasing burdens on developers'.

Alongside rules relating to health and safety and employment, the group’s report, Cut EU red tape, lists seven areas of environmental legislation it claims are acting as barriers to business growth.

Marc Bolland, chief executive at Marks & Spencer, Ian Cheshire, CEO at Kingfisher, and Paul Walsh, the former head of drinks giant Diageo, are among the members of the taskforce, which has named 30 areas of EU legislation that could be reformed to save UK firms time and money.

The Waste Framework Directive (WFD) and the REACH Regulation are highlighted as having “disproportionate” financial impacts on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), while the European Commission’s proposals to revise the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive are criticised for “significantly increasing burdens on developers”.

Meanwhile, new greenhouse-gas reporting requirements proposed under the Fuel Quality Directive will cost UK refineries between £60 million and £150 million each year in their current interation, warns the taskforce. It wants the planned changes to be scaled back to minimise any additional reporting burden.

The taskforce also concludes that despite worries over the environmental impact of drilling for shale gas “there is no need for a new detailed Directive” on extracting non-conventional fossil fuels. New EU legislation would “bring years of uncertainty, deterring investors”, argues the taskforce

“European rules start with good ideas but can lose their way when they are implemented. This can have unintended and damaging consequences for business and growth,” said Cheshire.

“When you have a vast footprint in Europe, and if you’re trading across multiple EU borders, smooth implementation and certainty of a level playing field is what is needed.”

The prime minister welcomed the recommendations of the taskforce, agreeing that EU rules can often be a “handicap” for firms.

“Business people, particularly owners of small firms, are forced to spend too much time complying with pointless, burdensome and costly regulations,” he said. “I’m determined to change that and to get the EU working for business, not against it.

“This report makes clear that there are lots of simple and practical ways to cut EU red tape and save businesses across Europe tens of billions of euros.”

According to the report, the WFD will force between 220,000 and 460,000 SMEs to register as waste carriers from 2014, placing them under a “significant” and “disproportionate” administrative burden.

Meanwhile, it argues that the cost of registering chemicals under REACH is “excessive” and that changes to registration thresholds due in 2018, will mean that “most SMEs will be covered by the regime”.

The taskforce argues that the European Commission must make REACH more “business-friendly”, providing more guidance for SMEs and ensuring member states are consistent in their enforcement of the regime.

The report also recommends that the commission’s ongoing review of waste legislation is used specifically to identify ways in which to cut the administrative burden on SMEs, such as through simpler reporting requirements.

The taskforce's recommendations closely follow the European Commission’s own conclusions published earlier this month in its report on progress in its “REFIT” project, which is aimed at ensuring EU legislation is effective.

In its report, the commission confirmed it was planning to work specifically with SMEs on revisions to REACH and the implementation of the WFD.

The commission also revealed that will be withdrawing its proposals for a Soil Framework Directive and legislation on access to justice on environmental issues, both of which the UK business taskforce agree should be scrapped.

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