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Brexit won’t mean bonfire of EU green regulations insist lawyers

Published: Thursday, 30th June 2016

Lawyers and ecologists say that EU directives and European-derived regulations that relate to wildlife protection and air quality limits are likely to remain in place despite the referendum outcome…

Lawyers insisted this week that despite the result of the EU referendum, developers would still have to comply with European-derived regulations which augment the planning system like environmental impact assessment (EIA), air quality limits and habitats protection.

“Many of these will be extremely difficult to unpick, and some reflect international treaty obligations, so are likely to remain, even when the UK finally leaves” said Angus Walker, a senior partner at law firm BDB.

“Sorting this out could take years, and so developers should continue for now on the basis that the requirements remain in place. But they should pause before assuming that new European requirements will automatically be introduced – for instance, the 2014 changes to the EIA Directive were due to be introduced by 2017. This may no longer happen, after all.”

Richard Arnold, technical director at Thomson Ecology, the UK’s largest ecology consultancy said: “Nothing has changed in the law or policy protecting wildlife following the outcome of the EU referendum. All the protection for wildlife that existed prior to the referendum is still in place and there is every indication that it will be retained for the foreseeable future.

“Firstly, all of the EU Directives which relate to wildlife protection (Birds, Habitats, Water Framework, Environmental Impact Assessment and Environmental Liabilities) have been transposed into UK regulations.

“It’s true that these regulations could simply fall away if the European Communities Act were simply repealed, however, it is much more likely that the regulations would be kept in place until such time they could be deliberated by Parliament.

“Secondly, protection for many of the species which we work with comes from national law and policy. The legislation that protects water vole and reptiles is UK legislation (the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) and all the species that we now consider to be European-protected species (bats, great crested newts, dormouse, etc.) were protected under UK legislation before that advent of the Habitats Directive.

“If the Habitats Regulations were to be repealed it is likely that the current suite of European protected species would continue to enjoy protection under an updated Wildlife and Countryside Act.

“Thirdly, some protection for biodiversity transcends the European Union, notably the Ramsar Convention and the Convention on Biodiversity, to which the UK is a signatory.

“This means that we have an international commitment to work towards halting the loss of biodiversity, regardless of the status of our membership of the EU.”

Walker added: “The short term effect of the referendum vote on planning is, then, not legal but primarily driven by economic uncertainty”.

Already local politicians are asking for assurances from the UK government that major funding commitments like the City Deal programme will be honoured however the UK performs economically in the short to medium term.

The Local Government Association noted: “Communities in England have been allocated £5.3bn of EU regeneration funding up to 2020. It is important for the government to guarantee it will protect this vital funding to avoid essential growth-boosting projects stalling and local economies across England being stifled.”

View the news article from Thomson Ecology

Roger Milne