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Byzantine Environmental Protection Rules ‘A Nightmare’ Say Judges

The pressure is on the government to simplify Byzantine environmental protection rules after the Court of Appeal described their interpretation as ‘a nightmare’. The Court made its comments as it overturned a recycling company’s convictions for failing to comply with a condition attached to an environmental permit.

The company operated a site at which various materials, mainly emanating from demolition projects, were screened and crushed before re-sale as aggregate. The site was operated under environmental permits issued by the local authority and the Environment Agency (EA). The former prosecuted the company after lorries were witnessed leaving the site with their loads of aggregate not entirely covered.

After a judge ruled in the council’s favour on certain issues of legal interpretation, the company pleaded guilty to two charges of failing to comply with the terms of an environmental permit condition, contrary to Regulation 38(2) of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010. Fines totalling £4,500 were imposed.

In upholding the company’s appeal, the Court noted that attempts to streamline and make comprehensible the regulatory regime applied to such businesses had been singularly unsuccessful. Interpreting the relevant provisions had been accurately described by the judge as a nightmare.

The permits granted by the local authority and the EA were conflicting. In particular, the former purported to restrict materials that could be processed on the site to bricks, tiles and concrete but the latter did not. There was no scope for the joint regulation of the site and the permit issued by the local authority was thus invalid, having been made without jurisdiction.