Unnecessary red tape or essential legislation? A new government website is asking for your views on the fate of thousands of regulations. The BMC would like to hear from you too.
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act, the Wildlife and Countryside Act, the Climate Change Act, the Coastal Access Reports Regulation 2010, and hundreds more UK environmental laws and regulations are being scrutinised as part of the Government's 'Red Tape Challenge' which was launched earlier this month. The Government is not consulting on regulations that are devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
A Red Tape Challenge website has been launched by the Cabinet Office listing over 21,000 regulations and asking members of the public to identify which are working and which not; what should be scrapped and what simplified. According to the website 'the default presumption will be that burdensome regulations will go'. However it is unclear to what extent the public (rather than ministers) will get to make the final judgement as to what constitutes a 'burden'. Critics have also pointed out that since consultees are by definition self selecting the results of the consultation could be skewed by single-issue obsessives, special interest groups and even back door industry lobbyists. Some have suggested that the Government is ideologically committed in advance to a radically deregulated economy and society, and that the Red Tape Challenge is more public relations than public consultation.
There has been strong reaction to the moves in recent weeks among environmental groups and access campaigners concerned that key legislation protecting wildlife, the environment and public access may be undermined.
'The idea that entire Acts dedicated to protecting our countryside, the air we breathe and the places where we walk and live, could be described as red tape seems almost farcical' said Adrian Morris, Head of Campaigns at the Ramblers last week.
'Whilst we would welcome a review of legislation which aims to ensure that our environment is fully protected and can be enjoyed by all more easily – the idea that these laws could be cut away like red tape with no consequences for ourselves and future generations shows a short-sighted lack of understanding of the importance of laws which protect our environment for all.'
'We will fight strongly against moves by government to reduce the protection of the environment or people's ability to access and enjoy it.'
Campaigning website 38Degrees, which ran a major petition against the proposed sale of England's Forestry Commission land earlier this year, has launched a new petition calling on the Coalition to 'keep its promise' to be the greenest government ever, by not scrapping laws which safeguard the environment. 'Laws to protect British wildlife, tackle climate change and promote a clean environment aren't red tape' says the website.
According to the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) however, there is no cause to panic yet since key pieces of legislation affecting our outdoors are unlikely to be ditched.
'The BMC is chiefly interested in possible changes to Environmental Regulations which fall under "general regulations" on the Cabinet Office website' says Access and Conservation Officer Cath Flitcroft.
'This includes regulations which affect biodiversity, wildlife management, landscape, countryside and recreation. These regulations are designed to conserve vulnerable or rare species and habitats and protect important wildlife sites; they also include regulations on rights of way and protecting National Parks. The BMC will also be looking at regulations which affect mining and quarrying.'
The questions specifically being asked on these regulations are:
- Should they be scrapped altogether?
- Can they be merged with existing regulations?
- Can we simplify them – or reduce the bureaucracy associated with them?
- Have you got any ideas to make these regulations better?
- Do you think they should be left as they are?
'The BMC remains curious ...as to why this type of environmental legislation is even being considered for review' says Cath Flitcroft. '[We] will be raising this issue at the All Party Parliamentary Group meeting in the summer to try to get more details and to get a feel for the political appetite behind this Red Tape Challenge. We will be responding in full at some point soon, and exploring not only the potential threats of this challenge but also the potential opportunities.'