Eric Pickles confronts over-zealous EU planning directives

Published by Daily Mail

Eric Pickles union flagThe Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the irrepressible Rt. Hon. Eric Pickles MP, has apparently had enough of the EU’s Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA). These demand in-depth screening, scoping and consultation on all major planning and development projects, and have long played havoc with domestic planning law as every road, railway, factory and housing estate becomes mired in months and years of delay as bats are counted, wind-speed recorded, decibels measured and earthquake risks monitored.

Every brown-field site is seemingly treated as a putative Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as each development has become subject to uniform assessment criteria. And it’s not only the hassle of delay, but the additional significant costs on the whole planning process. Quite why our own town and country planning systems in England and the devolved administrations can’t be trusted to conserve our own birds and bees is something of a mystery. But in local government there is almost a default fealty to EU supervision and oversight as the planning regime has become increasingly subservient to European Union law.

It is puzzling indeed that our domestic environmental safeguards are deemed inadequate by local planning authorities, many of which zealously demand detailed assessment of all environmental issues irrespective of whether EU Directives actually require it.

So Mr Pickles has announced that his Department will be consulting imminently ‘on the application of thresholds for development going through the planning system in England, below which the Environmental Impact Assessment regime does not apply. This will aim to remove unnecessary provisions from our Regulations, and to help provide greater clarity and certainty on what EU law does and does not require’.

Of course, discerning what EU law does and does not require is something of an art: it has simply become the norm for both our elected political officials and their civil-service bureaucrats to demand the most extreme administrative EU rigour on such matters, irrespective of subsidiarity or national statutory provisions.

But wading through the plethora of tedious and complex directives won’t be easy: in addition to the EIA Directive (85/337/EEC of 27 June 1985; amended 2011/92/EU), the EU has spawned such legislative verbiage as the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive, Flooding Directive, Habitats Directive, Wild Birds Directive, Waste Framework Directive, Revised Waste Framework Directive, Seveso II Directive, Public Participation Directive, Renewable Energy Directive, Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, Environmental Noise Directive, Draft Airport Noise Regulation, Energy Efficiency Directive, Draft Regulation on trans-European energy infrastructure, Water Framework Directive, Air Quality Directive and the draft Soil Framework Directive.

The weight of these combined effectively gives the European Union competence on land use planning, despite planning remaining a national competence. And so, again, we see the EU’s incremental ‘regulatory creep’ which is undermining Parliament, negating accountability and eroding democracy.

And the Commission’s new proposal to ‘harmonise’ the EIA Directive with a one-size-fits-all approach ‘for greater consistency’ flies in the face of the UK’s demands that the overall regulatory burden at EU and national levels should be reduced. They plan to amend it so that instead of the 450-700 environmental impact assessments which are presently carried out each year, hundreds of thousands of developments would be brought under the environmental screening process. This would represent a significant additional burden for developers and competent authorities.

The EU Commission is of the view that the objectives of EIA cannot be sufficiently achieved by Member States alone: the UK is quite simply, in their view, incapable or incompetent or both.

Eric Pickles observes: ‘Draft European Union legislation often receives little Parliamentary or public scrutiny.’ He’s not wrong there: it is almost as if our Parliament has surrendered its sovereignty to teleological inevitability and political impotence. He pleads: ‘I would encourage Hon. Members to examine carefully this latest proposed increase in EU regulation.’

Personally, I think we’re a bit beyond the ‘encourage’ phase: the rigorous scrutiny of EU directives ought to be a statutory obligation upon all our elected representatives, rather than being left to ad hoc blogs such as this or the odd conscientious minister like Eric Pickles. There is no other way of carrying out a thorough cost-benefit analysis, or of establishing whether EU burdens are a proportionate load to bear in the national socio-economic context.

When it comes to the environment and human health, I’d rather trust the manifest competence of Eric Pickles than the collective incompetence of Brussels bureaucracy any day. When responsibility lies with the Secretary of State, Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers and Northern Ireland Ministers, at least you can vote them out and demand a change of policy.

What on earth has bat preservation got to do with the free movement of people and goods anyway?

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  • An Englishwoman

    I think the secret to the ‘directives’ from the eu is to look at how France and Germany react to them and do the same, because it seems to me that the stupid British politicians are the only ones following the rules!!

  • Andrew Smith

    I forecast there will be lots more irritable complaints about EU directives between now and the next Euro and General Elections. The Conservatives will pretend they might or indeed could do something about the EU but only to create a diversion. They want to put the voters of the scent again and imply they can change the monster they help to create. They have been promising that since the 1970s and have never achieved any changes and Dave wants to stay in. The Conservatives are toast.

  • Whybother

    What we are now seeing accross the Country from these petty minded local planners is that in order to justify the existence of some of their often useless enforcement officials, they are looking at old planning permissions to see whether every condition is being adhered to. If not they are demanding that new applications are made to vary or remove conditions. It’s a wonderful world when you can create your own work.

  • Peter North

    What a fantastic betrayal of the trully fascist nature of the EU is the word
    “Directive”, akin as it is to the non-negotiable commands of dictators throughout history, mainly in Europe and especially in those areas under the jackboots of the First, Second and Third Reichs ! The Fourth really is living up to its founders proudly proclaimed aspirations to replicate the feudal first such Frankish Empire, though for obvious reasons they didnt mention the second and third manifestations that ended in so much blood during the last century.

  • Norman Yardy

    Eric is my MP and has to date been a good conservative, more so than many. I have written him commending him on his sensible approach to this and other issues however it is a shame that I have had to stand up to him over his policy on SSM. He came out in support on QT as being supportive but I suspect that he has had his arm bent as a Secretary of State to conform to the big wigs at the top. His job might be on the line if he didn’t.

  • Andrew Smith

    I really donot think we can blame the European politicians, however much we might wish they did different things and left us alone. It is the UK politicians who have brought us to this by imposing EU membership, Maastricht Treaty and ever closer union.
    The people were never told the plan was to create a supra national entity called the EU. Whether you characterise it as a federation or an empuire, it was not what we were told was being done. Even after we entered, at the 1975 referendum, we were assured it was all about free trade.

  • catalpa

    Eric is swimming against the tide. It may well be EU “directives” (diktats) forcing this vast bureaucracy on us but the real culprits are residing in the UN. This is all part of the implementation of Agenda 21. You need to look at what’s happening in the US to get a taste of what we are in for. The EPA is out of control, UCLEI has taken over state councils and they are both terrorising the population and small companies using “sustainable development” as the avenue to destroy them. But the States are fighting back and many have expelled UCLEI from their jurisdictions and making their own decisions on what is sustainable. Get educated people and closely watch what’s going on in the US.

  • Rex

    The main threat to birds, bees and wildlife are the malpractices of farmers – toxic chemical sprays, ripping out hedgerows, intensive stocking and slaughtering wildlife for entertainment shooting, all encouraged by the wretched EU.