Seabed Users Developers Group
Gwyn Williams and Kate Jennings
‘The highly regulated industries that are represented in SUDG which develop the sea bed have extensive experience of working with others regulators and stakeholders, including the RSPB, to reduce and resolve environmental impacts and there are many successful examples of this. With the greater protection created for the marine environment through the development of new national legislation, industry knows that it is even more important to work in partnership with conservation organisations to find new and more effective ways of ensuring that we meet the needs of the environment along with economic growth.
However, the Government’s drive for ‘smarter regulation’ – intended to remove barriers to growth and to improve implementation of environmental and other legislation – may have perverse effects on both business and the environment.
The ongoing review of legislation in the name of smarter regulation – based on the principle that ‘better’ = less’- is a cause for uncertainty for developers and nature conservationists alike. The review and revocation of guidance has the potential to create a vacuum, or worse, resulting in the publication of revised guidance, which far from streamlining or clarifying requirements, may muddy what had previously been relatively clear waters. The European Commission’s ‘Fitness Check’ of the Birds and Habitats Directives exacerbates these uncertainties, raising the prospect of further shifting of well-established goal posts.
The statutory nature conservation agencies have haemorrhaged staff in recent years, which has placed increasing constraints on their ability to provide expert and impartial advice. Alongside the position where the growth of environmental legislation has led to increasing opportunities for inconsistency, responsible developers are finding it hard to sustain industry best practice in an environment which by definition is highly regulated and complex in implementation.
There is a strong coalition of responsible industries who recognise the value of biodiversity, and want to ensure that as developers they contribute to sustainability by doing the right thing for business, for people and for the environment.
In the absence of clear guidance on what the legislation requires, it is increasingly important that industry works to demonstrate to Government what successful approaches do look like. To do this industry needs to continue to work with stakeholders to focus on sustainable development, including the clear and consistent application of environmental regulation, and on learning from and developing best practice which should be good for the environment and good for industry. Such an approach would increasingly assure that emphasis is placed on environmental improvement and on proportionate and appropriate routes through environmental assessment.
There are many examples where good practices have been developed through co-operation, but it is also essential that the value of these experiences is disseminated and applied more widely if we are to achieve the common desire for proportionate assessment and environmental protection while enhancing the marine environment.