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'More proportionate' approach to enforcing permit regulations

Operators alleged to have breached their environmental permits could from 6 April be allowed to take remedial action to avoid prosecution.

A draft amendment to the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2015, which applies only to England, means that the Environment Agency (EA) would be able to accept undertakings from operators on top of the current option of prosecution or taking no action.

Enforcement undertakings would allow offending operators to take restorative or preventative actions within a specified period without being prosecuted, provided the undertaking is completed. Actions may include ensuring an offence does not recur, restoration of a site after a breach of permit or payments to those affected by the offence.

Phil Conran, 360 environmental director, told MRW: “Before, the only real enforcement action [the EA] could take was prosecution for any infringement. For minor infringements it was often extremely disproportionate in terms of environmental impact compared with the penalty supplied by the courts.”

All sites with an environmental permit are subject to regular EA visits to check that operations are in compliance with the regulations of the permit, such as the weight limits of material allowed on-site at any one time.

In that example, Conran said: “If a company went outside that weight limit, rather than prosecuting, now the agency would use enforcement undertakings as a way of penalising them for that, but without disproportionately affecting the business.

“One of the problems at the moment is that because the EA tends to either do nothing or prosecute, it often then leads to companies going out of business. The expectation is that this more proportionate approach will allow the agency to work with the companies to put things right.”

As part of the amendments, the EA must publish guidance about its use of enforcement undertakings.

  • Article amended 10 February: In the original version of the article we said that the amendments will come into effect on 6 April. However, the draft has not yet been formally accepted.

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