Select Committee on European Communities Eleventh Report



Letter from Baroness Hilton of Eggardon QPM, Chairman of Sub-Committee C, to Richard Caborn MP, Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

  Sub-Committee C considered this document with your Explanatory Memorandum of 9 July at our meeting yesterday and decided that there were a number of points on which the Government should be asked for its further views. As the House is about to rise for the summer recess, it was agreed that I should write to you in Geoff Tordoff's absence, athough the document raises important issues of principle which normally would have been referred to the Select Committee.

  We would like to stress that the broad concept of strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is one which we support as one of the most effective means of ensuring that environmental considerations are fully integrated into Community policies and programmes. It is, in our view, an essential element of successive Community environmental action programmes, to which the United Kingdom is of course fully committed. Our current enquiry, into the draft Framework Directive on Community Water Policy, has brought out the relevance of the SEA approach to the proposed system of river basin management plans, and we expect the same to be true of our next enquiry, into the draft Directive on Landfill of Waste. Moreover, many examples can be found across the European Union where failure to apply SEA - for instance through the Common Agricultural Policy or in the use of structural funds for infrastructure purposes - has resulted in real damage to the environment.

  Whilst we recognise that the Commission's present proposals would, on certain assumptions, result in increased costs and have the potential to cause delay and uncertainty, we are not happy with what seems to us to be an unduly negative approach. We do not necessarily see a conflict between subsidiarity - eg respecting Member States' different systems of town and country planning - and a commitment at Community level to the broad principle, which surely is not in dispute, that significant plans and programes should be assessed for their potential effects on the environment.

  The implication of the EM is that there will be resistance under the next few Presidencies to taking forward these proposals at all. We see the situation in rather a different light. We feel that the Government should seize the opportunity of the UK Presidency to steer the Community towards more appopriate ways of achieving the objectives behind the Commission's proposals, by positive presentation of the UK's approach as the way forward.

  We would welcome the Government's views on these comments, so that the matter can be considered further by the Select Committee after the recess. Meanwhile we are not clearing the document.

31 July 1997

Letter from Richard Caborn MP, Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, to Baroness Hilton of Eggardon QPM, Chairman of Sub-Committee C

  Thank you for your letter of 31 July asking for more information on our views of the above proposal. We have yet to take firm decisions on what our Presidency programme will be. We will certainly take account of the Committee's views in reaching a decision.

  Like the Committee we are supportive of the broad concept of SEA both in the UK and in Europe. Where we differ, I think, is that we are not convinced that this proposal would deliver what we, and you, want in the most efficient way. The current text only applies to Member States for example, not to the Commission.

  We are concerned that this Directive would not apply evenly across Member States because of our very differing planning systems. Plans and programmes in different countries are prepared by different authorities, with different timescales and different geographical scales. They cover different topics and follow different procedures, there is little hope that this proposal could produce a harmonised approach against this background.

  We are convinced that best practice is to develop the environmental assessment and the plan together, so that the environmental appraisal can be used to choose between options during the planning process. The Commission proposal puts the environmental assessment as an add on at the end when the influence on the final outcome can only be minimal. Unfortunately, there is some logic in any proposal for such legislation at a European level in doing this because for such differing planning systems that may well be the only point in common.

  We are very wary of the delays this could place on the planning process in the UK and of the scope such a proposal would give for those opposed to the development of infrastructure which is vital for economic progress to slow it down.

  We would certainly agree that we must use the UK Presidency to take forward the environment in Europe, to push the Commission towards better ways of achieving the objectives behind this proposal. But there are other initiatives which we are considering which would present the UK's approach in a positive way as you suggest, and which could have a greater impact on the issues which you raise in your letter than this proposal for an SEA Directive.

4 December 1997

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