News

An appeal against the refusal to grant planning permission for the conversion of a pub into two dwellings has been dismissed by a planning inspector.

The vacant pub, the Chequers Inn, in Barkestone, Nottinghamshire, had been bought in 2010, having been operated as a pub between 2004 and 2007. The business was then relaunched three times after it was acquired; first as a pub, then as a fish restaurant, and finally as a bar and grill. However, all three of the ventures were short-lived and the building was vacated in 2016. Following the vacation, the owner applied for permission to convert the pub into two dwellings.

However, the building was recognised as the last potential community facility remaining in the village, considering the village hall closed in 2003. As a result, a successful application was made to list the former pub as an Asset of Community Value. Furthermore, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) recognises public houses as "community facilities" and suggests that planning decisions should guard against the loss of such facilities.

After the planning application was submitted to change the pub into dwellings, the majority of the almost 120 representations made were regarding the loss of a community facility.

Since the pub's closure, a Community Action Group tried to purchase the building to secure it as a community facility, although that bid failed. Following that, the group formed into the Village Hall Trustees who have indicated an intention to purchase the property and convert it into a community facility including a cafe, shop and bar. Although the planning inspector considered the fact that the earlier bid for the property failed, the Village Hall Trustees has given assurances that they can meet the terms of sale.

Given the attention the property has received from two groups since it became vacant, the inspector was drawn to the conclusion that the use of the building as a community facility was viable. As a result, the loss of the village's last "remaining pub and potential community facility would involve significant harm to the local community", the inspector said.

Even though the inspector had no issue with the site being used as a residential development, the benefits of such were outweighed by the potential loss of a community facility which would result in harm to the village. The inspector, Mr King, therefore dismissed the appeal.

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An application for judicial review of a decision by Natural England was dismissed in March.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and scientist and nature conservation campaigner Dr Avery, applied for judicial review against the decision to grant licence to conduct a trial into the brood management of hen harriers pursuant to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Hen harriers are extremely rare, have the highest level of statutory protection, and are listed in the Wild Birds Directive 2009/147/EC. The Directive requires Member States to designate special protection areas (SPAs) for the conservation of hen harriers, with two in England. Adult hen harriers feed grouse chicks to their young during breeding season, which harms the grouse-shooting industry. Despite their protected status, hen harriers were being illegally killed and their nests destroyed.

Natural England proposed a brood management scheme which would seek to manage the conflict by removing hen harrier eggs and chicks from their parents in their nests, rearing them in captivity, and when they were fledged releasing them away from grouse moors. They wanted to hold a trial of the scheme to investigate the effect of brood management on the perceptions and behaviour of the moorland community, and to investigate whether it could rear hen harriers in captivity and then release them to become successful breeding adults in the English uplands.

The Claimants case was that the scheme was unlawful because of the unnecessary disturbance and harm it would cause to hen harriers in their habitat, and the existence of other less invasive ways to conserve and protect the species.

RSPB and Avery also claimed that Natural England had misapplied the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 by treating the purpose of the licence solely as research and not including the conservation of hen harriers, despite conservation being the ultimate purpose. RSPB submitted that Natural England had erred in deciding to run the trial in England, risking an already very small hen harrier population. Avery submitted that the trial was disproportionate, given the sparsity of the hen harrier population and its doubtful benefits compared to the risks posed.

The Judge concluded that Natural England's interpretation of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 was correct and that there was no evidence that they were trying to avoid the overall statutory purpose of conservation of an endangered species. Natural England had identified and assessed the aims and methods of the research, together with monitoring and evaluation, prior to the grant of the licence, and lawfully concluded that it was justified. The scheme of care for the hen harriers was adequately secured and it was clear that Natural England's purpose in licensing the scheme was to further the conservation of hen harriers through research, not to protect grouse chicks or the grouse-shooting industry. Therefore the trial was not inconsistent with the purpose of SPAs and was proportionate and rational.

The Claimants application was dismissed.

MPs react to Draft Environment Bill
Published: 01 May 2019

The Government is coming under increasing pressure over its Draft Environment (Governance and Principles) Bill after a select committee of MPs raised concerns that it downgrades environmental principles that currently guide European legislation and policy.

The Bill is designed to provide for the protection of our environment once the UK leaves the EU. Current environmental protection standards under EU law are strong, so the Bill was expected to be the flagship law from the UK Government setting out how those environmental standards will be maintained.

In a report compiled by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee - 'Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill' - MPs raise concerns that the current wording of the Draft Bill "turns what are currently legal provisions for environmental principles into a policy statement which will be much weaker and easier to revise". As a result, Ministers will only have a requirement to "have regard to" environmental principles, which weakens the importance of those principles.

Furthermore, the report argues that the environmental principles should not just apply to Ministers in law, but should apply to all public authorities.

Aside from the concerns surrounding the apparent reduced importance placed on environmental principles, the report also raises the following concerns:

  • the proposed new Office for Environmental Protection should be given additional budgetary protections in the Bill. Currently, the Committee is not convinced that the funding provisions proposed will be sufficient;
  • current proposals have not convinced the Committee that the Office for Environmental Protection would be independent of Government or accountable to Parliament, something the MPs believe is "essential";
  • the Draft Bill currently suggests that the Office for Environmental Protection will have the power to investigate suspected breaches of law following a complaint. However, the Committee wants the Bill re-drafted to allow the Office to proactively investigate breaches based on its own initiative;
  • the Committee believes the enforcement powers of the Office for Environmental Protection should be strengthened, as it is not convinced that current proposed powers regarding enforcement notices "have sufficient legal force to compel action".

There are also concerns coming from the Environmental Audit Committee about the failure of the Draft Bill to address climate change. It currently does not identify a Government agency as having the responsibility to enforce climate change targets and objectives. In fact, under the definition of "environmental law" given in the Bill, greenhouse gas emissions are specifically excluded, with the exception of fluorinated greenhouse gases. The Committee, therefore, proposes that the Office for Environmental Protection should have powers to address climate change, being careful not to interfere with the work of the Committee on Climate Change.

The chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh, said "If we want to be a world-leader in environmental protection, we need a world-leading body to protect it. The Government promised to create a new body for governance that would go beyond standards set by the European Union. The Bill, so far, falls woefully short of this vision.

"Far from creating a body which is independent, free to criticise the Government and hold it to account, this Bill would reduce action to meet environmental standards to a tick-box exercise, limit scrutiny, and pass the buck for environmental failings to local authorities.

"It’s shocking that enforcement to act on climate change has been deliberately left out of the remit of the OEP.

"The Draft Bill means that if we leave the EU we will have weaker environmental principles, less monitoring and weaker enforcement, and no threat of fines to force Government action."

It remains to be seen what the final contents of the Bill will hold, and whether the Government will respond to the growing criticism of the Bill from these Committees.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) urges the Government to change the date of its policy that bans the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans in 2040. They want to bring it forward a whole decade earlier.

The CCC argues that by mid-2020 the price of fully electric cars will match the price of petrol cars. Also the introduction of zero-emission zones in cities will result in a great increase in the percentage of all-electric car ownership in the UK. However the current speed of installing vehicle charging points is way too slow to cope with the near-future demand.

Critics have pointed out that once the proposed ban comes into force in 2040, there may still be plenty of petrol and diesel cars and vans around in 2050, which is the date the Government set to reduce all UK carbon net emissions to zero.

The CCC also believes that drivers can benefit from switching to all-electric when the price comes down, as it would cut the cost of running the vehicle as well as servicing, while drastically reducing the emissions from the everyday commute, improving the local air quality. Therefore, 2030 is seen to be a feasible date for the Government to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars.

Although the idea seems achievable, there is a viable problem of using limited natural resources for the production of car batteries which use scarce materials such as lithium and cobalt. Especially cobalt, most of which comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is mined under conditions that often violate human rights.

Sources at the Department for Transport (DfT) indicated that the Government might consider tweaking the switchover target if drivers were turning to electric cars more quickly. Also, DfT is in talks with the Treasury over a new plan to subsidise car charging points in people's homes.

All large UK companies are now required to report their carbon emissions and energy use as part of their annual reports under the new Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) framework.

It will apply to financial years starting on or after 1 April 2019.

The new framework aims to reduce administrative burden, streamline carbon and energy reporting, increase awareness of energy efficiency and reduce bills and carbon. Part of this framework includes the scrapping of the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme Order SI 2013/1119 which expired at the end of its existing phase on 31 March 2019. It is hoped that the SERC framework will enable businesses and industry to improve energy efficiency at least 20% by 2030.

The Companies (Directors’ Report) and Limited Liability Partnerships (Energy and Carbon Report) Regulations SI 2018/1155 came into force on 1 April 2019 for mandatory carbon reporting apply to all unquoted organisations that meet at least two of the following qualifying conditions:

  • employ at least 250 people;
  • have an annual turnover of £36 million or more;
  • have a balance sheet of £18 million or more.

Those companies quoted on the stock exchange have been required to report on their carbon performance since 2013.

Currently such large businesses are already required to manage their energy use under the Energy Savings and Opportunity Scheme Regulations SI 2014/1643 however there is no current requirement for public disclosure of ESOS reports.

There are exemptions to this new reporting requirement if it would not be practical to obtain some or all of the SECR information or if directors believe disclosing information would be seriously prejudicial to the interests of the company, but this would only apply in exceptional circumstances.

Organisations that use low levels of energy will not be required to disclose if they can demonstrate that they used 40,000kWh or less over the 12 month period.

Other requirements set out in the framework are:

  • electronic reporting will be voluntary for SECR information from 2019, although the Government intends to keep mandatory electronic reporting as an option for the longer term;
  • an Energy Performance Indicator must be included within the report. The company will decide their relevant intensity metric;
  • reporting must include information on energy efficiency action taken in the financial year.

The Government argues that mandatory reporting will drive behaviour change in business, by raising awareness internally of energy efficiency. Boosting transparency for investors will increase their ability to hold firms to account. They also claim that the new SECR framework and the abolishment of the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme Order SI 2013/1119 and increasing climate levy rates would provide a net societal benefit of up to £1.5 billion.

As well as announcing the new SECR framework the Government has launched a Call for evidence: Helping businesses to improve the way they use energy on additional policies or regulations that may be needed to meet its target of improving business energy efficiency by 20% by 2030.

For more information, see:

In accordance with the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations SI 2016/1154, the Environment Agency is consulting on plans to change the standard rules sets SR 2018 No 1 to 6 and SR 2018 No 8 to accommodate specified generators that may include new medium combustion plants (MCPs).

Plans are also proposed to amend standard rules sets:

  • SR 2018 No 7 for new MCPs - to expand the number of scenarios within the rules;
  • SR 2018 No 9 - to clarify when to submit emissions monitoring information.

What the Consultation is on

The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations SI 2016/1154 allow for the development of standard rules for certain activities, with such rules based on the understanding of the risks.

Views are sought on revising the standard rules sets for tranche B specified generators so that the rules also cover those that are classed as new MCPs. An amendment is also proposed to standard rule SR 2018 No.7 for new MCPs, which includes some clarification of requirements and amended buffer distances from conservation sites based on stack heights.

The Environment Agency aim to publish the new standard rules set in July 2019.

Who the Consultation applies to

This Consultation is of particular interest to:

  • operators, trade associations and businesses; and
  • other regulators, the public, community groups and non-governmental organisations with an interest in environmental issues.

How standard rules permits work

Standard permits contain one condition which refers to a fixed set of standard rules that an operator must comply with.

The standard rules define the activities that an operator can carry out and specify necessary restrictions on those activities, such as emission limits or the types of waste or raw materials that can be accepted at the sites.

Any operator who wishes to carry out a particular activity at a particular site(s) can look at the standard rules and if they can comply with them, can apply for a standard permit.

Standard permits can be issued much more quickly and cheaply, as there is no decisions to be made on site-specific permit conditions. If an operator cannot meet the requirements of the standard rules set, they must apply for a bespoke permit and provide additional information. Activities covered by a bespoke permit will generally have a higher potential impact on the environment, or will require more complex controls than operations for which standard rules can be used.

Responding to this Consultation

This Consultation opened on 29 April 2019, and responses must be submitted by 10 June 2019 using the Environment Agency's online form:

https://consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/environmental-permitting/standard-rules-consultation-no-19/

For further information, see:


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