The EU Member States have been split in a debate over whether the exemption that allows the use of mercury in fluorescent lighting products should continue. 

Mercury is classified as a toxic material due to its potential to cause damage to both human health and the environment. Whilst the EU banned mercury from being used in much equipment including batteries and electrical equipment, there has been an exemption to its ban to allow its use.

Since 2011 an exemption to Directive 2011/65/EU, on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment (RoHS), granted the lighting industry permission to use mercury in fluorescent lighting products.

Germany, the Netherlands, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic have requested the European Commission continue the exemption for the lighting industry. However, concerns have been raised by member states including Sweden, Finland and Bulgaria over the impact of continued mercury use on the environment. They claim that the argument back in 2011 that supported the exemption is no longer applicable. There was a successful argument that the use of mercury in lighting should be allowed as there was no readily available alternative, as mercury-free LEDs produced significantly poorer lighting levels. However, there have been advances in technology since then so it is argued the exemption is no longer suitable.

A letter from the Swedish government stated: ''Sweden’s main concern is that there are no legal grounds for renewing an exemption for the use in questions. Today there are economically viable substitutes available for most of the mercury-containing light sources.''

They also argued that the exemption would breach the EU's legal obligations under the Minamata Convention. The EU signed the Minamata Convention on Mercury in 2017, this international treaty seeks its signatories to reduce their use of mercury and mercury compounds in order to protect human health and the environment.

The decision the Commission has to make on the exemption will be closely followed, as this is seen as a test of the EU's commitment to its European Green Deal, which was hailed as a 'man on the moon moment' for Europe by Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president.

Natural England have produced a new application form for a wild birds licence to kill, take or disturb to prevent disease or agricultural damage, for conservation or public health and safety.

This form can be used to control wild birds, including the great black-backed gull, lesser black-backed gull and herring gull, under the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) general licences for specific birds (such as the ones for Canada geese, carrion crows or woodpigeons) do not cover those species due to their poor conservation status.

To control great black-backed gulls, lesser black-backed gulls and herring gulls, a person needs to complete an A08 form and an Integrated Management Plan template A47a and send them to Natural England, where they will determine whether to grant the licence or not, within 30 working days. 

The licence form requires a detailed description of the bird, site, issue with the bird(s) in question, as well as appropriate justification for applying for a licence and a method that will be used. Following Natural England's review of the application, they can grant a licence to:

  • disturb them;
  • kill them;
  • take them; or
  • use a prohibited method to control them.

The applications should be made before 15 March 2020 where possible.

Before submitting the form, the applicant should make sure the bird and/or circumstances in question are not covered by a general licence for birds.

For more information on this subject, see:

Manual handling guidance updated
Published: 06 Feb 2020

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance document INDG143: Manual handling at work: A brief guide has been updated.

The document is aimed at employers and explains the problems associated with manual handling, with guidance on how to deal with them.

It has been updated to Revision 4, and brings the risk assessment process in line with L23 - Manual handling, in order to help identify low-risk tasks.

As a result, it includes:

  • more information on the simple risk filters for lifting, lowering and carrying operations;
  • simplified advice on pushing and pulling;
  • a simple filter for manual handling when seated.

Planning report suggests new minister
Published: 04 Feb 2020

A new report by the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission (BBBBC) has suggested various changes to promote and increase the use of high-quality design for new build homes and neighbourhoods, including the possibility of a new minister.

The report, Living with Beauty, outlined eight priorities for reform including planning, neighbourhoods, regeneration, communities, management, education, stewardship and nature.

The BBBBC emphasised that "beautiful placemaking should be a legally enshrined aim of the planning system. Great weight should be placed on securing these qualities in the urban and natural environments".

This would include making "beautiful placemaking" a part of sustainable development in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and associated guidance as well as being encouraged via ministerial statement.

The report has also encouraged that communities become more involved with the planning process. Currently the focus is on consultation in the planning process, which the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission believe should be moved to a process of co-design.

Suggestions in the report have been welcomed by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) with Victoria Hills, chief executive of the RTPI, stating:

"I warmly welcome the BBBBC's proposal that every local council should have a chief place-maker at the top table. The RTPI has been campaigning for the past two years for the role of chief planning officer to be rightfully restored at a senior level on local, regional and national Government. This would help to overcome silo-working and provide better co-ordination."

Members of the RTPI are also likely to support these new ideas after a survey of members in 2019 revealed at least half of professional planners said they had limited influence on housing design, while a massive majority of 87% said they wanted more of a say.

For more information, see:

The Government are set to provide £500 million worth of funding to North East rail services.

The improvements will include bringing new trains to the current Tyne and Wear Metro line, in order to provide better seating and more information to passengers with a £337 million investment.

The Department of Transport will also give 1.5 million to Northumberland County Council's project to reopen the Ashington-Blyth-Tyne line. The line was closed in 1963 due to a series of cuts by British Rail chief Dr Richard Beeching, known as the Beeching cuts. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said with the new funding available they hope to reverse many of the cuts made during that period.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:

"Many communities still live with the scars that came from the closure of their local railway more than five decades ago. Today sees work begin to undo the damage of the Beeching cuts by restoring local railways and stations to their former glory. Investing in transport links is essential to levelling up access to opportunities across the country, ensuring our regions are better connected, local economies flourish and more than half a century of isolation is undone."

Middlesbrough Station will also receive £250,000 in funding from the Government, which is hoped to match money available from the Tees Valley Combined Authority who are hoping to help the station accommodate more frequent and larger trains.

Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris said:

"We are committed to reinvigorating rail connections across the North East, improving access to jobs, leisure and education across the region. Levelling up the North is a priority for this Government. This investment – to reconnect isolated communities, improve stations and deliver new trains – shows that we are putting our money where our mouth is."

Two previous rounds of funding have already been provided by the Government, which have helped to build 10 new stations in England and Wales.

Manufacturer Rolls-Royce has said it plans to install and operate factory-built power stations, which could be generating power in the UK by 2029.

Mini nuclear stations can be mass manufactured and delivered in chunks which makes costs more predictable. Nevertheless critics say the UK should quit nuclear power altogether and should concentrate on cheaper renewable energy instead.

Environmentalists are divided over nuclear power, with some stating it is dangerous and expensive, and others say that to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, all technologies are needed.

However, the industry is confident the mini reactors can compete on price with low-cost renewables such as offshore wind. Rolls-Royce is leading a group to build small modular reactors (SMRs) and install them in former nuclear sites in Cumbria or Wales, with 10 to 15 stations in total in the UK. They are about 1.5 acres in size, sitting in a 10-acre space, a 16th of the size of a major power station such as Hinkley Point. SMRs are so small that technically every town could have its own reactor, but using existing sites avoids the problem of how to secure them against terrorist attacks.

It is a rare positive from the nuclear industry, which has struggled as the cost of renewables has plummeted. In the past few years, major nuclear projects have been abandoned as companies Toshiba and Hitachi pulled out due to lack of funding. Also the construction of Hinkley Point could cost £3 billion more than was expected.

Paul Stein, the chief technology officer at Rolls-Royce, said "the trick is to have prefabricated parts where we use advanced digital welding methods and robotic assembly and then parts are shipped to site and bolted together".

He believes the approach would dramatically reduce the cost of building nuclear power sites, which would lead to cheaper electricity.

However Paul Dorfman, from University College London, commented "the potential cost benefits of assembly line module construction relative to custom-build on-site construction may prove overstated".

He warned that production line mistakes can lead to generic defects that spread throughout an entire fleet of reactors, and are costly to fix. It is "far more economic to build one 1.2 GW unit than a dozen 100 MW units".

Rolls-Royce is hoping to overcome the cost barrier by selling SMRs abroad to achieve economies of scale.

Critics have warned that SMRs will not be ready in substantial numbers until the mid 2030s, by which time electricity needs to be carbon-free in the UK already, to meet climate change targets.

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