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New EU legislation risks councils facing huge fines

Wednesday December 12th, 2012

Government Opportunities (GO)New European environmental regulation risks bankrupting councils if it is not implemented properly now that the UK government can more easily pass on its fines, councillors have warned.

The caution follows the publication of the draft EU 7th Environmental Action Programme (EAP) – a plan for future Europe-wide regulation covering everything from high street air pollution and seaside bathing water cleanliness, to landfill tax and flood defence management. Once ratified, it will be the framework to which all councils must abide before it will be reviewed again in 2020.

Failure to comply with any EU legislation and meet associated targets has always carried the risk of multi-million pound fines being levied on to a member state government. Through the Localism Act passed this year, the UK government put in place arrangements which allow it to more easily pass on any fines it receives to local councils. The Local Government Association (LGA) will be supporting councils in their efforts to meet EU targets, but getting new regulations and their implementation right is now more crucial than ever.

Before the EU adopts new laws, it will receive formal advice from the Committee of the Regions (CoR), a body which represents councils from the EU’s 27 member states, designed to ensure the regulations are realistic and do not impose undue burdens for regional and local authorities.

In the run up to the draft 7th EAP, Councillor Nilgun Canver, London Borough of Haringey and member of the LGA, drafted the CoR’s consultation response on better implementation of the environment law, liaising with councillors from across Europe to ensure their concerns were reflected and communicated to the EU. She then presented her ‘Opinion’ as official Rapporteur to the CoR in Brussels, where it was unanimously approved.

Target areas set out in the draft 7th EAP include:

Reducing CO2 levels in towns and cities

Reduction in waste, increased recycling and eliminating landfill

Improving water quality in rivers and beaches

Reducing soil erosion

Protecting wildlife and local ecosystems

New funding schemes to help local councils become more sustainable.

Councillor Canver said: “What sounds good on paper in Brussels must be workable on the ground in our communities and it’s crucial the voice of councils is heard. It is in everyone’s interest that EU rules and deadlines – agreed between MEPs and national ministers – are realistic and achievable, with an absolute understanding of how these will be implemented locally.

“The risk of millions of pounds of EU fines being imposed on the UK for not achieving European commitments has always been there, but the potential for the government to now pass fines on to councils is new. Government needs to take a forensic look at the impact these new proposals have on councils, and whether or not these are workable.”

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