My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Young, with whom I share the honour of serving on the Environment and Climate Change Committee, under the excellent chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, whose amendment I wish to address. However, before I do, I say that I do not think that anybody in this Chamber wants to tear up necessary environmental protections that maintain the standard and beauty of our environment. Certainly I do not, and I do not think that the Government have any such intention.
However, some of us want to change those regulations in a way which would improve them and make them less onerous and less burdensome. I fear that the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, would prevent that, because it says in proposed new subsection (2):
“No provision to which this section applies may be made … unless … the provision … will contribute to a significant improvement in environmental protection.”
Therefore, no change may be made unless there is some improvement—even to a regulation which could be made less onerous but where there is no scope for improving the standard of environmental protection or where any additional environmental protection would be unnecessary and not cost effective. This could freeze the whole thing.
If the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, interprets her amendment in a way that she did not in her speech, that improvement can be making a law less onerous, then that would be an excellent and wonderful thing, because there is considerable scope for making environmental protection less onerous than it is now. Current rules can be cripplingly expensive, mind-bogglingly complex and hugely time-consuming. Moreover, those failings can prevent environmentally desirable developments.
My eyes were opened and the scales fell from them when I read an article by Sam Dumitriu—you only have to Google it and you will find it. He points out that the proposed Norfolk Boreas offshore wind farm, which is necessary and desirable for environmental reasons, as I am sure all noble Lords would agree, to reduce our emissions, needed to produce 1,961 documents just to get approval, with a total of 13,275 pages. That is more words than the entire works of Tolstoy and all seven volumes of In Search of Lost Time. That probably could be streamlined and made easier without undermining the protection of the bit of sea where that windfarm is proposed to be.
Let us take Sizewell C nuclear plant. Some people object to nuclear plants, but those who want to reduce carbon emissions think that they are a very necessary part of our energy mix. It will be built alongside an existing nuclear plant, so you would think that most of the environmental obstacles had been overcome. It is desirable to reduce CO2, but it had to produce environmental applications running to 44,260 pages, most of which referred not to land but to any impact that it might have on the sea and maritime areas nearby.
It is difficult to put a cost on, because the people who have had to go through these processes are in the private sector, but a freedom of information request by New Civil Engineer magazine revealed that the highways agency, when applying to build a 23-kilometre road, had to produce 30,000 pages of environmental application, costing £267 million. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, does not want any extra roads, and I respect that, but I think that she would agree that if you are not going to build the road, then just stop it, save £267 million and spend it on something worth while rather than on a process of applying for environmental protection which is just mind-bogglingly expensive.
For each of those cases, I do not know how much regulation was imposed on us by the EU and how much by our own volition. From listening to noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have spoken in these debates, almost all assume that all environmental protection of a worthwhile and onerous kind comes from the EU. I would be grateful if the Minister, not necessarily in the reply to this debate but subsequently, can tell us to what extent EU law is feeding into these hugely onerous, costly and time-consuming things that prevent us doing what is necessary for the environment and would help us to meet net zero.
Of course, this is not only our problem. President Macron recently complained that it has taken 10 years for France to get first approvals for an offshore wind farm. In the future, he wants environmental projects to be approved twice as rapidly as non-environmental projects. Maybe that is something that we should seek. It must be possible.
I decided to become a scientist as a child because we had just approved Calder Hall—the first atomic power station producing civil nuclear power in the world. It was produced a few years after the war when the first atomic weapon was produced. They went through the whole process of inventing the technology, getting approval, and getting up and running in those few years. Nowadays, you would not even get through the approval process for the environmental regulations in that time. That cannot be right. There must be scope to streamline these processes in a way that does not undermine environmental protection, or mean that we will lose biodiversity or that our beautiful landscape will be desecrated. I hope that we focus on that aspect of changes to environmental law as the principal fruit of the REUL Bill.