GREEN VIEW: Council Environment Manager Peter Gudde says firms should keep on top of the rules and regulations

Peter Gudde, Environment Manager for St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath councils
Peter Gudde, Environment Manager for St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath councils
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Just as policeman seem to get younger, you know you are getting long in the tooth as an environmental regulator when you see legislation come and go.

It probably takes five to 10 years for a piece of law to go from concept to statute book , and then another 10 before it needs an overhaul.

I guess that for small businesses, environmental ‘red tape’ ranks with VAT and National Insurance as a pet hate. Pollution laws probably don’t attract much interest until you unfortunately break them. Historically, fines have been arbitrary and, in the view of some regulators, not a true reflection of the damage caused.

While the level of fines has increased, what has been lacking, particularly in the magistrates’ court, is a consistent approach to setting fines. This is about to change with new sentencing guidance for magistrates for certain environmental laws in England. Once adopted, not only will the cost of the damage affect the size of the fine, so will culpability. The fines will then reflect the scale of the offence and the responsibility of the perpetrator.

Even for a regulator like me, keeping abreast of changes to pollution law is demanding. I would hesitate to presume how frustrating it must be for someone who does not have the time or familiarity with the legal or technical jargon used by the environmental law or practitioner. But, ignorance of the law is no defence. So, keeping up-to-date with the relevant bits of law affecting your business is extremely important.

The Government is trying weed out the irrelevant, redundant or just plain barmy rules that have built up over the years. Even so, where’s best to go for an authoritative but simple guide to environmental legislation?

A good starting point is a website called Netregs, published by the Environment Agency specifically for business. The advice is reliable, up-to-date and written in as plain language as possible for what is a rather dull subject. You can search for information by your business sector or choose a topic. If you need to, or have an unhealthy desire for the legal ‘wherefore and there unto’, you can follow links to the statute or supporting legal guidance.

Keeping up-to-date on the rules and regs may take you a little bit of time but hopefully online information bureaus like Netregs could save your business from an unwanted visit from the pollution police.

For more information, visit www.netregs.org.uk