Thursday, 28 June 2007

European Control over British Soil

The EU has become increasingly concerned with soil degradation across the Member States. Recognising the importance of protecting soil, the European Commission adopted a Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection in September 2006. The Commission has suggested that in addition to action taken at local and national level, it is also necessary for action to be forced through at a European level. According to the Commission, large differences at national levels can have economic consequences which distort the functioning of the internal market. It has, therefore, proposed a Draft directive in “establishing a framework for the protection of soil and amending Directive 2004/35/EC.”

The Minister for Sustainable Farming and Food at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Lord Rooker, explained to the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee (ESC) that the Commission’s proposal does not respect the principle of subsidiarity for soil contamination and sealing, “where a more prescriptive approach is adopted.” The ESC considered, more recently, the government’s Regulatory Impact Assessment which reiterated the Committee’s concerns on the proposed directive and whether there is a need for Community legislation in this area. Therefore, according to the government, simply implementing the broad objectives sketched in the Thematic Strategy would have a generally neutral effect – however, the Directive’s implementation may well increase costs between £1.5 and 3.7 billion, whilst providing only minimal benefits. The Committee also suggested that these figures might be considerably reduced if the prescriptive provisions concerning the areas of soil sealing and contamination were removed.

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