The message from the Environment Agency could not be clearer. Those who flout the law and put people and the environment at risk will be punished. The stark reality and message - ignore at your peril.
The determination to act and clampdown on offenders has been seen in several high-profile court cases highlighted by leading UK planning and environment expert VG Consulting.
VG Consulting’s research highlights how large fines and jail sentences have recently been handed down to company directors for environmental offences in cases brought by the Environment Agency in all parts of England.
Those cases, and planned changes in Scotland that will lead to stricter enforcement, also show that protecting the environment continues to remain high on the agenda across the UK.
In one case a 45-year-old woman was sentenced to six months in jail by a judge at Hull Crown Court after storing waste illegally in Scunthorpe, putting the community and environment at risk. She was also disqualified from being a director for seven years.
A West Yorkshire company was also fined £125,000 at Leeds Crown Court for causing odour pollution at its operations in the city and in Bradford.
Furthermore, across the Pennines, a Greater Manchester businessman was sentenced to 15 months behind bars and banned from being a company director for six years.
Manchester Crown Court was told in this case, his management of waste sites caused a motorway to close and river pollution, as well as blighting local communities. His offences included failing to provide and implement an adequate environmental management system at one of the sites the business operated.
These cases, along with a 50-year-old operator of a waste site in Sittingbourne, who was imprisoned for eight months for the illegal disposal, sorting and treatment of construction demolition waste, highlight that prosecution is a reality and not isolated.
Speaking after the Scunthorpe hearing an Environment Agency officer involved in that investigation said: “This prosecution demonstrates that we take cases such as this very seriously and will not hesitate to prosecute if necessary, to protect the environment and local communities.”
In passing sentence, the judge said there had been a deliberate flouting of environmental regulations by the defendant.
As highlighted recently by VG Consulting within Outlook Magazine - proposed changes to the environmental permitting system being considered in Scotland will aim to ‘transform’ the current environmental permitting system and create a more standardised, streamlined and transparent process for complying with environmental legislation.
Rather than focusing on routine activities, Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) will specifically target environmental activities with the potential to cause harm to the environment, saving time, money, and protecting communities and the environment.
If adopted, this new system will lead to stricter enforcement and make SEPA more effective in holding businesses and their projects accountable, with punitive rights to fine offenders up to £40,000.
Amid this legal landscape, the importance to businesses of strong environmental awareness and management cannot be underestimated. Getting it wrong can be costly for businesses and individuals.
Environmental awareness can also make the difference between a development project getting planning permission or being turned down. Expert advice can be crucial.
Bethan Lewis, VG Consulting Senior Environmental Planning Consultant commented, “Robust environmental updates from governing bodies and an obvious stronger legal stance has many asking the question ‘Is my business environmentally legislative and protected?’
“Managing processes and environmental reporting has new demands today, some of which, not fully adhered to, bring at the least, challenges for businesses and at times, as we are currently seeing, punishment.”
Bethan Lewis suggests there are solutions for businesses and some may even reap benefit from new legislation by commenting further, “The changes are of course about environmental protection, although for smarter thinking businesses taking the right approach, these changes, managed well, can offer competitive advantage.
“We work with clients as an advisory partner, managing processes and documents and giving them confidence and facts when questions are asked. All in all, this means they are a safer choice for end users.”
Environmental confidence comes through experience
By providing a wide range of environmental services VG Consulting ensures projects have a minimal effect on the environment and equally importantly comply with legislation, delivering project confidence, long term strategy and cost effective solutions.
From design through to post construction, or day to day environmental management, VG Consulting and its processes provide clients with the critical data they need to comply with legislation and have confidence throughout all their environmental activity.