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EU Water Regs Bad For Scotland 2007-03-26

Posted by clype in Articles of Interest, Europe, Money, Scotland.

Two big reports into the turning of EU directives into Scots and UK law have been published in recent months.

Mr. Jim. Wallace’s report for the European and external relations committee of The Scottish Parliament took four examples of European directives and examined how they had been implemented in Scotland.

Similarly Lord Davidson’s Cabinet Office review examined how EU legislation was implemented in the UK generally.

Both reports found that so-called ‘gold plating’ — embellishing or overinterpreting externally imposed laws — is not as widespread as many in Scottish business claim. What then is behind the perception of over-regulation?

Rural businesses will tell you that they have most to do with how EU legislation is enforced and policed. They will also tell you that where gold-plating does occur, the effects can be devastating for these businesses. They are angry at the lack of ‘rural proofing’ of most legislation, claiming that the cost impact in the countryside is disproportionately higher than in more accessible urban areas.

One notorious example of this is in the implementation of the 1998 EU Drinking Water Directive by way of the Private Water Supplies (Scotland) Regulations 2006, which came into force in July last year. These regulations primarily affect rural and remote areas of Scotland where connection to the public water supply is not possible, and where reliance on private supplies is common.

The intention of the EU directive is laudable enough: to minimise risk to public health through consumption of water, whether from the public or private supplies. No-one disputes that protection of public health should be a priority.

However, the Scottish Executive in implementing the directive for private supplies took a ‘belt and braces’ approach. In addition to the requirements of the EU directive, it used powers granted under domestic legislation as well as guidelines from external sources, to ensure that the regulation of private water supplies in Scotland was as robust as possible.

The result? An onerous system of mandatory risk assessment and testing for supplies that reach a certain volume threshold or supply commercial buildings.

Strong lobbying from the rural sector has led the Scottish Executive to accept that residential let dwellings should not normally be considered as ‘commercial’. However, in its guidance to local authorities it insists that self-catering holiday lets should be deemed ‘commercial’.

The EU directive did not define what ‘commercial purpose’ should mean, leaving the Executive a degree of discretion. Typically, it has chosen not to exercise it for the benefit of business.

The directive also allowed leeway in the frequency of testing of smaller supplies. The Executive, however, opted for annual testing with its associated annual cost. It imposed maximum charges permissible by local authorities — and most local authorities are indeed charging water suppliers the maximum amount. The result is an expensive regime of annual testing (costing up to 750 GBP/year per supply), which will have a ruinous effect on the viability of some small holiday letting businesses.

Far better to have deemed supplies to all residential properties including holiday lets as domestic rather than commercial.

Any risk to public health for holiday lets, in particular, could have been managed effectively and cheaply by advisory notices on the status of the water — common practice throughout the world.

Instead, in Scotland we now have requirements for expensive testing and upgrading of supplies even, absurdly, for supplies that include a single holiday let. Some grant assistance is available for upgrade works but the real burden is in the annual testing charges for which no help is available.

The EU directive imposes duties on member states, not on individuals. As such it would have been reasonable for the public purse to bear the cost of the initial assessment of the status of Scottish water supplies against the EU directive’s standard, and for the costs of any subsequent testing regime to be proportionate to the supplier’s circumstances.

The Executive’s approach to this directive is an example of the heavy financial burden imposed on small rural businesses as a result of the way EU legislation is implemented and enforced in Scotland.

While the policy objective may be correct, the Executive’s approach to achieving this objective is disproportionate and without proper regard for the damage caused.

The new Executive urgently needs to review the implementation and enforcement of EU law in Scotland and to change it where necessary. The Private Water Supplies (Scotland) Regulations 2006 would be a good place to start.

CLIPPED FROM: ‘EU rules implemenation bleeds Scots businesses dry‘, JACKIE MCCREERY, The Scotsman, 2007-03-26

Jackie McCreery WS is director of policy and parliamentary affairs at the Scottish Rural Property & Business Association.



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