Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Environmental regulations: what they mean for you

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Environmental regulations: what they mean for you

If you’re responsible for a business that conducts any activity that could have a negative impact on the environment or human health, such as waste disposal, factory emissions in the air or the management of radioactive waste, then you need to be up to date on environmental regulations.

A permit, licence or authorisation is a permission that a company needs in order to run their business in accordance with environmental best practice.

They exist to help businesses understand how they can and can’t manage operations that could have a potential impact on the environment.

Failure to comply with environmental regulations can be classed as a criminal offence, and you risk being fined or prosecuted. So, it’s important to follow the guidelines and report to the NIEA or SEPA any activity you are undertaking which falls in to this.

In 2018, the introduction of the Environmental Authorisations (Scotland) Regulations 2018 will change how businesses will apply for permission to carry out a particular activity and will change how SEPA processes applications. Here we explain the new approach and what it will mean for you.

In Northern Ireland work is underway to develop policy proposals in relation to a new environmental permitting regime. A policy consultation on the proposals is anticipated in the next year.

Environmental Authorisations (Scotland) Regulations 2018

The Environmental Authorisations (Scotland) Regulations 2018, now being introduced in a phased manner, provides a framework for businesses, helping them with the authorisation, procedural and enforcement arrangements relating to:

  • water
  • waste management
  • radioactive substances
  • pollution prevention and control

Under this new system, businesses will be able to apply for the authorisations that they need in one place meaning the application process is quicker and simpler.

There is now also a grading system that follows four different levels of authorisations, this new system makes it easier to identify what activities need an authorisation and how you can apply.

Currently, the above only applies to companies dealing with radioactive waste. However, eventually it will also apply to water, waste and pollution prevention and control (PPC).

How it works

There are four categories of authorisation that you could need, depending on the activity and the severity of the potential impact your business could have on the environment.

These are:

Level 1 – GBRs (General Binding Rules)

These are for low level activities which are unlikely to have a large impact on the environment or human health.

Business owners must ensure they have read the conditions. If they feel that they comply with the GBRs, then they just need to ensure that they follow the rules. SEPA does not need to be contacted for an authorisation.

If you need a GBR authorisation (level 1), then you do not need to apply, simply read the regulations (currently only applying to radioactive substances) and make sure you’re compliant.

Level 2 – Notifications

These are more low-mid level activities which are unlikely to have a very significant impact on the environment but are activities that SEPA needs to know are taking place.

Business owners must ensure that they have read the adequate conditions and must complete a notification form. With no approval required, you don’t need to wait to hear from SEPA to carry out your activities (provided you are definitely meeting the conditions).

If you need a notification authorisation (level 2), then all you need to do is fill out a notification form.

Level 3 – Registrations

Usually covered by ‘standard conditions’, you need to complete an application form and you need to make sure you have confirmed approval from SEPA before you carry out an activity.

If you need a registration authorisation (level 3), then you will need to fill out the registration form This authorisation will need to be granted by SEPA but is a simple process and as long as your application includes the correct information will be processed quickly.

Level 4 – Authorisations

These are for the highest risk activities, and usually bespoke terms and conditions will need to be agreed with SEPA per site. Because these are non-standard situations, you will need to wait for approval from SEPA and work with them in order to ensure that you have everything in place to comply with the authorisations.

If you need a permit authorisation (level 4), then you will need to fill out the authorisation form.

Read the terms and conditions for the different authorisation levels. If you have any doubt at all, we always recommend getting in touch with SEPA directly. They will be able to discuss your business operations with you at length and advise you on the correct level of authorisation you need to seek.

For more information of who can hold an authorisation, take a look at this guide from SEPA.

At present you must still apply for the correct permit, licence or authorisation using the appropriate form available on the SEPA website or in Northern Ireland from the DAERA website

Single permits will become available once all regulatory regimes are brought into the system.

If a business is found to be operating without the appropriate authorisations, then they are breaking the law and will likely be fined or even face prosecution. To avoid this, you must ensure that you are compliant, and you can always contact us to make sure you are acting in compliance with the law.

Find out more about permits, licenses and exemptions.

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