UK convicted on drinking water, faces trouble on EIA

The deterioration in the UK's legal record continued on 16 January when the European Court of Justice found it guilty of missing the deadline for implementing the 1998 EU Directive on drinking water quality.

The deadline for transposing the Directive into national law was 25 December 2000. It was met only in England, with Scotland following in June 2001.

A "reasoned opinion" was issued by the European Commission in July 2001, giving the UK two months to come into line. However, it was not until January 2002 that the Directive was implemented in Wales, with transposition in Northern Ireland coming last November.

Last year, the UK was convicted by the ECJ of failing to implement the waste planning provisions of three Directives - on waste, hazardous waste and packaging (ENDS Report 324, p 43 ) - and of missing the transposition deadline for the 1996 Directive on integrated pollution prevention and control in Northern Ireland (ENDS Report 326, p 58 ).

Several further cases are pending. Some concern alleged breaches of waste Directives.

On 24 January, the Commission announced that it was referring the UK to the ECJ for failing to carry out an environmental impact assessment of a cinema and leisure complex in south London, even though it apparently exceeded the threshold for assessment.

The case will also test whether the UK practice of allowing matters to be "reserved" when an initial planning permission is granted effectively excludes them from assessment, potentially in breach of the 1997 Directive on EIA.

The Commission also announced that it was sending the UK a reasoned opinion over its system of issuing "certificates of lawful development" to established land uses such as scrap yards which could be covered by the EIA Directive.

The UK is already preparing to defend an action in the ECJ concerning its alleged non-compliance with the EIA Directive in respect of water management and agricultural intensification projects, and received two reasoned opinions last year over the non-application of EIA procedures to a waste burning project at a cement plant and a shopping and leisure complex in London (ENDS Report 330, p 56 ).

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