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More key figures from the construction industry are adding their voice to the campaign for the UK to remain in the EU. As reported in The Guardian, David Thomas the Chief Executive of Barratt Developments, the UK’s largest homebuilder, has stated that the UK leaving the EU would hit housebuilding workforces hard, in turn exacerbating the housing crisis.

A recent survey by Building magazine indicates that David is not alone in his views. Results show two-thirds of the construction sector back continued EU membership, with over half of those surveyed believing that Brexit would reduce foreign investment and drive up both labour and material costs.

Housebuilding could suffer from skills shortages if the UK leaves the EU

Housebuilding could suffer from skills shortages if the UK leaves the EU

Housebuilding skills shortages

One of the key predicted impacts of Brexit for the construction sector is an increase in the current skills shortage. As David states, the main challenge for housebuilders is labour availability. In terms of Barratt, 30-40% of their London workforce originate from mainland Europe. Similarly, Mott Macdonald the UK’s largest independent engineering firm predicts they would face a significant skills shortage if the UK opts out of the EU and property developer Berkeley employs half of its subcontractors from eastern Europe. If the free movement of labour were curtailed following Brexit, the resulting skills shortage would affect the housebuilding industry’s ability to build new homes.

Nationwide, official figures show that almost 12% of the UK’s 2.1 million construction workers are from other countries, with the majority from the EU. The true figure is believed by experts to be even higher. By far the most common country of origin for foreign UK construction workers is Poland, followed by Romania.

An open letter backing the vote for the UK to remain in the EU has been signed by The Shard contractor Mace, property firm Jones Lang LaSalle, and Mott MacDonald.

The skills shortage is one of the main reasons for housebuilding having high numbers of overseas workers and this is partly due to the financial crisis and subsequent recession, which caused a slump in construction projects. Migrant workers have typically been seen as a short-term fix. For instance, research by design and consultancy firm Arcadis found that 53,000 extra bricklayers were needed to build the target of 200,000 new homes a year.

Our view

Baker Consultants’ managing director Andrew Baker points out that a skills shortage resulting from the UK leaving the EU will not be confined to the construction industry:

Andrew Baker, Managing Director of Baker Consultants, agrees that the UK should remain in the EU

Andrew Baker, Managing Director of Baker Consultants, agrees that the UK should remain in the EU

“I believe Brexit would have a disproportionate impact upon the ecology profession, not only because of the likely economic turmoil that would follow, but also the impact it would have on the regulatory framework. For instance, much of the law that protects UK wildlife originates in European directives. Brexit would throw our environmental legislation into disarray.

“It would also have specific consequences for us at Baker Consultants, as our in-house team is truly international and we have some of the best scientists from across Europe working for us. Exiting the EU would be a major constraint to our ability to recruit key talent and would damage our ability to compete internationally.”

Read more on why Baker Consultants believes the UK should remain in the EU in our article for Scottish Energy News.

Read the full Guardian article here.

As recently reported by BBC News and BBC Radio 4, Natural England’s consultation on proposed changes to how it implements protected species legislation (especially for great crested newts) ends this week. Great crested newts are a protected species under EU and domestic law due to their overall European conservation status. Under the legislation, great crested newts receive the highest level of protection.

Natural England's consultation concerns great crested newts, like this one pictured. Image by Senior Ecologist, Matt Cook

Natural England’s consultation concerns great crested newts, like this one pictured. Image by Senior Ecologist, Matt Cook

However, many in the industry (including developers, consultants, ecologists and voluntary organisations) have long expressed the view that the current administration of the legislation is not only overly strict and costly to implement, but also does little for the protection of the species. The fundamental problem was the principle of protecting each and every newt, rather than looking to maintain the species at a population level, which is what is actually required by the law.

The consultation

Our Managing Director, Andrew Baker, is an expert in nature conservation law and has been working with the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) to assist Natural England in the run up to this consultation.

The new proposals by Natural England aim to make the current licensing system more flexible and strategic while ensuring that populations of newts are protected.

“This isn’t a change in the law, but rather a change in the way that the law is implemented by Natural England. For some time, I have felt that the legislation hasn’t been interpreted properly: it doesn’t make ecological sense to protect every single newt while ignoring the health of the overall population. This proposed change in how Natural England is implementing the law is very much welcomed and I feel that it much more closely reflects the letter of the law and will also have greater conservation benefit”, says Andrew.

More about great crested newts

The great crested newt (Triturus cristatus) is the largest of Britain’s three indigenous newt species. They are black in colour with an orange and black spotted belly. The main threats to the survival of the great crested newt are habitat destruction and fragmentation as a result of anthropogenic development. Emerging infectious diseases such as chytridiomycosis, caused by a pathogenic fungus, also pose a significant threat to this species.

Great crested newt by Matt Cook

Great crested newt by Matt Cook, Senior Ecologist

Great crested newts and their breeding sites are protected by the EU Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).

Great crested newts can be surveyed between March and June using standard methods and between 15th April and 30th June using eDNA sampling. Surveys include torchlight surveys, netting, terrestrial search, egg search (on suitable vegetation) and bottle trapping.

Read more about great crested newt surveys here.

In response to the upcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) surveyed its members on their views on what Brexit would mean for the UK’s natural environment.

Baker Consultants has made clear why we are concerned about Brexit, publishing several pieces on our views on why the EU is important for nature legislation and the negative implications of Brexit for the ecology and construction sectors and the environment. (See our pieces titled: ‘Brexit could worsen the construction sector’s skills shortage‘; ‘UK’s potential exit from the EU threatens economic and regulatory uncertainty‘; British exit from EU would be bad for UK renewable energy business‘; and ‘The EU is good for business and the environment‘).

Snapshot of our Scottish Energy News piece

Snapshot of our Scottish Energy News piece

CIEEM’s survey

Given this, we welcomed CIEEM’s survey and our Managing Director, Andrew Baker, and other colleagues made up several of the 841 respondents.

Today, CIEEM has publicised the results of the survey, showing that an overwhelming majority of ecology professionals (nearly 87% of respondents) are concerned about Brexit having a detrimental impact on the ecology and environmental management sector as a profession. Only 1% said Brexit would be beneficial.

CIEEM members are concerned about Brexit and its potentially negative impact on our efforts to safeguard our environmental quality and its effects on our health, well-being and prosperity.  Other concerns include less effective and integrated action on climate change, invasive species and plant and animal diseases, as well as negative impacts on protected areas and environmental schemes on farmland.

Cover image from CIEEM's EU referendum survey

Cover image from CIEEM’s EU referendum survey

Here we pull out some of the key statistics from CIEEM’s survey:

  • 67% indicated that Brexit would have a negative impact on their company or organisation
  • Over 93% believed that EU environmental legislation has been beneficial to the UK’s natural environment
  • If the UK were to leave the EU, respondents felt that there would be significant negative impacts on:
    • Protection of certain wildlife species (90%)
    • Protection of the natural environment for its environmental benefits (89%)
    • Benefits to migratory species (e.g. birds and cetaceans) (87%)
    • Improved water quality and the recovery of freshwater fish populations (77%)
    • Reduction of nitrates in the environment (74%)
    • Recovery of marine fisheries (74%)
    • Improvements in air quality (70%)
  • 85% do not believe current UK environmental policies would have been delivered to the standard that they are now if we had remained outside the EU
  • 93% say EU environmental directives have had positive additional benefits on UK habitats and species
  • 73% believed that UK nature conservation policy and legislation delivery is dependent, at least to some degree, on EU funding mechanisms
  • Nearly 84% of respondents thought that the UK had achieved more for nature conservation as an EU member than it would have done if it had relied only on international nature conservation agreements.

Furthermore, the timing of the UK’s proposed exit from the EU could have implications for large infrastructure projects such as HS2.

As CIEEM President, Dr Stephanie Wray, says: A change in regulatory regime, or worse, a policy vacuum, would be disastrous at a time of high construction output, both for the environment, and for the contractors attempting to deliver major projects without a clear legislative framework.”

In summary, CIEEM CEO, Sally Hayns said:

It is clear that leaving the EU would have far-reaching effects for those employed in ecology and management of the natural environment. Not only would there be an impact on jobs and livelihoods, with over 50% of our members expressing concern about their own job security, but the industry would be severely damaged. The skills that are playing such a significant role in delivering improvements in environmental quality could be lost, and there would be significant repercussions for the UK’s natural environment.”

Read the full results here.

Prime minister David Cameron recently announced that a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU is to be held on 23rd June 2016. Many industries are now sharing their views on what it would mean for their industry if the UK were to leave the EU – termed ‘Brexit’.

As reported by UK Construction Week, housebuilders have warned that if the UK does leave the EU it could lead to a shortage of skilled construction labour, constrain investment in new house building and consequently further worsen the UK’s housing shortage.

Construction begins on a new residential development. The construction industry could be negatively affected by Brexit

Construction begins on a new residential development. The construction industry could be negatively affected by Brexit

This would be especially problematic as the construction industry is already suffering from a shortage of skilled workers. According to the Home Builders Federation, the industry is already reliant on overseas labour and would need additional overseas labour in order to close the current housing shortfall.

Baker Consultants’ managing director Andrew Baker points out that a skills shortage resulting from the UK leaving the EU will not be confined to the construction industry:

“I believe Brexit would have a disproportionate impact upon the ecology profession, not only because of the likely economic turmoil that would follow, but also the impact it would have on the regulatory framework. For instance, much of the law that protects UK wildlife originates in European directives. Brexit would throw our environmental legislation into disarray.

“It would also have specific consequences for us at Baker Consultants, as our in-house team is truly international and we have some of the best scientists from across Europe working for us. Exiting the EU would be a major constraint to our ability to recruit key talent and would damage our ability to compete internationally.”

Read more on why Baker Consultants believes the UK should remain in the EU in our article for Scottish Energy News.

Following the announcement of our latest marine contract win to provide underwater noise and marine mammal activity monitoring during construction of Wikinger offshore wind farm, our Managing Director Andrew Baker has discussed his views on the importance of the UK remaining in the EU. This has been published by Scottish Energy News and is reproduced below.

Snapshot of Scottish Energy News piece, reproduced below

Snapshot of Scottish Energy News piece, reproduced below

Scottish Energy News article

Ecological consultancy Baker Consultants recently announced the award of its latest significant European contract for Iberdrola on the Wikinger offshore wind farm. 

Here Managing Director Andrew Baker – one of the UK’s experts in nature conservation law – discusses the UK membership of the EU and the possible threat that the UK leaving the EU might bring for the renewable energy sector.

By ANDREW BAKER

I strongly believe that the UK must remain within the European Union. Not only is our membership of the EU good for business, it also benefits the environment.

As a company, we trade internationally with companies based in other EU countries. In particular, the marine side of our business is very active in German waters both in the North Sea and the Baltic.

Our latest project will see us providing an underwater noise and marine mammal activity monitoring service during the construction phase of the Wikinger offshore wind farm in the Baltic Sea. We will also monitor underwater noise emissions as well as the activity of harbour porpoises that may be present within and around the wind farm during piling operations.

As contracts such as this typically account for up to half of our group’s turnover, a figure that is expected to increase in the future, the UK’s membership of the EU is extremely important to our business.

While at present we have a very good working relationship with our EU customers, this would clearly be threatened if the UK were to leave the EU, as we would no longer have the level playing field that the EU enshrines in law.

In addition, the benefits of EU membership for the environment must not be underestimated. The environmental profession is now starting to contemplate the implications of a potential UK exit from the EU.

A British ‘yes’ to quit the EU is likely to have a disproportionate impact upon the ecology profession, not only because of the likely economic turmoil that would ensue, but also the considerable impact that it would have on the regulatory framework.

Much of the law that protects wildlife in the UK has its origin in European directives, such as the Habitats and Birds Directives (collectively known as the ‘Nature Directives’), Environmental Impact Assessment Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

If the UK were to leave the EU, this would throw our environmental legislation into disarray, potentially leading to years of legal wrangling while the UK decides what legislation should be reinvented and what should be dropped.

The Nature Directives have recently been the subject of an EU Regulatory Fitness and Performance (REFIT) process, a rolling programme to keep the entire stock of EU legislation under review. They were given an overwhelming clean bill of health. The public consultation received over half a million responses, more than any other consultation, of which the vast majority were supportive.

Rory Stewart (DEFRA Parliamentary Under-Secretary) was very supportive of the Directives, stating, “The UK, like other Member States, does not want to renegotiate the Nature Directives”.

However, as someone who is familiar with the practical side of implementing EU Directives, I have often been critical of the UK’s approach. The law is never perfect, but I am of the opinion that the majority of the problems we have with the Nature Directives are as a result of domestic implementation, rather than a fault of the Directives per se.

I am active in the campaign to stay in the EU. As a member of the UK Environmental Law Association’s nature conservation working group, I have been involved in assessing the potential impact on nature conservation of the UK leaving the EU. I represented the ecology profession at a recent All Party Parliamentary Group on Biodiversity meeting to discuss the review of the Habitat and Birds Directives.

During this meeting, I stressed my views of the importance of retaining both these directives as well as continuing the UK’s membership of the EU.

We are very proud that Baker Consultants is an exporter to our EU partners, however I am very concerned that if the UK were to leave the EU this would be a serious threat to this aspect of our business.

If this does happen, we would have no choice but to move our business to a country that remains in the EU, whether it be on the continent or another country within a devolved United Kingdom.

We are already looking into contingency plans.

About Andrew

Andrew Baker was recently awarded a fellowship by his professional body – the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management. He is also an active member of the UK Environmental Law Association.

The environmental profession is starting to contemplate the implications of the UK’s potential exit from the European Union. ‘Brexit’, as it is termed, is likely to have a disproportionate impact upon the ecology profession, not only because of the likely economic turmoil that would ensue, but also the considerable impact that the UK’s exit from the EU would have on the regulatory framework.

Much of the law that protects wildlife in the UK has its origin in European directives, such as the Habitats and Birds Directives, Environmental Impact Assessment Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Baker Consultants’ Managing Director, Andrew Baker, is one of the UK’s experts in nature conservation law and an active member of the UK Environmental Law Association’s nature conservation working group. The working group has been assessing the potential impact of Brexit on nature conservation, and the group’s convenor Wyn Jones has assessed the implications in a recent paper, which is included in full below.

Golden Plovers in flight by J R Pender. Golden Plovers are one of the species that sites can be designated for under the Birds Directive

Golden Plovers in flight by J R Pender. Golden Plovers are one of the species that sites can be designated for under the Birds Directive

Andrew has been invited to speak at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Biodiversity (APPGB) on 17th November to discuss the ongoing review of the Habitat and Birds Directives. Read more about the meeting here.

Implications of the UK leaving the European Union – nature conservation

Introduction

Members of the UKELA nature conservation working party have considered this issue for some time. However, we still do not have a clear picture of how, should the UK leave the European Union, the process would be undertaken and the time frame for such a process. The potential impacts on legislation for and affecting wildlife are considerable. Given the uncertainties all that are possible is to list the potential issues. The following is far from complete but provides an indication of the range of issues and complexities to be addressed.

Context

The process to withdraw from the European Union is set out in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. (This amends the Treaty on European Union (Maastricht) and the Treaty establishing the European Community (Rome).) Article 50 provides for a 2 year period to negotiate the withdrawal which includes addressing fiscal issues, termination of contracts etc.. The period may be extended with the agreement of all remaining Member States. No country has previously withdrawn from the European Union and therefore the process is untested.

The situation is further complicated by devolution with the respective governments likely to adopt different approaches to the legal framework within their competency, post UK exit from the EU.

In addition the Crown Dependency of Gibraltar is a part of the UK’s territory within the EU and the Sovereign base areas of Akrotiri and Dhekalia on Cyprus under the terms of Treaty of Independence in 1960 the base areas must mirror Cypriot legislation. Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004.

In terms of national legislation most EU legislation is transposed in the main by means of secondary legislation derived from the European Communities Act 1972, but not all. The repeal of the Act could be undertaken quickly. However, given the considerable amount of secondary legislation it is likely to take some time to consider the full consequences of repeal. It is essential that all such secondary measures remain in force unless and until specifically repealed. Many reflect protective measures which either originated, or would have been undertaken, in the UK even if it had not been a member of the EU. In the period leading up to the referendum and post ‘No vote’, EU derived legislation will be difficult to implement and enforce. Without a clear and detailed exit strategy there is likely to be confusion if not chaos.

It is ironic that the UK holds the presidency of the EU in the second half of 2017.

Legislation for and affecting wildlife

The key wildlife Directives are the EC Birds Directive (79/409/EEC) (codified 2009/147/ EC) and the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC). The former is transposed by means of the Habitats Regulations and Part I Wildlife Countryside Act 1981 as amended, the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 and the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 as amended. The latter is transposed by means of Habitats Regulations.

Other critical directives are the Environmental Impacts Directive (2011/92/EU as amended by 2014/52/EU)) and the Strategic Environmental Directive (2001/42/EC) and Environmental Information Directive (2003/4/EC) which are transposed into national legislation by means of Regulations.

Overlapping complementary directives are the Water Framework Directive (92/43/EEC), the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008/56/EC) and the Environmental Liability Directive (2004/35/EC).

Some issues and / or questions

European sites

Most terrestrial sites have been notified as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) (Areas of Special Scientific Interest in Northern Ireland (ASSI)) and will be afforded a measure of protection but not as robust as that provided by the Habitats Directive. The description of such sites as ‘European’ may need to be changed to a term such as ‘International’ but the level of protection should continue. The implications for land transfer and registration of any substantive changes need to be addressed.

Management agreements

The implications for management agreements will need to be considered. The European interest features will be of national importance and therefore the agreement could be re-assigned to Section 15 Countryside Act 1968 to protect and manage SSSIs. Such an arrangement would need to be formalised through appropriate legislation.

Notice and consents

Consents given by the statutory nature conservation bodies under the Regulations could be revoked or re-assigned to the underpinning SSSI / ASSI legislation where possible?

Special nature conservation orders

Orders made by the Secretary of State would ultimately need to be renamed as would any measures made in association with individual orders. All relevant owners and occupiers would need to be given notice of the changes.

Byelaws

I am not aware of byelaws being made by means of the Regulations but if any are in force they would need to be renamed and appropriate notices etc. made to publicise changes.

European marine sites

European marine sites (SPAs and SACs) are not necessarily underpinned by national legislation provided by the declaration as Marine Nature Reserves at Lundy, Skomer and Strangford Lough and / or designation as Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. However, those European sites not already MCZs could be so designated with minimum administrative burden?

Protection of European species

European protected species listed in the Schedules to the Regulations are also listed in the relevant Schedules of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as amended. In Northern Ireland and Scotland European protected species are only listed in the Regulations. This anomaly would need to be addressed.

The protection afforded by the Wildlife and Countryside Act (Part 1) in the main mirrors the directives (intentional / reckless v deliberate). The one major difference is the strict liability offence under Article 12.1(d) Habitats Directive which could be incorporated into domestic law.

Protection would be substantially weakened if there were a loss of the tests of no alternatives and action not detrimental to the maintenance of the population(s) of species at favourable conservation status (Article 16).

The power under the Regulations to issue licences for preserving public health and safety or other imperative reasons of overriding public interest including those of a social or economic nature is not available under national legislation.

Assessment of plans and projects

It would be important to ensure that where plans and projects have been carried out the compensation secured and the relevant agreements underpinning the measures are retained.

It is important to ensure that where plans and projects have been reviewed under Regulations and amended or revoked, the reviews and consequent changes are not nullified. A large exercise was carried out by the nature conservation bodies and the then Environment Agency / SEPA to review consents.

Conclusions

We have to accept that BREXIT may occur and not refrain from suggesting measures that might minimize harm so as to maximise the perceived harm of BREXIT as an argument against it.

All domestic secondary transposing measures should remain in force unless and until specifically repealed.

The need for owners and occupiers consent for reclassification of conditions and agreements under domestic legislation should be avoided.

All the above are likely to place considerable administrative burden on governments and their agencies and will have practical implications as to the management and protection of natural habitats and wild fauna and flora.

and finally …

to quote Donald Rumsfeld

‘There are known knows. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say that there are things we know we don’t know. But there are also unknowns unknowns. These are things we don’t know we don’t know.’

We are at the known unknowns’ stage, gathering information and listing issues to be addressed. We have no idea of the consequences and of the unknown unknowns. It will be a perilous and uncertain time for nature conservation in the UK.

 

Wyn Jones

Convenor, nature conservation working party

26th October 2015.

 

Baker Consultants strongly believes that the UK must remain within the European Union. Not only is our membership of the EU good for business, it also benefits the environment.

Baker Consultants trades internationally and currently 50% of our turnover is with companies that are based in EU countries. We expect this export of our work to increase significantly. While at present we have a very good working relationship with our EU customers, this business would clearly be threatened if we leave the EU, as we would no longer have the level playing field that the EU enshrines in law. Andrew Baker, Managing Director at Baker Consultants, says: “We cannot risk losing our European customers, so we are already investigating moving our business to an EU country should the UK vote to leave the EU”.

Construction begins at our latest European project, Gode Wind 1 and 2 offshore windfarm

Construction begins at our latest European project, Gode Wind 1 and 2 offshore windfarm

The benefits of EU membership for the environment must not be underestimated either. Much of the UK’s environmental legislation has its roots in EU Directives. Leaving the EU would throw this environmental legislation into disarray, potentially leading to years of legal wrangling while the UK decides what legislation should be kept and what should be dropped.

Andrew says: “We should always remember that all Directives are implemented through UK domestic legislation. The law is never perfect, but I am of the opinion that the majority of the problems we have are to do with the way the UK has implemented the Directives, not with the Directives per se.”

Andrew Baker and Baker Consultants will be active in the campaign to stay in the EU. “We must not ignore the serious threat that leaving the EU will pose to both UK businesses and environmental protection”, said Andrew.