The UK’s waste management and construction sectors are busy assessing industry prospects post-Brexit.
Fears of prolonged chaos - as EU directives are unpicked and new regulations envisaged - are being balanced by acknowledgement that referendum hype heightened anxieties on both sides.
A recent report ‘Brexit: Assessing the ESG Implications’ by Sustainalytics argues that the probability of policy changes in most areas affecting waste management remains ‘low or moderate’ because UK foundational law underpins EU directives.
Report co-author Doug Morrow said: “On both sides of the debate, the Leave and the Stay, there was an exaggeration of what it will mean for UK companies.”
But there are fears that air quality and waste reduction commitments could be abandoned as Britain frees itself from EU directives.
More than €6 billion set aside for EU countries through the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package will no longer be available to Britain, though the British government had already expressed resistance to imposed recycling targets.
At the time of writing, the government was reorganising itself and the implementation of Article 50 remained uncertain, fuelling speculation that market instability could also damage the construction industry, and the UK economy as a whole.
Monica Slowikowska, founder of Golden Houses Developments, expressed fears about access to labour - due to EU immigration uncertainties - and a worsening skills shortage:
"The cost of labour in the construction sector has increased by an average of eight per cent in the last six months and it is set to keep rising. By leaving the EU, and based on our projects, we predict that this could increase by an extra 15 to 20 per cent.”
VDMA, one of the largest industrial associations in Europe, expressed regret following the Brexit vote, and declared the referendum result would affect investment decisions.
But some housebuilders were pointing to the positives.
Jan Crosby, head of housing at KPMG UK, said: “Our exit from the EU will stop the continual flow of red tape and see our housing market grow and flourish without unnecessary constraints placed on building much needed new homes.”
EU member states have two years from Article 50 being triggered to iron out the detail for withdrawal and establish what Britain’s new relationship with Europe will look like.
Three scenarios outlined by Angus Evers, a waste law specialist, include:
- Britain joins the EEA - Still bound by EU waste directives but with full access to the single market. Britain would introduce some policy changes. It would have no influence on EU law.
- Britain is no longer bound by EU law - The UK may nevertheless decide to continue applying European environmental law.
- Britain develops its own waste laws - New UK-wide laws, but with the risk of varying uptake and application.
The message from industry leaders is ‘business as usual’ for now, but the government should seize the opportunities afforded by Brexit to iron out areas of regulatory complexity.
ISWA president David Newman said: “We environmental professionals should come together to give clear messages to our governments, whether in the UK or Europe, that the environment counts.”
Meanwhile, trade groups are calling on the UK government to ensure a robust future for resources and waste.
CIWM chief executive Steve Lee argues that it is imperative that the waste management sector “realises its potential as an industry that not only underpins sustainable economic growth, jobs and business competitiveness, but also protects our environment and contributes to the health and wellbeing of our communities.”