There is a sense of déjà vu about the Concordat Letter recently issued by DEFRA.
In 1998 John Reid became Secretary of State for Transport. In the marine sector he set up a seminar in which various interests set out the issues about which they had a concern. Associated British Ports, the Environment Agency and English Nature (now Natural England) agreed that the problem plaguing all was complexity of the consents process. These three organisations are not natural allies, but their clear and unequivocal identification of a fundamental problem registered with the civil servants. As a direct result of that meeting, Dept for Transport and the Dept for the Environment eventually produced the “Marine Consents Unit” (MCU) . Beyond doubt this demonstrated that the Civil Service will listen.
MCU was a genuine recognition by government of the need to reduce bureaucratic overhead. Later, the MCU was subsumed into the Marine Maritime Organisation (MMO) created by the Marine and Coastal Access Act.
The new Concordat is an attempt to take that process further. As such, it must be welcomed. But it has to be understood that vested bureaucratic interests are involved. Progress will be slow. It took 5 years from the presentation to John Reid until the Marine Consents Unit was created. We can only encourage all parties to strive and bring into practice the ideals declared in the Concordat.
It is all too easy for some single issue groups opposed to any kind of development to hope that projects will fail because they become enmeshed in bureaucratic complexity, but if we are to progress we must seek sustainable development. We must also recognise that sustainable development is meaningless unless there is development.