logoSouthwest Environmental Limited
Environmental Consultancy Services to Industry, Business and Individuals Email Us
02076 920 670
01392 927 961
01612 970 026 
01173 270 092 

Why is the Environmental Permit Application Process so Terrible? 

Written June 2019: If anyone in DEFRA or "higher" is reading this, please hire us to restructure the Permit "Support" Centre:

The reason that the Environmental Permit Application Process is so so so terrible is because it is so badly organised. Instead of investing in a portal based system the EA rely on a ever changing pool of staff to carry out duly making checks, and determination we have spoken directly with these staff over the last 10 years, and most think the permit application system is appallingly designed and organised. 

Permitting Staff

The EA are constantly changing staff from one department to anther, which means in effect all EA staff are trying to reeducate themselves on very complex subjects on a constant basis.

The typical permitting officer who is supposed to be assessing an application has less of an idea about the process than we do. This is not indicative of the officers aptitude or intelligence, it is because we have visited the site and they have not.  We are benefit to the applied learning, and that is our main advantage in terms of knowledge. There is also a chance that we are trying to obtain a permit for a process we have dealt with before.

We have submitted applications for surface treatment of metal, precision engineering, ship recycling, many waste transfer and treatment sites and EVERY time we get a fresh officer, you never get the same office twice, even when the subject matter is similar. So all of the knowledge gained by working of a particular subject is wasted.

Update 2020: We have been assigned an officer for an application that we had before, and for the same permit. So logic prevailed. Once.

Duly Making

Duly making checks are best thought of as the validation checks which are made at planning, they are the ensure made to ensure that your application is ready to submit. There is one main difference however. Duly making checks also include a technical element which means that Duly making officers can open say an odour impact report and disagree with the contents. In planning this is a job of a highly skilled discipline specific consultee, but with permit applications it is often someone freshly transferred in from another department who has no back ground knowledge of the industry sector you are dealing with.

Now there is no problem with finding fault in an application (whether planning or a permit) that after all is what enforcement is all about, the problem arises from the EA reaction to these deficiencies.

At planning extra information is requested, often at repeat junctures through out the process until all parties are satisfied a consensus (positive or negative) has been reached. Things move forward. The process may well be slow, but progress is always in a uni-directional fashion.

Enter the EA, if something is missing from you application . . . what will they do. Why ask for it of course. . . after they have rejected (or "returned") the application.

So yes instead of asking for the information required they literally post your application back to you, and you have to resubmit it. Now this is pretty annoying, but imagine if you had been waiting in a queue for 12 weeks just so they can reject your application. Your 4 month application process is now a 8 month application process.

If we combine this brain numbingly stupid permit return system, with a the 12 week waiting until you can "have another go" it is not uncommon for even a permit variation to take a year. A whole year.

I will now give an anonymous real life example:

You are adding a process line to a factory the original "factory" throughput was 4000 tons, the new throughput is 5000 tons. What is the capacity of the new line?

The answer is 1000. I checked this with my 7 year old daughter to make sure I got it right.

We had an application returned because the duly making officer could not work out the capacity of the new process line . . . . this application was supported with 40,000 words of detailed information and it was returned without asking for clarification on this simplest of points. 12 weeks delayed.


If you haven't died of stress or old age by the time you get you permit duly made then you will have reached the magical realm of "determination".

Once again the EA enter in to their headlong rush to . . .you've guessed it . . . return you application.

At best you can expect a huge list of requirements, and after waiting of months to get to this point the EA, are often generous enough to give you 10 days to provide everything they need. These schedule 5 requests and 90% of the time are impossible to meet, so you have to reapply.

Your 24 week application is now a 36 week application.

Perhaps the most disastrous episode of determination history was the botched implementation of "fire prevention" where by consultants are expect to author a 10,000 word "fire prevention" document based on 8 pages of guidance, 1st time around, with no errors.

I expect God might manage this on a good day, but I am not overly intelligent and find this a tricky obstacle to overcome. Although via a combination of late nights, keyboard RSI, and begging I usually do.

"I would laugh if my heart were not so heavy"

Milos Columbo - James Bond - For Your Eyes Only

Why this is so Terrible

You can design a factory, get planning, build the factory, install the equipment, train your workforce and  . . . . still be waiting to get an Environmental Permit. I saw this actually happen.

What Needs to Change

Small under resourced planning offices all over the country deal with environmental enforcement all day every day. They use specific consultees for specific subjects, they have a portal based system, which prompts for information based on the type of application you are making. This is the type of system the EA should adopt.

Part of me thinks that they will not adopt this system. Because, if they were truly committed to delivering an effect compliance route they would have implemented it already. Whoever is pulling the strings on this one, is not thinking clearly, in fact I doubt they are thinking at all.

Why this Needs to Change

So we need a complete restructure of the EA Permitting Application Process. Now you may say that I am writing from a pro-industry perspective, but I can assure you I am definitely not:

I have seen ships left falling apart in to harbors whilst we wait to get a recycling permit.

I have seen factories for recycling plastic film go un-built because the company went bust before we could obtain a permit.

Our world is drowning is plastic film, and most ships are exported to 3rd world, and ripped apart on beaches. Yet when someone is tries to take domestic responsibility for our waste, or do things correctly then they are faced with this debacle.

There is no "support" at the permitting support centre and in effect the EA are mainly concerned with reducing their work queue, turning down applications as fast as they come in.