This conference examined the future regulatory landscape for environmental standards and principles across the UK - as well as the prospects for the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP).
The seminar was timed to discuss the full Environment Bill following its re-introduction, as announced in the Queen’s Speech - with its aims to establish long-term environmental governance and accountability, improve air and water quality, restore and enhance nature and green spaces; as well as developing a more sustainable resource and waste management system.
Speakers and chairs
There were keynote contributions from Jon Taylor, OEP Policy Team Leader, Environmental Principles and Oversight, Defra; Emma Howard Boyd, Chair, Environment Agency; and Sally Hayns, Chief Executive Officer, CIEEM.
Further confirmed speakers included: Dustin Benton, National Food Strategy; Jonathan Burney, Natural England; Professor Liz Fisher, University of Oxford; Dr Julian Little, Bayer Crop Science Division; Nina Pindham, No5 Barristers Chambers and UKELA; Simon Rutledge, Biffa; Richard Blyth, RTPI; David Fatscher, British Standards Institution; Harry Greenfield, CLA, and Richard Warneford, Northumbria Water.
The chairs were: Baroness Jones of Whitchurch, Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and Baroness McIntosh of Pickering, Co-Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Water Group and Member, House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee.
- Current standards and the next steps for regulation;
- The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) - role, scope of powers, and implementation:
- Differentiating the role of the OEP from existing bodies and mitigating duplication of powers;
- Enforcement powers and its role in investigating complaints;
- Views on industry priorities for the powers and scope of the new body; and
- Implementation issues - timescale, independence, and positioning.
- The in-tray for the new body;
- The focus going forward for environmental standards in the UK - pollution and emissions, sustainability and ecosystem regeneration; and
- Next steps for the environmental legislation and the OEP.
Assessing the Office for Environmental Protection
With an interim environment watchdog announced in 2019 - aimed at addressing any gaps in governance until the Office for Environmental Protection is established - delegates examined the Government’s proposals for the design of the body, including its potential role, overarching powers, and how it would be implemented.
Areas for discussion included whether the OEP should be able to levy fines, and further options for enforcement measures over non-compliant bodies in areas such as air, waste, water, and chemical regulation.
Delegates considered these powers in the context of concerns about potential crossover and duplication of scrutiny and advisory roles with other existing bodies, such as the Environment Agency and Natural England.
Priorities for stakeholders - confidence, continuity, and independence
The agenda looked at the priorities for businesses in the development of the OEP - including their need for confidence in the delivery of policy commitments, and the opportunity for organisations to have options for redress through the legal and regulatory system equivalent to those currently in place.
Delegates also considered issues around maintaining regulatory support in areas such as nature recovery, biodiversity, and net gain.
Following the pre-legislative inquiries by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee, attendees also looked at the challenges of ensuring independence and accountability of the new watchdog.
UK-wide environmental standards
With the ‘green watchdog’ set to take on responsibilities for environmental governance in England as well as reserved matters throughout the UK - and as the Government discusses its potential framework - discussion looked at the potential future relationship of the OEP with devolved administrations.
Further sessions focused on the potential opportunities and challenges for developing UK-wide environmental standards across multiple areas such as waste and water - taking into account the policy outlined in the Resources and Waste Strategy and PR19 Final Determinations to improve sustainable processes.