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MEACHER TO REVIEW ENVIRONMENT AGENCY'S LEGISLATION

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Environment minister Michael Meacher is to review how the Environment Agency could take a more integrated approach ...
Environment minister Michael Meacher is to review how the Environment Agency could take a more integrated approach to environmental protection. The review will focus on:

- the mechanisms which the Agency operates - for example, a single site permit which covered the consents needed under all regulatory regimes could be simpler for industry and the Agency than the present arrangements; and

- simplification of control regimes - an example could be to rationalise the controls over radioactive and other major industrial processes, given that the two are already similar.

Set up two years ago, the Environment Agency brought together the functions of its predecessors into a single body. The review will also address legislation affecting the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

Mr Meacher said:

'The review will focus on the regulatory mechanisms which the Agencies operate, and on regulatory regimes which currently operate on a similar basis but under different legislation. The aim is to identify any significant obstacles which hinder them from taking a holistic approach to safeguarding the environment. The results should improve environmental protection and simplify regulation.'

NOTES

In Answer to a written Parliamentary Question from John Hutton, MP, (Barrow and Furness), Mr Meacher said:

'I am today setting in hand a review, jointly with the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It will examine the legislation relating to the Environment Agency in England and Wales and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, with a view to identifying any barriers preventing the Agencies from taking an integrated approach to the environment.

'The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recommended in its nineteenth report (Cm 3165) that such a review should be carried out within three years of the Agencies' taking up their functions, in April 1996.

'The terms of reference of the review are:

To investigate the possible rationalisation of the regulatory mechanisms which the Environment Agency and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency operate, and the opportunities for integrating regulatory regimes which currently operate on a similar basis but under different legislation, so as:

to identify any significant barriers to integration within each of the Agencies, whose removal would improve the quality of regulation by producing worthwhile improvements in environmental, customer service and business efficiency,

to establish whether such barriers could be overcome by administrative means or management action by the Agencies;

and

insofar as this is not the case, to recommend legislative changes to enable them to be removed.

'The review is not intended to consider the integration of the philosophical approaches underlying the different regulatory regimes, which are often bound up with European Union legislation. Nor is the review considering integration of the Agencies themselves.

'The review will be carried out by the relevant Government Departments and the Agencies. Interested bodies will be invited to contribute their views at an early stage. We envisage that the review will take about a year to complete.

'Any legislative changes in England and Wales arising out of the review would be considered by Parliament. Since the results of the review will be submitted around the time of the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, it would fall to Scottish Ministers to consider whether to put corresponding proposals to the Scottish Parliament.'

The Environment Agency and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency regulate the major pollution risks to air, water and land.

Their creation was intended to provide a more integrated approach to environmental protection and enhancement. In April 1996 they took over the functions of the National Rivers Authority, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution and local waste regulation authorities in England and Wales and of corresponding bodies in Scotland. The Agencies have full powers to implement the control regimes they inherited, but the environmental legislation in each of the spheres where their predecessors operated remains distinct.

The review will focus on integration of the mechanisms which the Agencies operate, and integration of similar control regimes. It is not intended to consider the integration of the philosophical approaches underlying the different regulatory regimes, which raises more fundamental issues. These are currently being considered by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in its study on environmental standards, are often bound up with European Union legislation, and require a longer timescale for consideration. The Environment Agency's flood defence functions are included within the scope of the review. The special arrangements for flood defence

funding and committees will not be affected.

As the focus of the review is to reinforce integration within the EA and SEPA, it will not examine bids for new powers, or the effectiveness of detailed legislative provisions in specific policy areas. Such issues can be considered separately on their own merits, and the outcome taken into account in the review if necessary.

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