Following a government decision to put the powers of the National Rivers Authority, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution and Waste Regulation Authorities into the hands of a new Environment Agency, the three main national local authority associations have expressed concern about its future accountability and effectiveness.
The associations say the new agency, a 'clumsy and bureaucratic amalgamation', is ill-equipped to fully protect and improve Britain's environment, and in particular that the proposal to take waste regulation out of the hands of local councils would create an enforcement regime which would be remote and unaccountable, lacking independence and public confidence.
Now the associations have drawn up their own blueprint for the Environment Agency's future, setting out a vision of shared responsibilities between it and local government to ensure that the merger of essentially incompatible functions does not get in the way of meeting protection needs.
The associations warn that there is a real risk of the agency being confronted by a strategic 'vacuum', and unable to deliver the benefits of integrated pollution control.
They envisage a system where the agency oversees strategy, and other bodies including local authorities undertake regulation and enforcement at as local a level as possible to ensure efficient administration.
Joyce Edmond Smith, speaking for the local authority associations, said:
'The Environment Agency is a missed opportunity. Created as a service delivery organisation, it is being asked to combine incompatible regulatory functions while having to rely on the government for its strategic direction.