Defra confirms Environment Agency will stay and has ‘critical role’

12 Jan 18

Defra has insisted the Environment Agency will play a “critical role” in delivering the government’s environmental plans over the next 25 years, as a new watchdog is set up.

Question marks have remained over the EA’s role since environment secretary Michael Gove announced in November that an independent body to oversee environmental standards would be set up to hold government to account after Brexit.

There are as yet no details on exactly what function the new body will have, and a consultation will be published this year.

It is also unclear how it will work with environmental regulation agencies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Plans for the new regulator were reiterated in the 25-year environment plan launched by prime minister Theresa May this week. 

Defra has now indicated the EA would continue its functions, with the new body focusing on plugging a “governance gap” after the UK leaves the EU.

A Defra spokesperson said: “The new environmental body will replace existing EU mechanisms which hold governments, including the UK, to account on the environment. Its precise functions will be the subject of consultation. 

“The Environment Agency plays a critical role in protecting the country against flooding, regulating industry and enhancing our environment.

“As such it will have a leading role in delivering the new 25-year plan.”

Speaking at the House of Lords earlier this week, Defra minister Lord Gardiner he would be “pleased” if the devolved administrations chose to join the new watchdog.

The Environment Agency was created in 1996 by former environment secretary Lord Deben. The agency took over responsibility from local waste regulation authorities for enforcing environmental regulations.

Deben has said that he had insisted the EA was independent and that it kept government to account, but that its powers had been eroded by successive administrations.

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