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England-only environmental watchdog post Brexit deeply flawed, planners warn

25 February 2019

Proposals for a post-Brexit environmental watchdog that only has jurisdiction for England is deeply flawed and will not provide enough independent scrutiny of the Government, says the RTPI in its evidence to a parliamentary committee inquiry into the draft Environment Bill.

It is very regrettable the Government has pressed on unilaterally with the consultation for an independent environment watchdog for England alone, when it should have put on the table a common framework of principles and enforcement actions that applies across the UK.

An England-only governance body will not provide the same level of environmental protection and citizen’s rights as the current protection under EU directives which cross national boundaries, according to the RTPI.

For the proposed watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), to have teeth to hold any government to account and “not be effectively the pet” of any one national parliament or assembly, it needs to be a transnational body that covers the UK with members appointed by Parliament, not by the Secretary of State, the RTPI says.

Continued trade relations with the EU may also be jeopardised if the UK cannot demonstrate sound environmental principles and governance as a whole, it adds.

The RTPI does not believe the OEP has appropriate powers to take ‘proportionate enforcement action”, citing the inability to impose fines as critically lacking. “Experience under the EU regime shows the prospect of fines is a very powerful incentive for Ministers to comply with environmental policy”, it says.

Under the proposals, the OEP can refer complaints for non-compliance to a judicial review only.

Richard Blyth, RTPI’s Head of Policy and Research, said:

“What the Government is proposing is not a replacement of equal value to what we have now. It is opening the UK to a future of lower standards and inconsistences, which will not only cause immense problems for our trade partners, but also businesses and consumers domestically.

“It is very regrettable the Government has pressed on unilaterally with the consultation for an independent environment watchdog for England alone, when it should have put on the table a common framework of principles and enforcement actions that applies across the UK.”