Interim Office for Environmental Protection launches, but fears remain over post-Brexit plans


The new environmental watchdog for England launched last week in interim form, as the long-awaited Environment Bill that is expected to formalise the UK's post-Brexit regulatory landscape continues to wind its way through Parliament.

The Interim Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) held its first meeting last week at the agency's new headquarters in Worcester, with the body set to be given official status when the Environmental Bill passes this autumn.

Defra said the interim body will provide independent oversight of the UK government's environmental activities on a non-statutory basis, including publishing an independent assessment of progress in relation to the implementation of the government's 25 Year Environment Plan and overseeing complaints from members of the public that allege public authorities have failed to comply with environmental laws.

The interim body will be led by chair, Dame Glenys Stacey, and interim chief executive, Natalie Prosser, together with other non-executive directors announced last month.

"It is a significant step in the creation of a new and powerful independent environmental regulator, able to hold the government and public bodies to account with real authority," she said. "The OEP will be one of the most important organisations of our time. We now begin work in earnest, as we seek to make a lasting difference to our natural environment for future generations."

However, the launch of the agency drew a mixed response from green groups, who have long warned that the OEP has not been granted sufficient independence from government. 

"We warmly welcome this important next phase for the Office for Environmental Protection," Ruth Chambers of the Greener UK coalition of NGOs told BusinessGreen. "However, given the ongoing gap in environmental governance, the arrival of the full OEP can't come a day too soon. Debates this week in Parliament have shown that the Environment Bill framework is not yet fit for purpose."

There have been long-running concerns over the independence of the OEP, which has a hugely important role to play in holding the government to account on their environmental agenda following its departure from the various EU agencies that previously policed progress against binding environmental targets agreed at EU level.

"[The Bill] must be strengthened to improve the independence and powers of the OEP so that Dame Glenys and her team can get to work on making sure the government delivers on its green promises," Chambers said.