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

Illegally tipped waste in Cambridgeshire, December 2017: The RTPI believes the proposed watchdog will lack the teeth to be an effective enforcer of environmental legislation.

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

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 evidence says: “It is unfortunate that the UK Government has pressed on with this process unilaterally. It would have been preferable for the three sitting Governments in the UK to have jointly come to an agreement on how they wish to replace the European Commission and then consulted their peoples accordingly… the absence of any common principles and a common enforcement body across the whole of the UK would be most regrettable.”

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.”