Environmental Audit Committee tears into Gove’s ‘worrying lack of detail’ on environment plan

The cross-party Environmental Audit Committee has today called for the Government to establish a new independent oversight body—the Environmental Enforcement and Audit Office (EEAO) — modelled on the National Audit Office (NAO), to ensure that the governance, enforcement, oversight and policy functions currently carried out by the European Commission and European Court of Justice are not lost after leaving the European Union.

The Government has promised a new Environmental Principles and Governance Bill covering air, waste, water, chemicals that cannot be copied and pasted into UK law through the EU (Withdrawal) Act. The Committee is calling for the Government to go further and to enshrine biodiversity targets, habitats, soil quality targets, and access to justice in UK law for the first time.

The Committee today criticised a worrying lack of detail in the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan as to how the Government’s environmental objectives will be achieved. The Committee recommended legally-binding targets should be introduced on key environmental indicators – with five yearly action reports along the model of the 2008 Climate Change Act. It recommends that the Government brings forward details on targets, implementation, governance and funding before the publication of the draft Environmental Principles and Governance Bill.

The report released today recommends that the EEAO should:

  • Oversee all public authorities, including local councils and arm’s length bodies, not just central Government.
  • Have the power to take the Government and other public bodies to court where standards are breached.
  • Have the power to initiate its own investigations including complaints brought by the public – which the courts can then adjudicate.
  • Provide scrutiny of the Government’s 25 Year Plan through an architecture of five yearly legally binding targets.
  • Provide targets and make policy proposals for the restoration and recovery of nature.

This body must be accountable to, and overseen by Parliament to guarantee its independence from Government and prevent its budget being cut in future.

Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, said: “If we want a world-leading environment we need a world-leading environmental watchdog. But in recent months the Government has been referred to the EU’s highest court for failing to tackle illegal levels of air pollution in the UK. We are facing a biodiversity crisis and risk losing iconic species like the hedgehog.

“The Government’s 25 Year Plan is high on ambitions, but low on milestones. The Government has more experience of getting rid of environmental watchdogs than of setting them up.

“We want an Environmental Governance and Principles Act that sets legally-binding targets and creates a new Environmental Enforcement and Audit Office to measure progress and enforce this new law.

“The Government needs to set out detailed delivery and funding proposals for the Plan and departments across Whitehall need to commit to its ambitions, rather than trying to water them down behind the scenes.”

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