The Environment Agency could be merged with another Government body it has emerged as Defra launched a review of the regulator’s functions.
The joint triennial review of the Environment Agency (EA), which regulates and enforces waste and environmental regulation, and the Government conservation body Natural England, will look at proposals to merge the two organisations.
Earlier this year the Welsh Government announced it would merge EA Wales with two other environment bodies to form Natural Resources Wales/Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru.
In its discussion paper Defra proposes either continuing ongoing reform of the two agencies, including budget cuts and service improvements, or the creation of a single body, similar to Wales.
Defra said merger would provide a more efficient, effective single body, leading to swifter decision making and lower burdens on business.
But, the department acknowledged, there could also be significant potential costs in the short to medium term associated with change.
Steve Lee, CEO of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), told MRW he would be consulting members widely in response to the review, which he said came at a critical time for the sector.
The CIWM would always argue for the EA to be properly resourced and skilled for this regulated industry he said.
“Without a properly resourced regulator we are always concerned that businesses will be under cut by criminals.”
Director of policy at the Environmental Services Association (ESA), Matthew Farrow, said while it was sensible to review the agency’s form and function periodically, it would have “made more sense” to delay the review until more is known about the performance of the new single Welsh body.
Labour’s shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh, said: “Ever since the government tried to sell off the forests, Ministers’ warm words on clean air, land and water have rung hollow as they demolish our environmental protections. Last week’s Autumn Statement cut environmental protection by a further £55 million on top of the 30% cut in 2010.
“Merging the Environment Agency with Natural England, when both are sacking large numbers of staff to deliver government cuts, will leave strategic weaknesses in our environmental management, as ash dieback has shown. Whether it is planning reforms, or cuts to flood defences and National Parks, this weak and incompetent Tory-led government has failed every environmental test.”