Environment Secretary George Eustice has set out the next steps in establishing a new world-leading independent environmental watchdog.
Writing to the chairs of the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA), he explained how the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) will be established and operational as soon as possible following Royal Assent of the Environment Bill.
Before the permanent body is put in place, an Interim Environmental Governance Secretariat within Defra will operate on a temporary basis. This will be under the guidance and leadership of both the Office for Environmental Protection Chair and the other Board members, once they have been appointed, to ensure an effective transition to the permanent body.
The interim secretariat will carry out preparatory work on which the Office for Environmental Protection can build, rather than leaving it to begin operating from a standing start. This will include receiving and conducting initial assessments of complaints submitted by members of the public about alleged failures of public authorities to comply with environmental law.
In his letter to the committee chairs, the Secretary of State wrote:
“The interim arrangements are intended to operate on a temporary basis and to provide an effective transition to the permanent body. They are not a replacement for the Office for Environmental Protection nor a basis to delay its establishment.
“The interim Secretariat within Defra will therefore operate for no longer than is necessary.
“We want to have the Office for Environmental Protection established and operational as soon as possible following Royal Assent of the Environment Bill.”
The Office for Environmental Protection will be a strong and independent body and is a key part of the government’s vision to lead the world in protecting our environment and building back greener from the COVID pandemic.
It will have the power to scrutinise environmental policy and law, investigate complaints and take enforcement action against public authorities.
We expect the Office for Environmental Protection to have started implementing its functions by around July 2021.
This depends on the Bill receiving Royal Assent in early 2021 as hoped, followed by a period of around three months to form the Office for Environmental Protection Board and complete preparation for the implementation of its statutory functions.