Environment watchdog to launch on interim basis

The OEP cannot become a statutory body until the environment bill passes
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The UK’s new environmental watchdog will begin work on an interim basis in June, after delays to the environment bill mean it cannot be established as a statutory body until the autumn.

The Interim Office for Environmental Protection will provide independent oversight of the government’s environmental progress and “accelerate the foundation of the full body”, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said.

It will be led by its chair, Dame Glenys Stacey, and interim chief executive, Natalie Prosser, whose appointment was announced last month. The regulator’s other non-executive directors, who will become the OEP’s board when it becomes an independent legal entity, will be appointed in the coming weeks.

The OEP requires legislation to become a statutory body.

Launching without that legislation in place – via the passing of the environment bill – its authority as a regulator will be limited.

It will be able to assess the government’s progress on enacting its 25-year environment plan and receive complaints about public authorities’ failures to comply with environmental law.

And it will be able to take internal decisions, such as developing a strategy, including its enforcement policy; take decisions on staff recruitment, accommodation and facilities; and establish its “character, ways of working and voice”, according to Defra.

Stacey said she was “delighted” at Defra’s decision not to delay the OEP's creation further.

“It means we can make rapid progress now, in establishing the organisation,” she said.

“The sooner we are up and running, the sooner we can deliver as intended, and so begin to make those tangible and positive differences to the environment that we so wish to see. It is excellent news.”

In a statement, Defra said the government remained “fully committed” to the environment bill, which is expected to gain Royal assent in the autumn.

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