The Environment Agency is reviewing the way it appraises sites that require environmental permits.

It is planning to replace the Operator Risk Appraisal (Opra) scheme for sites operating under the Environmental Permitting Regulations with a more holistic approach to monitor performance, according to an informal consultation paper from the regulator.

The current scheme ranks operators A to F, based on how well sites comply with the terms of their permits. It takes into account hazards relating to the nature and scale of activity and how close the facility is to receptors, such as people and wildlife habitats.

Under the proposed new scheme, the agency wants to also consider the likelihood of a breach in compliance, according to operators’ attitude and how they respond to advice given by the regulator.

This would enable it to identify early indications that a site might breach its permit, so it can intervene and focus resources on mitigating risk. The A to F rankings would be replaced by ‘exemplary’; ‘expected’; ‘improvement needed’; and ‘significant improvement needed’.

‘We want an approach that is fairer to industry, supports growth, and protects our environment and local communities,’ the consultation document states. It further says: ‘We want to make a system that not only describes an operators’ performance more accurately, but is also more reflective of the regulatory effort we have to apply.’

The new approach would also allow the agency to recognise operators that voluntarily make extra effort above compliance, and which would therefore need less effort to regulate.

These organisations would benefit from ‘light-touch’ regulation and a reduction in fees, the agency said. The regulator believes its plans would encourage self-reporting and recognise positive behaviour in addressing minor incidents.

The agency said the new scheme would enable it to focus on poorly performing sites where operators are unresponsive, obstructive or hostile. Such businesses would pay higher fees to cover additional agency costs.

The consultation asks opinions on what criteria the agency should assess under the new system. It plans to review responses and launch a formal consultation in July.