The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has spent the last couple of months consulting on its Strategy and Enforcement Policy. IEMA responded to the consultation, which our Head of Policy, Ben Goodwin, discusses below.

The OEP is a key plank in the new governance architecture that is emerging in England and Northern Ireland on the natural environment. Ensuring that it is well resourced and constituted, with effective processes in place will be key if its key functions (monitoring, advising and enforcement) are to be discharged effectively.

In our response to the OEP’s consultation, we made a number of recommendations that we believe will enable the organisation to develop into the impactful environmental watchdog that is required.

Our recommendations were as follows:

  • The Strategy’s stated intention to prioritise by outcome is welcome. However, alongside this, the OEP’s four strategic objectives need to be factored into its prioritisation processes to ensure that everything that it does is aligned to those core aims.
  • To enable the OEP to deliver its enforcement function effectively it would be useful for a framework to be developed that sets out how potential public authority failures are assessed. This would also be a useful aid to those organisations that may have action brought against them, whilst providing transparency too.
  • In addition to successfully delivering its enforcement function, the OEP should also focus its efforts on fostering a drive towards continuous improvement among public authorities that enhances the natural environment and public health.
  • The OEP should incorporate delivery into its scrutiny function, so as to ensure that beyond assessing outcomes it also considers whether or not government implementation plans on EIPs and the targets framework are themselves credible.
  • The strategy describes how the OEP can provide advice on any changes to environmental law proposed by the government, but it isn’t clear what is in and out of scope within this context. A definition of what constitutes environmental law, as set out in the Environment Act, should be included to remove any perceived ambiguity.
  • With respect to working with other UK government departments (in addition to Defra) it would be prudent for the Strategy to refer to the Environmental Principles Policy Statement that is being developed in order to aid environmental policymaking across government.
  • Contingency must be put in place for the OEP to make the case for additional resourcing if it so feels that it is unable to fulfill its role with those resources that have initially been made available.
  • The Strategy does cover how the OEP will work with others, but a clearer explanation on the delineation of duties and how each of these different stakeholder organisations (e.g. the Environment Agency) will work together would aid the practical application of the Strategy.
  • To develop both its approach to providing advice and its scrutiny function, the OEP should implement learnings from other organisations with comparable regulatory remits.

IEMA’s full submission to the consultation can be found here.

Photo of Ben goodwin
Ben Goodwin

Head of Policy, IEMA

Ben joined IEMA towards the end of 2020 to take up the role of Head of Policy. In this capacity he looks after the delivery of IEMAs core policy and practice outputs across a range of environmental and sustainability issues.