Environment Agency chief: UK has one chance to get post-Brexit, post-Covid-19 regulation right

The Environment Agency's (EA) chief executive Sir James Bevan has delivered a rousing speech to the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, urging policymakers to embed key environmental regulations from the EU into UK law ahead of Brexit, and to strengthen certain regulations to stimulate green growth.

Environment Agency chief: UK has one chance to get post-Brexit, post-Covid-19 regulation right

Bevan became Chief Executive of the Environment Agency in 2015

“To secure a green recovery, we need to move with levels of energy and speed that we have not needed for generations – we need to build better, faster and greener, and we must ensure that red tape doesn’t stop green growth – which is why we need to get our regulation right,” Bevan said.

“Let me be clear that I am against red tape, if by red tape we mean regulation for its own sake, or bad regulation. But regulation – good regulation – is essential. Good regulation protects people and the environment from harm. Good regulation creates a level playing field for business, allowing well-run companies to thrive and stopping those who don’t want to play by the rules from undercutting them. Good regulation drives growth and innovation.”

Bevan was speaking after Boris Johnson’s commitment to ‘build, build, build’ was broadly received as misaligned with the UK’s net-zero target, despite the Prime Minister repeatedly telling MPs and media representatives that his cabinet wanted to build a “greener, more resilient national economy”. Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Summer Economic Update similarly revealed that the Treasury is costing the UK’s Covid-19 recovery package at £160bn, with less than £5bn having been directly earmarked for initiatives intended to spur decarbonisation and preserve nature so far.

The UK Government is also facing challenges in delivering its promised ‘green Brexit’ at present. Last month saw a group of MPs, businesses, NGOs and academics warn that a lack of trust between the UK and EU could derail efforts to create stronger environmental outcomes for both parties in the decades to come.

Bevan is urging policymakers and other leaders to collaboratively overcome these challenges in the remaining proportion of 2020.

Specifically, he wants to see key facets of the Environment Bill delivered to time. Environment Minister George Eustice has previously said that the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), the UK’s post-Brexit environmental watchdog, would be “ready and operational” by the end of December

The enshrinement of certain parts of the EU’s green legislation in UK law must also be sped up, Bevan said, including the Bathing Waters Directive. But in some areas, he believes that the UK can go further and faster than the EU, and should repeal or amend some regulatory packages.

Quoting Eustice, he said: “there is no point leaving the EU to keep everything the same. The old model has not stopped the decline in our natural world. We must therefore challenge ourselves to think creatively, to innovate and to consciously avoid clinging to processes and procedures just because they are familiar”.

Bevan is particularly critical of the EU Floods Directive and has argued that Defra’s Flood Policy Statement and the EA’s flood strategy “set our a much more modern and comprehensive approach”.

His speech came shortly after the EA unveiled ‘EA2025’ – a five-year plan to boost climate resilience, improve natural resources and foster green growth through to 2025. The plan builds on the 2030 net-zero target set late last year.

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Sarah George

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