Environment Minister Elliot Morley announced the planned review at a conference on environmental justice in Sunderland this week.

At this stage Defra, which is leading the review, has only sketched an outline of what might be involved, but has suggested it could lead to a far-reaching overhaul of the way things are done.

Morley told delegates: “the review we are launching will help to identify obstacles to effective environmental enforcement to limit environmental offending and damage within communities.”

“We need to make sure we have the most effective means of enforcement, simpler and fairer for responsible businesses and much tougher on serious and wilful environmental damage.

“I have listened to concerns that the current enforcement arrangements do not do enough to change environmentally damaging behaviour, fail to place the burden of repairing damage on offenders, and all too often do not result in effective sanctions.”

While Defra will be leading the review, it will liaise with other departments, the Environment Agency and local authorities.

It will look at both the detection of environmental crimes and better ways to enforce regulations, whether that be through encouraging good practice or finding effective ways to punish breaches.

“We still need a fuller understanding of obstacles to effective enforcement,” Defra spokesman Kevan McClair told edie.
“Hence the review which will systematically gather evidence, define
significant problems and explore possible solutions.”

It will also consider ways in which an alert public can potentially help regulators but is unlikely to go as far as authorities in Taiwan, where volunteers have been deputized to act as eco-detectives, tracking down potential pollution problems (see related story).

“This review will cover the means by which the wider community can assist the enforcement process, ways in which groups or individuals can contribute to the job enforcers need to do,” said Mr McClair.

“As well as the range of enforcement measures and court sanctions available to ensure compliance, the way these measures are used, and the way in which these measures interact in practice.”

He told edie the department would not be guessing at the outcome of the review before it was complete.

It is expected to reach its conclusions by June 2006.

By Sam Bond

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