MPs want issues such as air quality, waste, water, soil and to be subject to five yearly reports – similarly to the UK’s carbon budgets.

These goals would be measured and enforced by an Environmental Enforcement and Audit Office (EEAO), that would ensure functions carried out by EU institutions are maintained post-Brexit, according to the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).

The recommendations are part of a wide-ranging report published today (24 July) which outlines ways the Government can achieve the objectives set out in the 25-Year Environment Plan.

EAC Chair Mary Creagh said: “If we want a world-leading environment we need a world-leading environmental watchdog. But in recent months the Government has been referred to the EU’s highest court for failing to tackle illegal levels of air pollution in the UK. We are facing a biodiversity crisis and risk losing iconic species like the hedgehog.

“The Government’s 25 Year Plan is high on ambitions, but low on milestones. The Government has more experience of getting rid of environmental watchdogs than of setting them up.”

Body with teeth

Ministers have promised to create a new environmental watchdog when the UK leaves the EU, but green campaigners warn that the Government’s draft plans would leave the body without the power to adequately enforce green laws.

In a hearing with the Liaison Committee in Westminster last week, Theresa May refused to be drawn on whether the watchdog would be able to prosecute the Government for environmental breaches.

But in today’s report, MPs claim such a body such have the power take the Government and other public bodies to court where standards are breached. It should also oversee all public authorities and have the authority to initiate its own investigations that can be adjudicated by the courts, the report claims.

MPs insist the body must be overseen by Parliament to guarantee its independence from Government and prevent its budget being cut in future.

Welcoming today’s report, Aldersgate Group’s executive director Nick Molho said: “Contrary to a common misconception, an ambitious, well-designed and properly enforced environmental regulatory framework will deliver significant economic benefits by supporting investment in more innovative and efficient business practices, increasing private sector investment to improve the state of the natural environment and providing a level playing field for businesses across the economy.

“The EAC rightly highlights that the Government’s initial proposals for the governance body must be strengthened to ensure environmental protections are maintained after Brexit, particularly in terms of enforcement where the new body must have the power to take legal action against the Government as a last resort.

“It is also right to emphasise the importance of the body directly overseeing all public bodies, as well as ensuring its independence by being accountable to and funded by Parliament in a similar way to the National Audit Office (NAO). This will ensure that the body is a truly world-leading institution as the Government desires.”

George Ogleby

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