The year ahead

Sir John Harman, chairman of the Environment Agency, sets out the regulator's agenda exclusively for Environment Business

A good, healthy environment is vital to our quality of life. In the Environment Agency much of what we do is about making people’s communities better places in which to live and work. Our goal is to create a better place for people and for wildlife. In many ways the environment in England and Wales improved last year. And yet, in spite of huge progress we and others are making, the scale of our biggest environmental challenges continue to grow.

Spotlight on Business

Each year we turn the spotlight on business and this year’s report – our sixth – showed the best and worst of business performance. We assessed 26 sites in England and Wales as unacceptably poor compared with none in 2002. Serious pollution incidents caused by water companies were up by 23%, and 57% of waste management sites do not comply with their permit conditions. There was, however a 5% increase in the amount of waste recovered by business.

But direct regulation is now just one of a number of ways to improve business’ environmental performance. Taxation, voluntary initiatives and trading schemes all form part of the picture and help to encourage improved performance.

Sustainable Buildings Task Group

A significant part of my work in this last year has been to co-chair the Sustainable Buildings Task Group. The built environment is at the heart of our economy. It shapes how we all live our lives. But the manner in which it consumes natural resources means that it is responsible for some of the most serious global and local environmental change.

The way we use natural resources for building and the levels of pollutants emitted in the process – and in the use of buildings once occupied – are unsustainable. But as our recommendations showed, there are a number of very practical ways in which government and industry can remedy this. We are now looking for the development and widespread use of a Code of Sustainable Building.

The future

In 2005, the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Regulations will come into force. It is a vital part of meeting the government’s aims of reducing UK CO2 emissions by 20% by 2010 based on 1990 levels.

Government is currently consulting on how to implement Company Law Regulations for the largest 1,200 FTSE listed companies. From 2005 these companies will need to produce an Operating and Financial Review as part of their statutory annual report and accounts. This will have to include an assessment of their impact on the environment where the company directors feel it is relevant to the future prospects of the business.

We support OFRs and are pressing the government to include the environment as mandatory consideration for company directors, and to consider using OFRs for other types of companies.
The Water Framework Directive, one of the most challenging pieces of EU legislation our country faces over the next 15 years, sets new standards for water quality and tackles a range of challenges, including diffuse pollution associated with management of land around river basins. The proposed programme for water industry investment from 2005 to 2010 will help to address some of the most urgent priorities, including improvements to sewerage overflows, water leakage and phosphorous pollution.

These are challenging times for the environment, the Agency and our partners. There is important work to do on many fronts. But with our organisation adapting fast to meet these challenges, finding yet more efficient ways of achieving the maximum possible gains for our environment, we are confident we can continue making it a better place.

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