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An introduction to The Office for Environmental Protection

An introduction to The Office for Environmental Protection

Richard Greenhous, Chief of Staff, Office for Environmental Protection, provides an overview of this new public body. 

The Office for Environmental Protection is a new public body, and we are aware that many people will still be unfamiliar with the name and our role. 

Set up under the Environment Act, the OEP has the principal objective to ‘contribute to environmental protection and the improvement of the natural environment’. 

We will do this by holding government and other public authorities to account against environmental laws and targets. Our remit includes local authorities. 

This is an extremely busy and exciting time for the OEP. Our powers commenced on January 24 2022, and we are currently consulting on our draft strategy and enforcement policy. The consultation can be found here and I urge you to seek this out, consider our proposed approach and have your say. The draft strategy and enforcement policy set out key aspects of how we intend to fulfil our role objectively and impartially, how enforcement will work, and how we will work with others.

We are also busy preparing to publish our first report commenting on the Government’s progress against its 25 Year Environmental Improvement Plan. We intend this to be a ‘stocktake’ and will be setting out the key building blocks that need to be in place for government to achieve its aims. 

Our other priorities at this time include continuing to put in place the systems, processes, people and resources we need as an independent body, and building relationships with stakeholders so we properly understand their priorities and views – which is why we were so keen to take this opportunity to engage with the APSE membership. 

To give a broader overview of our role, we have four functions under the Environment Act: 

  • Scrutinising EIP and environmental targets
  • Scrutinising Environmental Law
  • Advice on changes to Environmental Law and other matters
  • Complaints and enforcement 

In carrying out our work, we will be independent and act without fear or favour, be experts in our field and focus on serious strategic issues where our resources can have the most impact. 

Dealing with complaints is a key part of an enforcement role, and I am sure this is of interest to APSE members. We will be receiving and acting on complaints where public authorities have failed to comply with environmental law. We have discretion on how we choose to prioritise and act on those complaints, and have a range of tools in our toolbox, with enforcement being only one and the last resort.

A few key things to be aware of: if a complaint clearly does not relate to an alleged failure to comply with environmental law, it is unlikely to be within our remit and may be more suited for consideration through alternative avenues, such as the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. 

Also, if the public authority concerned has a relevant internal complaints procedure, the complainant should have already finished that procedure before we can become involved.

The Environment Act provides the OEP with an important and unique duty to monitor the implementation of environmental law. We have broad discretion on what we focus on and can choose to look at aspects of implementation by parties other than public authorities, for example where public authority oversight of private activities appears to be lacking. 

The OEP can highlight failings or deficiencies and how these might be addressed. For example, we can identify where environmental law is or is not being properly implemented, or where it is not meeting its objectives – and we can help government better implement future environmental legislation. 

We may ask local authorities to provide us with information, or you may wish to bring matters to our attention – for example an area of environmental law that you think does, or does not, work well and why. We are keen to make best use of your knowledge and experience as we contribute to environmental protection and the improvement of the natural environment. • 

Promoting excellence in public services

APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) is a not for profit unincorporated association working with over 300 councils throughout the UK. Promoting excellence in public services, APSE is the foremost specialist in local authority frontline services, hosting a network for frontline service providers in areas such as waste and refuse collection, parks and environmental services, cemeteries and crematorium, environmental health, leisure, school meals, cleaning, housing and building maintenance.

 

 

 

 

 

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