Environment Agency logo
|Legal status||Government agency|
|Purpose/focus||Environmental protection and regulation in England and Wales|
|Location||Aztec West, Bristol, UK|
|Region served||England and Wales|
|Chief Executive||Dr Paul Leinster|
The Environment Agency (Welsh: Asiantaeth yr Amgylchedd) is a non-departmental public body of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and an Assembly Government Sponsored Body of the Welsh Assembly Government.
The Environment Agency's stated purpose is, "to protect or enhance the environment, taken as a whole" so as to promote "the objective of achieving sustainable development" (taken from the Environment Act 1995, section 4). Protection of the environment relates to threats such as flood and pollution. The vision of the Agency is of "a rich, healthy and diverse environment for present and future generations".
The Environment Agency's remit covers the whole of England and Wales; about 15 million hectares of land, 22,000 miles (35,000 km) of river and 3,100 miles (5,000 km) of coastline seawards to the three mile limit which includes 2 million hectares of coastal waters.. In a sharing arrangement with SEPA, it also exercises its functions over part of the catchment of the River Tweed which is, for the most part, in Scotland
The Environment Agency employs around 13,000 staff. It is organised into eight directorates that report to the Chief Executive.
There are two "policy and process" directorates. One deals with Flood and Coastal Risk Management and the other with Environment and Business. These are backed up by the Evidence directorate. The fourth directorate is a single Operations "delivery" unit, responsible for national services, and line management of all the Regional and Area staff.
The remaining directorates are central shared service groups for Finance, Legal Services, Resources and Communications.
The agency is funded in part from the UK government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Welsh Assembly Government. Additional money is raised from the issuing of licences and permits such as abstraction licences, waste handler registrations, navigation rights and rod (fishing) licences and from licensing data for which the Agency is owner.
Funding for asset management and improvement and acquisition of flood risk management assets has traditionally come from local authorities via Flood Defence Committees. This was then effectively repaid by central Government in later years as part of the Formula Spending Share. In 2005 this was simplified by making a direct transfer from Treasury to the Environment Agency in the form of Flood Defence Grant in Aid.
The Environment Agency's total funding in 2007–08 was £1,025 million, an increase of £23 million on 2006–07. Of that total, £628 million (61 per cent) was provided in the form of 'flood defence grant-in-aid' from government (£578 million for England and £50 million for Wales). In addition, £347 million (34 per cent) was raised through statutory charging schemes and flood defence levies; and a further £50 million (5 per cent) came from other miscellaneous sources.
In 2007–08 had an operational budget of £1.025 billion, of which £628m was grant from the Agency's sponsoring Government Departments. Approximately half the Agency's expenditure is on flood risk management, and a third is spent on environment protection (pollution control). Of the remainder, 12% goes to water resources, and 6% to other water functions including navigation and wildlife.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (currently Hilary Benn) has the lead sponsorship responsibility for the Environment Agency as a whole and is responsible for the appointment of the Chairman and the Environment Agency Board (with the exception of one member appointed by the National Assembly for Wales).
In addition the Secretary of State is responsible for overall policy on the environment and sustainable development within which the Agency undertakes its work; the setting of objectives for the Agency's functions and its contribution to sustainable development; the approval of its budget and payment of Government grant to the Agency for its activities in England and approval of its regulatory and charging regimes. For policy, objectives, approval and activities in Wales, the Agency is accountable to the Minister for Sustainability and Rural Development in Wales (currently Jane Davidson). The Agency's current chaiman is Chris Smith and its Chief Executive is Paul Leinster.
The Environment Agency was created by the Environment Act 1995, and came into existence on 1 April 1996. It took over the roles and responsibilities of the National Rivers Authority (NRA), Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution (HMIP) and the waste regulation authorities in England and Wales including the London Waste Regulation Authority (LWRA). All of the predecessor bodies were disbanded and the local authorities relinquished their waste regulatory role. At the same time, the Agency took responsibility for issuing flood warnings to the public, a role previously held by the police.
The Environment Agency is the principal flood risk management operating authority. It has the power (but not the legal obligation) to manage flood risk from designated main rivers and the sea. These functions in relation to other rivers (defined as ordinary watercourses) in England and Wales are undertaken by Local Authorities or Internal Drainage Boards. The Environment Agency is also responsible for increasing public awareness of flood risk, flood forecasting and warning and has a general supervisory duty for flood risk management. As of 2008 the Environment Agency also has a strategic overview role for all flood and coastal erosion risk management. The term "Flood Risk Management" in place of "Flood Defence" recognises that managed flooding is essential to meet the requirements of a sustainable flood strategy. It is often not economically feasible or even desirable to prevent all forms of flooding in all locations, and so the Environment Agency uses its powers to reduce either the likelihood or consequences of flooding.
The Environment Agency is responsible for operating, maintaining and replacing an estimated £20 billion worth of flood risk management (FRM) installations. According to a report by consultants in 2001, these are estimated to prevent annual average damage costs of approximately £3.5 billion. The Agency also invests in improving or providing new installations in areas where there remains a high risk of flooding, particularly where, because of the possible consequences, the damage risk is the highest. Recent examples of major defences against coastal flooding include the Thames Barrier, and recent examples of major inland flood prevention schemes include the Jubilee River.
The Environment Agency provides flood forecasting and warning systems and maintains maps of areas liable to flood, as well as preparing emergency plans and responding when an event occurs. The Environment Agency carries out a regulatory function in development control - monitoring planning applications within flood risk areas, making sure that any development is carried out in line with legislation (PPS25). The agency checks the flood risk assessment that must be submitted with most planning applications in flood risk areas. The Agency also runs public awareness campaigns to inform those at risk who may be unaware that they live in an area that is prone to flooding, as well as providing information about what the flood warning codes and symbols mean and how to respond in the event of a flood. The agency operates Floodline, a 24-hour telephone helpline on flooding. Floodline covers England, Wales and Scotland but not Northern Ireland, and provides information and advice including property flood-risk checks, flood warnings, and flood preparation advice.
The Agency is the main regulator of discharges to air, water, and land - under the provisions of a series of Acts of Parliament. It does this through the issue of formal consents to discharge or, in the case of large, complex or potentially damaging industries by means of a permit. Failure to comply with such a consent or permit or making a discharge without the benefit of a consent can lead to criminal prosecution. Magistrates' Court can impose fines of up to £50,000 or 12 months imprisonment for each offence of causing or knowingly permitting pollution. If prosecuted in the Crown Court, there is no limit on the amount of the fine and sentences of up to 5 years imprisonment may be imposed on those responsible for the pollution or on Directors of companies causing pollution.
The Agency has an important role in conservation and ecology specifically along rivers and in wetlands. More general responsibility for the countryside and natural environment in England falls to the organisation Natural England. The Environment Agency's activities support users of the rivers and wetlands, including anglers and boaters.
The Agency is a regulator for the release of air pollutants into the atmosphere from large, complex industrial processes. This will soon include emissions from some large-scale agricultural activities, but air pollutant releases from many agricultural activities will continue to be unregulated.
Major sources of air pollution, such as transport, are subject to various measures at the European, national and local level. Local authorities regulate air pollution from smaller industrial processes. The Agency works with local authorities, the Highways Agency and others to implement the UK government's air quality strategy in England and Wales as mandated in the Environment Act 1995. The Environment Agency has an Air Quality Modelling and Assessment Unit (AQMAU) that aims to ensure that air quality assessments for permit applications, enforcement and air pollution incident investigations are consistent, of a high standard and based on sound science.
The Agency is the regulatory authority for all waste management activities including the licensing of sites such as landfill, incineration and recycling facilities. It also regulates the movement of hazardous wastes such as fibrous asbestos, infectious clinical wastes and harmful chemicals. The Agency issues Environmental Permits to waste management sites and any individuals or companies found to have caused pollution or have infringed their licence conditions can be prosecuted. In serious cases the Environment Agency has the power to revoke the Environmental Permits issued to sites that contravene the conditions of their permits stopping all waste handling activities.
The Agency has a duty to maintain and improve the quality of surface and ground waters and as part of the duty it monitors the quality of rivers, lakes, the sea and ground-water on a regular basis. Much of this information is required by law under the provisions of a number of European Directives to be reported both to Parliament and to Europe and to be made public.
The Agency manages the use and conservation of water through the issue of water abstraction licences for activities such as drinking water supply, artificial irrigation and hydro-electricity generation. The Agency is in charge of inland rivers, estuaries and harbours in England and Wales. Its remit also extends into Scotland in the River Tweed and River Solway catchments where special arrangements exist with SEPA to avoid duplication but retain management on a catchment basis.
Complex arrangements exist for the management of river regulation reservoirs, which are used to store winter water in the wetter parts of England and Wales in order to maintain levels in the summer time so that there is sufficient water to supply the drier parts of the country with drinking water.
The Agency is a regulator of angling and sells over a million rod licences a year. It uses the proceeds (approx £20M per annum) to maintain and improve the quality of fisheries in England and Wales by improving habitat. The Agency also regulates the commercial exploitation of shell-fish.
The Environment Agency is the second largest navigation authority in the United Kingdom managing navigation for 634 miles (1,020 km) of Britain's rivers. The Agency's lock-keepers maintain and operate systems of sluices, weirs and locks in order to manage water-levels for navigation, and where necessary to control flooding. Annual spending to maintain these installations, with an estimated replacement value of £700M, is around £22M per annum. The Agency uses the registration fees of some 31,000 craft on the waterways to provide some of the income. The Agency's responsibilities include the non-tidal River Thames, the Medway Navigation, River Wye and River Lugg, the Royal Military Canal and the Fens and Anglian systems. The Environment Agency is organising the Fens Waterways Link a major construction project to link rivers in the Fens and Anglian Systems for navigation. The first stage is the South Forty-Foot Drain. Functions in relation to most canals are undertaken by the British Waterways Board.
The Environment Agency is the harbour authority for Rye and the Conservancy Authority for the Dee Estuary. The Environment Agency also publishes information about tidal bores, these being the Trent Aegir and the Severn Bore.
The Agency uses its influence and provides education in order to change attitudes and behaviour towards the environment. Action, in several policy areas, is directed towards business and commerce at all levels, children in education, the general public and Government and local government. This last area is quite distinct from the Agency's statutory role to advise Government.
In local government planning processes, the Environment Agency is a statutory consultee on all planning matters from County Strategic plans down to individual planning applications. In reality only those applications judged to pose special risks to the environment are commented on in any detail. For many years the Agency has been offering strong advice against the development of land in flood-plains because of the risk of flooding. This advice had been widely ignored by many planning authorities.
Until the formation of the Environment Agency, the Government took specialist advice on the management of the environment from civil servants employed in appropriate ministries. This led to considerable duplication of effort and frequent disagreements between Government and the regulatory agencies. The Environment Agency now advises Government directly about those issues within its purview.
Since the establishment of the Environment Agency several major flood events have occurred and the Agency has been the target of criticism. A number of reports have been produced which chart various developments in flood management.
At Easter 1998, the equivalent of one months rain fell in the Midlands in 24 hours and flooding caused £400m damage and five deaths. In the light of criticism, the Agency commissioned a report from a review team under the Chairmanship of Peter Bye, a former chief executive of Suffolk CC. The report concluded that in many respects, the Environment Agency's policies, plans and operational arrangements were sound, and that staff did their best in extreme circumstances, but there were instances of unsatisfactory planning, inadequate warnings for the public, incomplete defences and poor co-ordination with emergency services. Specifically the report highlighted the flood warning system and said the scale of the damage could have been avoided if the agency had issued more advice to those living in the worst affected areas and noted "People who do not understand what they can do to protect themselves when they are warned are not protected."
In the Autumn 2000 floods, damage was reduced by flood defences and by timely warnings and evacuations where the defences could not hold back the water. As a result 280,000 properties were protected from the floods, but over 10,000 properties were still flooded at an estimated cost of £1 billion. Defra commissioned an independent review by the Institution of Civil Engineers under George Fleming.. The review was to consider methods of estimating and reducing flood risk and look at whether flood risk management could make more use of natural processes. Other terms of reference included the possible impact of climate change and experience of other countries. The resulting report entitled Learning to Live with Rivers specifically criticised a reluctance to use computer models and inadequate representation of the dynamic effects of land use, catchment processes and climatic variability. More broadly, the report noted that sustainable flood risk management could only be achieved by working with the natural response of the river basin and by providing the necessary storage, flow reduction and discharge capacity. It concluded that floods can only be managed, not prevented, and the community must learn to live with rivers.
On 15 June 2007 the National Audit Office produced a report on the performance of the Environment Agency with respect to its administrative targets and information systems. The report highlighted that the Environment Agency had not reached its targets for maintaintaining flood defence systems and producing Catchment area plans, and that since 2001 the general conditions of assets had not improved significantly. It concluded the agency could reduce the need for extra funding by improving cost effectiveness.
On the basis of the report, and to the background of the Summer 2007 floods, on 27 June 2007 the Committee of Public Accounts under Edward Leigh subjected the Environment Agency management to severe interrogation and concluded that the agency had "not delivered protection for the British people". Issuing a strong response, the Chief Executive rejected the charge that the Environment Agency has massively failed, as alleged in the commons public accounts committee, noting that in the last seven years, defences had been created to protect 100,000 homes in floodplains, numbers receiving flood warning had dramatically increased and greatly improved flood mapping and forecasting had been implemented.
The Environment Agency Directors attracted criticism when it emerged that shortly before the floods they had received five-figure "performance bonuses", with numerous calls for the bonuses to be donated to flood relief funds. An opposition spokesperson raised a question over the timing of the release of the information—"just as MPs left for their 11-week summer recess—guaranteeing minimum parliamentary scrutiny".
Pitt's review, published in full in June 2008 contained 92 recommendations looking at all aspects of the "biggest civil emergency in British history". Of these, thirteen were directed at the Environment Agency, the first of which stated that the Environment Agency should take on a national overview of all flood risk (2). It recommended the Environment Agency should further develop its modelling tools and techniques working with its partners on such (4)(5), and also make flood visualisation data more accessible (36)(37). It recommended closer working with the Meteorological Office (6)(34)(35)(65). The Agency should provide a more specific flood warning system for infrastructure operators (33), work with local responders to raise awareness in flood risk areas (61) and work with telecoms companies to roll out telephone flood warning schemes. Other recommendations were that the Environment Agency should continue its existing processes (8)(25).
The review also argued that the Government's £800 million-a-year flood defence budget for 2010 to 2011 was "about right" but stated that money should be spent more wisely. Sir Michael said: "What we are arguing is that we were not well prepared last summer for the scale of flooding that took place."
After the 2007 floods, the present organisation of flood management in England and Wales, with a large number of separate bodies responsible for different components, was called into question. George Fleming, who chaired the committee which produced the Learning to Live with Rivers report argued that the Environment Agency had too many roles and faced too great a conflict between its roles as habitat protector and planning regulator and suggested it was time to break it up and create a dedicated Flood Management Agency. On leaving her post as CEO in June 2008 Barbara Young responded to these suggestions, predicting that the Pitt report was unlikely to recommend the break up of the Environment Agency.