The new environmental watchdog for England will be launched on an interim basis ahead of its formal establishment as part of the Environment Bill.

The Government has announced that from July, the new Interim Office for Environmental Protection will be set up in non-statutory form to provide independent oversight of the government’s environmental progress and to accelerate the foundation of the full body.

The new Interim Office for Environmental Protection will be able to:

  • produce and publish an independent assessment of progress in relation to the implementation of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan
  • develop the Office for Environmental Protection’s strategy including its enforcement policy
  • receive complaints from members of the public about failures of public authorities to comply with environmental law
  • take decisions on operational matters such as staff recruitment, accommodation and facilities
  • determine approaches for how the Office for Environment Protection will form and operate, establishing its character, ways of working and voice.

This is a move from the current interim environmental governance arrangements in place since the start of January and ahead of the Environment Bill that will create the Office for Environmental Protection as a legal body.

The Bill sets out environmental principles in law and introduces measures to improve air and water quality, tackle pollution and better manage waste. It includes a commitment to a bi-annual review of the significant developments in international legislation on the environment to ensure the UK keeps abreast of developments in driving forward environmental protection legislation.

Legally-binding targets will be introduced for air quality, nature, water and resource efficiency and waste efficiency.

The new independent Office for Environmental Protection will be created to scrutinise environmental policy and law, investigate complaints and take enforcement action against public authorities, if necessary, to uphold environmental standards. The Office’s powers will cover all climate change legislation and hold the Government to account on its commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

The Environment Bill had been making strong progress through Parliament, but after a brief return to Parliament in November 2020 following an absence of more than two months, the Bill was shelved once again in December 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Royal Assent of the Environment Bill which is now expected later in the autumn.