Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)



  140. So this has been a positive change in attitude. And in procedures?
  (Mr Thomas) In terms of their procedures, yes, a more inclusive, more consultative approach. We feel that from our engagement with the Agency. The other sorts of things: their commitment to manage ten per cent of their estate according to biodiversity plans by the end of this year and the whole of the estate by 2005. It is only a commitment but it is a very firm practical commitment which we give a lot of credence to.

Mr Stevenson

  141. Some of us have had direct involvement with the Highways Agency—they built a road through my constituency. You say that their consultation procedures have improved and are better now and more responsive. Cynics might say that there was only one way for it to go and that was to improve because it was appalling, non-existent. Would you just clarify a little bit more? You say it has improved, but is it satisfactory?
  (Mr Thomas) We have not had that many major schemes coming forward over the last few years since 1998 by which we could test them but their promotion of the process they will be using, the new approach to transport appraisal, in which we worked heavily with them, they involved us in that, they promote that, they have been using it for all the schemes we are aware of and in the end the decisions are ones which their constituents and ourselves, English Nature, may be uncomfortable with but the transparency of the process is much improved.

Miss McIntosh

  142. You say in your evidence that you were pleased at your consultation, particularly in the environmental strategic plan. Do you think that in that the Agency have particular regard to the contribution that you made?
  (Mr Thomas) I can only say that in my experience working with the Agency, they do seem to value our input.
  (Mr Markham) There were two or three things which we specifically sought. One was the commitment to the use of the environmental indicators. The other was a very specific point about a commitment by the Agency to promote geological conservation and they specifically made a reference to that.


  143. Geological conservation?
  (Mr Markham) That is right.

  144. You must remember that I am a happy ignoramus. What are we talking about? Are we talking about the line of the route being particularly cognizant of the fact that there was some geological advantage or disadvantage?
  (Mr Markham) New roads in particular and indeed other forms of transport infrastructure such as railways provide the opportunity for new cuttings, new exposures, new sections and opportunities for geologists to go to study those areas, to record what is there, to provide interpretation and so on. We tried to encourage the Agency to look at those opportunities in the last few years.

  145. Do you think you have got through?
  (Mr Markham) The commitment is now in the environmental strategic plan, so there is a hook there which we need to use.

  146. Do they do it?
  (Mr Markham) There have been relatively few new constructions in recent years but with a ten-year plan there may well be more to come.

Miss McIntosh

  147. How do you at English Nature envisage that there can be a balance between, for example, reducing the number of accidents in North Yorkshire, which has a particularly high incidence of accidents through transit traffic and achieving what you set out?
  (Mr Thomas) That is where we come back to the five strands of the new approach to appraisal: include safety and include environment. In the end we all know it is very difficult sometimes to balance those different factors, safety, economy, environment, etcetera. What we shall be looking for is something which meets the safety requirements, obviously human health is something which would be very important, but there must be ways sometimes of delivering these schemes which will also deliver environmental objectives. Sometimes the economy suffers and it costs more. The A30 is a good example where it is going to cost more but you are going to get transport benefits and indeed environmental benefits. It is looking for those sorts of innovative solutions.

  148. Does English Nature have an organisational view in particular on the substances which should be used in either existing bypasses or creating new bypasses? For example the noise level of some of the cheaper forms of tarmac which are used can be very intrusive to residents who lose all the traffic but actually gain noise.
  (Mr Markham) I am not sure that we have a formal policy position. We have done some work in recent years to review indirect environmental effects of that sort and the Agency's new role as a network operator probably means there is some scope for us to work with them both on that issue and the issue of lighting as well, because noise and lighting can be significant.

Mr Donohoe

  149. Given that you had said there were difficulties until the production of the Business Plan for 2000-2001 could you give us some indication where these difficulties were?
  (Mr Thomas) May I just check that? Is that regarding our relationship with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency?

  150. Yes.
  (Mr Gilliland) Is this in relation to our general relationships with the MCA or specific initiatives?

  151. You say in your memorandum that you welcome the Maritime and Coastguard Agency's Business Plan for 2000-2001 which "provided greater clarity than hitherto on the range of activities undertaken by the Agency and targets set for each of these" which gives an indication that there was a problem before. I am just trying to get what that problem was, if there was a problem.
  (Mr Gilliland) It was an improvement in that we had never seen a Business Plan before. We had no previous Business Plan to compare with. We had some information on structures within the MCA, particularly the counter-pollution section we deal with in guidance in relation to the Oil Pollution Preparedness Response and Cooperation Convention (OPRC) initiative. Essentially it requires contingency plans to be produced by the various bodies, particularly ports and oil terminal operators. Prior to early last year, despite having requested both information and meetings with MCA, we had not been sent a breakdown of the structures within the MCA, of the sections we deal with and the staff involved, etcetera. This is why we welcomed the information in the Business Plan, because we had very little hitherto.

  152. Has that improved things quite markedly?
  (Mr Gilliland) I should say up until April 1998 when the marine pollution control unit, which was the relevant body which we dealt with, became subsumed into the MCA, we had reasonable relations but there were some problems. There were some cultural problems, for example, in getting nature conservation issues taken seriously.


  153. I think we can all agree that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has some culture problems. You are knocking on an open door there.
  (Mr Gilliland) In the two years to spring last year that culture seemed to continue, although there were improvements. From early last year, particularly when I have been closely involved so I can speak from experience, there seems to have been a change. Issues such as the issuing of the Business Plan and disseminating it more widely will help. We have also gone to more meetings with them, specifically to discuss particular issues such as the OPRC guidance. There have also been two major exercises in England to test the current national contingency plan, which was put into place as a result of Lord Donaldson's recommendations and the interchange and close working with colleagues in MCA that has led to, has helped improve relations.

  154. What level is that? The interchange of ideas with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. What level was that?
  (Mr Gilliland) I would say at a working officer level.

Mr Donohoe

  155. It is at a working officer level.
  (Mr Gilliland) Yes.

  156. How many meetings have they had above that? How many director to director meetings have there been?
  (Mr Gilliland) None as far as I am aware.

  157. Would you say that the operation of your organisation would gain from such meetings?
  (Mr Gilliland) Yes. We requested them verbally in late 1998/early 1999. In the course of writing to them about the implementation of the whole OPRC process I suggested it would be good to have a general liaison meeting, given the new structures and staff in the MCA, the marine nature conservation issues which have come along which I am sure they were not aware of. That was reiterated again in late 1999 and not responded to.

  158. Why do you think that is the case? Why do you believe that they do not want to meet with you?
  (Mr Gilliland) I am not sure, having not met them in order to ask them.

  Mr Donohoe: Is there any good reason that they should not?


  159. Are you dangerous revolutionaries and we had not realised?
  (Mr Gilliland) I leave others to judge that. The cultural side of it in the first couple of years was an issue. New staff came into the MCA when the new organisation was set up. I think there were issues of time and resources. I cannot say for sure, but it seems to me that part of the improvement from early last year onwards may have been due to management sorting things out, but without having sat down and talked to them I cannot be sure.

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