Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
WEDNESDAY 10 JANUARY 2001
MR S THOMAS,
MR D MARKHAM
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.
141. Some of us have had direct involvement
with the Highways Agencythey 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.
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
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
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
(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.
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?
(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
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
(Mr Gilliland) I would say at a working officer level.
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
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.