Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Environment Agency (LGA 09)


  The Environment Agency (also referred to below as the Agency) welcomes the opportunity to comment on and submit evidence to the sub-committee, on how the new arrangements introduced as a result of the Local Government Act 2000 are working.

  The Agency has specific comment relating only to the duty for local authorities to promote social, economic and environmental wellbeing.

  The environment has a key role to play in improving quality of life, and the Agency believes that the duty for wellbeing presents a valuable opportunity for protecting and improving the environment through the co-ordination of public, voluntary, community, and business sector policies and programmes.

  To date, the Agency has experienced widely differing levels of commitment on behalf of local authorities to the "environmental" element of the wellbeing duty.

  Community Plans should embody the principles of sustainable development. It is therefore very disappointing that few include any systematic means of evaluating, by means of indicators or subjectively, whether the community plan is capable of promoting sustainable development, together with the sustainability performance of the plan during the period of implementation or at the point of periodic review.

  The Agency therefore advocates greater consideration of the principles of sustainable development, including more emphasis on the environment, by local authorities in carrying out this duty.

  Consistent with the Agency's position on Regional Economic Strategies, the Agency would be willing to work directly with appropriate bodies, representing local government to help improve the overall sustainability of Community Plans.


  The Environment Agency is a statutory body created by the 1995 Environment Act. Within its very broad remit, the Agency has specific duties including air quality, waste management, flood defence, conservation and contaminated land, all of which have a direct impact upon economic, social and environmental wellbeing.

  The Agency has the principal aim of contributing towards sustainable development, and has a Vision for a healthy, rich and diverse environment in England and Wales for present and future generations. The duty for economic, social and environmental wellbeing provides significant opportunity for progress towards achieving this Vision.

  The following text outlines how the Environment Agency currently contributes to the Local Government Act 2000 with specific reference to the duty for wellbeing, and reviews how this has worked to date, with recommendations.


2.1  Promotion of environmental wellbeing

  If local authorities are to achieve social and economic wellbeing, they need a thorough understanding of the current state of the environment and how much better it needs to be. The Agency has the technical information and expertise to help deliver this.

  Although the Agency welcomes the strengthening that the duty for wellbeing has placed on "environment", the Agency raises concerns over the degree to which many community strategies actually consider environmental sustainability. The Agency is aware that many of the LSPs which have been established to date have concentrated on education, employment, crime, health, and housing issues (eg Environment Agency North-West Region). The quality of the environment is a key contribution to these issues, for example, as a means of attracting economic investment, improving the perception of the area, and the associated improvements in the quality of life. Unfortunately the focus of the LSP on social and economic issues often appears to have been such that this integration of the environment has not been considered and consequently, opportunities for sustainable development may have been lost.

  The Agency continues to contribute to the duty for wellbeing through local level engagement with community strategies, but encounters significant difficulty, often due to the variable degrees of progress across our partner local authorities, and the varying levels of engagement being asked for.

  In many cases, LSPs are often disproportionately interested where a "hot" issue like flooding may be prevalent (eg Environment Agency North-West Region). This is indeed an opportunity for the Agency to influence on some of its key duties, but again, often negates the Agency as being seen of more subtle relevance to other issues of concern in either that council or local community.

2.2  Agency contribution to the duty for wellbeing

  The Agency now has 130 Local Environment Agency Plans (LEAPs) covering every river catchment in England and Wales. These provide a large compendium of information on local issues and actions, often built with local communities and other Agency partners. The Agency would like to see this information integrated into community strategies in a more proactive manner. Where first draft Community Plans have been completed (eg Bournemouth), the Agency have variously contributed information through the LEAPs to good effect.

  The Agency advocates that future Government guidance on delivering the duty for wellbeing includes sustainability principles, recognising the importance of environmental sustainability in addition to economic and social sustainability. This guidance should also recognise the Environment Agency as a statutory consultee.

  The LSP accreditation process further presents a good opportunity for the Agency to make representation of key environmental issues at the regional level. The Agency would welcome any similar opportunities by which to cascade information to individual LSPs, where resources permit. The Agency considers that it is important for LSPs to promote environmental as well as social and economic regeneration. Future accreditation objectives could for example, ask for ways to incorporate energy and resource (water) efficiency measures, seek ways to make areas more attractive for investment and reduce the amount of waste produced in projects.

  In terms of the LSPs establishing indicators and targets it would be beneficial if a sustainability appraisal was devised and carried out. Such an appraisal should consider, as a starting point, the terms of reference for the LSP in order to ensure that sustainable development forms the basis of their decision-making.


  Local government and the Agency have a number of shared functions in which effective operation at the interface is essential for the delivery of economic, social and environmental wellbeing.

  In summary:

    (1)  The Agency advocates a strengthening consideration of environmental sustainability from local authorities in carrying out the duty for economic, social and environmental well-being;

    (2)  The Agency would like to see the LSPs flexibly interpret the issues and outcomes contained in the Agency's Vision at the local level;

    (3)  The Agency is keen to contribute to County-wide Community Strategies, or similar, where this rationalises consultation (e.g. Cornwall and Surrey);

    (4)  The Agency considers that future LSP accreditation objectives could consider environmental as well as social and economic regeneration;

    (5)  The Agency would welcome a sustainability appraisal of possible LSP indicators and targets.

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