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

Memorandum by English Nature (TEA 02)



  English Nature is the statutory body that champions the conservation and enhancement of the wildlife and natural features of England. We do this by:

    —  advising—Government, other agencies, local authorities, interest groups, business, communities, individuals;

    —  regulating—activities affecting the special nature conservation sites in England;

    —  enabling—helping others to manage land for nature conservation, through grants, projects and information; and

    —  enthusing—advocating nature conservation for all and biodiversity as a key test of sustainable development.

  1.2  In fulfilling our statutory duties, we:

    —  establish and manage National Nature Reserves;

    —  notify and safeguard Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs);

    —  advocate to government departments and others effective policies for nature conservation;

    —  disseminate guidance and advice about nature conservation; and

    —  promote research relevant to nature conservation.

  1.3  Through the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, English Nature works with sister organisations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to advise Government on UK and international nature conservation issues.

  1.4  Our comments on the administration and work of the two agencies are set out below.


2.1  Context

  The inland transport sector, and roads in particular, has a significant impact on biodiversity and our Earth heritage and it is this impact, both real and potential, which underpins our interest in the work of the Highways Agency.

2.2  The Agency's remit

  We very much welcome and support the wider role which the Highways Agency is now adopting to help deliver the objectives set out in the Government's 1998 White Paper on integrated transport. From the evidence we have seen to date the Agency is taking this role seriously and has started to take important steps, some of which we commend later in this submission, towards the provision of more environmentally-sustainable forms of transport.

2.3  The use of sustainable development indicators

  An issue which we would urge the Agency to give greater consideration to is the use of environmental and other performance indicators for measuring progress towards the delivery of its strategic objectives and targets as set out in its Business Plan. Specifically, we would recommend that the Agency uses the Government's Quality of life counts—indicators for sustainable development for the United Kingdom: a baseline assessment for this purpose.

2.4  Suite of strategic documents

  The Agency is planning to produce a family of eight strategic documents and we understand that at least four of these have already been produced (on safety, environment, maintenance and accessibility). We have been pleased to comment on drafts of these documents, where appropriate to our interests, and in relation to the preparation of the Environmental Strategic Plan were especially pleased that the Agency was able to take on board our comments about the need to address Earth heritage conservation. It will be important for each of the plans to be underpinned by detailed action plans and specific targets.

2.5  Commitments to biodiversity action plans

  We strongly welcome the statement made in Transport: 2010, the Government's 10 Year Transport Plan, that commits the Highways Agency to managing it entire network in line with biodiversity action plans by 2005. The Agency has in turn established a Biodiversity Partnership Group in order to guide the development of its own Biodiversity Action Plan and invited English Nature to have a seat on this which we have been pleased to accept.

2.6  Appraisal techniques

  We have been closely involved with the production of DETR's guidance on the New Approach to Transport Appraisal (NATA) and the Guidance on the Methodology for the Multi-Modal Studies (GOMMMS) and have in effect written the sections on biodiversity. As part of this process we have worked closely with individuals within the Agency on steering groups and in other discussions. We fully support and advocate adherence to the NATA and GOMMMS process and expect the Agency to take a lead in demonstrating that they are making full and proper use of these appraisal techniques for schemes that they promote.

2.7  Customer services

  We welcome the measures that the Highways Agency has taken in recent years to improve its customer service and focus. It has established a National Customer Liaison Team and more recently a National Environmental Committee and series of Regional Environmental Committees. These offer a helpful channel communication between the Agency and its external partners, including English Nature. Nevertheless, we believe there is scope for the Customer Liaison Team to become more proactive and for the lines of communication to be improved. For example, it is not always clear which part of the Agency to approach over a particular environmental issue.

  We also believe that there is the potential for the Agency committees to become more productive by placing greater emphasis on using them to help the Agency develop policy and best practice. The committee meetings are currently run as a series of updates on individual projects with limited interaction with external members and little scope for influencing the direction of these projects. We feel that the Agency should use the committees as "sounding boards" to seek a wider range of views and ideas: making papers available prior to the meetings would, in a small way, help with this issue.

  We welcome the range of publications which the Agency is now producing to keep interested individuals and organisations in touch with its work. For example, Translink and the Stonehenge Master Plan newsletters are accessible and easy-to-use ways of maintaining awareness of latest developments within the Agency. We make regular use of the Agency's web-site and find that this is user-friendly and well-maintained.

2.8  Early consultation with the statutory environmental bodies

  A key principle of the Agency's role within the ongoing Multi-Modal and other transport studies must be to work closely with the statutory environmental bodies and to engage in dialogue with these bodies at an early stage in the process. This will enable the initial assessment of the full range of options and impacts to be as informed as early as possible and will be more likely to generate the type of integrated solutions that Transport: 2010 seeks.

  Over the next few years, the regional dimension will become increasingly important in the implementation of the 10 Year Transport Plan with regional bodies playing a significant role in shaping regional transport programmes. It will be important that the Agency develops appropriate networks at the regional level and engages with the stakeholders, such as English Nature, to ensure effective collaboration over the development of programmes.

2.9  Research programme/expenditure

  The Highways Agency devotes a considerable proportion of its budget to research into environmental issues such as the potential impact of artificial lighting. We welcome this level of commitment and have been pleased to have been involved in a number of the individual project groups designed to develop and improve understanding of biodiversity in the context of highways management.

  We strongly support the efforts of the Agency to extend the use of techniques such as the use of tunnels to help reduce the incidence of wildlife fatalities on roads.


3.1  The Agency's remit

  We welcomed the remit of the new Agency when it was formed in April 1998. We had largely dealt with the Marine Pollution Control Unit (MPCU) prior to then and the focus of our contact remains the minimisation (prevention and counter measures) of pollution at sea. We recognise and support the contribution of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to new areas of work which contribute to environmental protection such as implementation of the OPRC Regulations (The Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution Preparedness Response and Co-operation Convention) Regulations 1998) and recommendations from the Donaldson's reports (Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas, 1994 and Report of Lord Donaldson's Review of Salvage and Intervention and their Command and Control, 1999).

3.2  Strategic approach and communications

  We welcomed the Agency's Business Plan for 2000-01 which provided greater clarity than hitherto on the range of activities undertaken by the Agency and targets set for each of these. We have recently started accessing the Agency's web-site and find it reasonably easy to navigate around with some sections well-maintained.

3.3  Customer relations

  We have worked closely with counter-pollution colleagues prior to and since the Agency was established. However, since its formation, we have offered to meet representatives on several occasions to discuss common issues and provide appropriate briefing in the light of the organisation's new remit, arrival of new staff and recent developments in marine environmental legislation. None of these offers were taken up let alone responded to.

3.4  Consultation with statutory environmental bodies

  The Agency consult English Nature on a frequent basis and not always due to statutory requirements. We welcome this interaction. However, it is not unusual for consultations, requests for information, or invitations to meetings to be made at very short notice or to be poorly organised.

3.5  OPRC Process

  This has been a major exercise in which we have been directly involved through provision of comments on port and harbour oil contingency plans to ensure that nature conservation issues have been addressed. At times the process has appeared to be handled in a disorganised manner by the MCA. It has been very difficult to secure an overall timetable or programme for submission of plans upon which we can profile our own input. The MCA were less than forthcoming with the manner in which they intended to sign-off plans and have still yet to provide clear guidance on this process. There has been confusion at times with communicating the progress made with some plans. At the same time, correspondence on the subject has elicited responses that imply consultees (such as English Nature) are partly or largely to blame for delays in the process. Such an attitude is both unhelpful and difficult to accept in the light of the above.

  Our impression is that most of these problems result from staffing. During the OPRC process there have been at least three different contacts ie there has been significant staff turnover. Furthermore, there appears to have been only one person at any one time working on this major exercise. It is also not clear what co-ordination has occurred between those working on the OPRC process and others involved in counter-pollution measures within the MCA. In conclusion, we remain concerned about the process for delivering the requirements of the OPRC Regulations, provision of clear information on which we can plan, and that possibly the MCA is not leading the process in the most effective way possible.

3.6  National Contingency Plan

  The MCA has put considerable effort into producing the revised National Contingency Plan (NCP) as did a number of other organisations. We have found the two exercises to test the NCP in England both of value and enlightening. As a result of these, the NCP and other Donaldson recommendations, we had planned to undertake several related areas of work. The MCA demonstrated a proactive approach in this area by independently initiating two of these ie training for our staff and developing further guidance (STOp notice) on the operation of the Environment Group identified in the NCP. However, the approach to the latter has been rather unrealistic. A discussion meeting to help scope the content and agree the words of the STOp notice was poorly organised and ensured English Nature could not attend; no feedback was provided by the MCA without prompting, and an unrealistic deadline has been set for its production. Again, our perception is that there are insufficient available staff resources to organise proactive work above and beyond the normal day-to-date activities and maintenance of a reactive counter pollution capability of the Agency.

3.7  Inspections and detention

  We receive, and find of value, the monthly reports of detentions and infringements by inspected vessels. However, given the value of some of the infringements, we are concerned that only a fraction (c25 per cent) of shipping traffic entering UK waters is inspected. Such work will be all the more valuable in helping to implement proposed Maritime Environment High Risk Areas. However, currently it is not clear how inspection information is being used to inform policy and strengthen measures to ensure prevention of accidents and concomitant pollution.

  We await with interest the process by which the most cost effective options for Emergency Towing Vessel provision, due this Autumn, are selected.

3.8  General remarks

  In general, the MCA is an essential service which has a vital role to play in ensuring the protection of the maritime environment as well as protection of human life. We believe the staff with whom we have contact are dedicated to delivering the Agency's remit. The impression we have gained from time-to-time of poor organisation eg requests for responses or provision of material at very short notice, and hesitation to be proactive eg in taking the lead in shadow Environment Groups, is primarily due to insufficient staffing resources. Unless this is rectified we judge that the Agency is not making the most effective use of its current resources and expertise and thus is not able to deliver upon its obligations.

English Nature

October 2000

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