Memorandum by Environment Agency (LGA
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
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. DUTY FOR
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
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
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
(1) The Agency advocates a strengthening
consideration of environmental sustainability from local authorities
in carrying out the duty for economic, social and environmental
(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.