Environment Agency faces new delay

The prospect that the new Environment Agency will be operational as planned in autumn 1995 is now in doubt. Delays in getting a "paving" Bill into Parliament will soon begin to impede preparatory work on the Agency and could delay its establishment until well into 1996.

The paving Bill was announced in the Queen's Speech last November. It is needed in order to impose a duty on the constituent bodies of the Agency and its counterpart in Scotland to participate in the preparatory work, and to sanction expenditure on this (ENDS Report 226, p 29 ). A substantive Bill, establishing the powers, duties and structure of the two Agencies, is expected to follow in the 1994/5 session.

The Department of the Environment (DoE) had been hoping to get the Bill into Parliament well before Easter. The timetable began to go awry when Cabinet approval was not received until early March. But the legislation is now facing a potentially more serious hold-up caused by the Labour Party's policy of non-cooperation over the conduct of parliamentary proceedings.

A slot may be found for the Bill at short notice, but even this would not guarantee that it received Royal Assent by the summer because Labour's policy extends to non-contentious legislation, and is generally disrupting business management in Parliament.

Although the delay has not yet seriously impeded the preparatory work for the Agency, it may soon begin to do so. The two immediate problems are that if the Bill does not receive its second reading in the Commons before the summer recess, the Government would not be able to appoint a shadow Agency Board this summer as planned, while its constituent authorities would not be able to spend money on detailed planning for the Agency.

The worst case scenario is that the Bill has to be dropped altogether. This might mean that local authorities with waste regulation functions would not begin to prepare schemes to transfer them to the Agency until well into next year. The schemes will take some time to draw up, and will then require the Secretary of State's approval. This will not be granted automatically, and some schemes may have to be modified.

The result would be that a longer period would be needed between Royal Assent and the Agency's formal establishment. The DoE is still planning on bringing it into operation in October 1995, but if the paving Bill fails to get through a slippage until April 1996 at the earliest is on the cards.

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