The first non-executive members of the Office for Environmental Protection have been announced by DEFRA. Photograph: Joe Daniel Price/Getty Images The first non-executive members of the Office for Environmental Protection have been announced by DEFRA. Photograph: Joe Daniel Price/Getty Images

First board members announced for green watchdog

The first non-executive members of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) have been announced by DEFRA.

Former chief executive of the Environment Agency Dr Paul Leinster CBE, barrister Professor Richard Macrory, conservationist Professor Dan Laffoley, and chair of the Institution of Environmental Sciences Julie Hill MBE will begin working together imminently, according to the announcement.  

The OEP, chaired by Dame Glenys Stacey, will be an independent watchdog intended to hold the government to its green commitments, replacing the oversight and governance functions of the European Commission. 

It was first promised by the government in November 2017, but has been repeatedly  delayed in line with the Environment Bill’s slow progress through parliament.

READ MORE: Interview: OEP chair Dame Glenys Stacey on independence, funding and enforcement

However, concerns over the OEP’s independence were raised last October by green groups when amendments to the Environment Bill were brought in which included a power for the secretary of state to issue guidance to the watchdog regarding its enforcement policy.

At the time, Ruth Chambers of Greener UK said the amendment would provide a “get out of jail free card” for the government.

At the beginning of 2021, DEFRA established the Interim Environmental Governance Secretariat (IEGS), to bridge the gap until the OEP is launched - although this too was met with some scathing comments from academics

DEFRA later dismissed the concerns over the OEP’s independence in a policy paper saying that this power “does not constitute a power of direction over the OEP, and the secretary of state will need to exercise this power consistently with their duty to have regard to the need to protect the OEP’s independence.” 

The first of the appointments to the OEP board is Dr Paul Leinster. He is, among other roles, chair of Water Resources East, the Bedfordshire Local Nature Partnership, the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, and BPHA - a housing association. Before these positions, he was chief executive of the Environment Agency (EA) for more than seven years.

Professor Richard Macrory - who was once the legal correspondent for ENDS - is an emeritus professor of environmental law at University College, London. Macrory served as a board member of the EA between 1999 and 2004, and was a long-standing member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. In 2000, he was awarded a CBE for services to the environment and law. 

Professor Dan Laffoley is currently marine vice chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Commission on Protected Areas and responsible for global targets and guidance on ocean protection. Before this, he led the development and scale-up of the marine conservation work of Natural England and English Nature. On his website, it says he has a keen interest in how information technology can help protect the ocean.

Julie Hill was the co-founder and director of environmental think-tank Green Alliance, and is currently the chair of the Waste and Resources Action Programme, the Institution of Environmental Sciences, and deputy chair of the Advisory Committee for Social Science for the Food Standards Agency. She also previously held board member roles on the Eden Project, the EA and the Consumer Council for Water.

Commenting on the new OEP board appointments, chair Dame Glenys Stacey said: “I am delighted with the calibre of our new board members [...] We will begin work together imminently, setting our ambitions and goals at the highest level so as to make the most difference, on behalf of current and future generations.”

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