ClientEarth response to the public consultation on the OEP's draft strategy
The Office of Environmental Protection (OEP), the new environmental governance body for England and Northern Ireland which was officially created in November 2021 under the Environment Act, launched a consultation on its draft strategy and enforcement policy in January 2022. The draft strategy describes the OEP’s plan of action for holding the Government and other public authorities to account on their legal obligations to protect the environment.
While ClientEarth welcomes the OEP’s draft strategy and its strong commitments to impartiality, transparency and engagement with stakeholders, we have made a number of recommendations in our consultation response on where the draft strategy could be strengthened and improved further. These recommendations included the following:
· There is an opportunity for the OEP’s strategy to include, as one of its aims, increasing the general public's understanding of environmental law. The environmental law framework in the UK is complex (particularly following the UK’s exit from the EU), and in many cases inaccessible to the general public. An improved understanding of, and access to, environmental law will enable members of the public to participate more effectively in the work of the OEP, and help them to bring effective complaints where public authorities have breached their legal duties to protect the environment.
· It would be useful if the OEP’s strategy could set out a process by which NGOs, public authorities and members of the public can notify the OEP of concerns they have about the functioning of environmental law. The OEP already has a complaints procedure in place for the public to notify the OEP when public authorities fail to comply with environmental law. However, this procedure does not allow issues to be raised concerning problems with (or gaps in) the law itself.
· We also recommended that the OEP clarifies some aspects of the enforcement procedure such as the management of cross-boundary enforcement matters that have impacts, for example, in Wales and Scotland or the Republic of Ireland and the role of dialogue and agreement in the enforcement process alongside the OEP's more formal enforcement powers.