The recently concluded triennial review of the Environment Agency (EA) and Natural England (NE) has concluded with a finding that both bodies should be retained as separate non-departmental public bodies. However, they are to be subject to further, ongoing reform of their functions and ways of working. The review concludes that there are further opportunities for both bodies to work together proactively on their planning functions to communicate a coherent offer to developers and government organisations, so that they are better aware of the full range of services offered. Additionally, the review concludes that both bodies should consolidate their planning advice processes in the best way possible, to provide a seamless planning advice service to developers on environmental issues.
As statutory consultees for planning applications, and with distinct and separate areas of responsibility in relation to their respective statutory functions, both bodies advise local authorities on environmental and flood risk aspects of development management. Developers increasingly seek advice from them, before submitting planning applications. Whilst it is suggested that there is not significant duplication in the advice provided, there are concerns about the quality and coherence of service offered to developers. The review calls upon the EA and NE to work more closely together, so that developers may have a single conversation; and that the advice given should be solution-focused and provided early in the planning process when there is plenty of opportunity to adapt development proposals to deliver the desired environmental outcomes.
A final conclusion to the review states “DEFRA will put in place a package of measures to drive and monitor actions in response to this Review. This will include a clear commission to the leadership of both bodies to produce and deliver a joint plan for deriving further integration between the two bodies, and a commitment to driving back office efficiencies and sharing of services”.