The government is conducting a review of how the Environment Agency and Natural England work – and whether they should merge. The BMC is concerned that the possible options for reform set out in the consultation will water down their existing access and recreation functions – and that biodiversity could come under threat from weakened regulation.
Natural England works in partnership with many organisations to provide and manage our best landscapes like National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It also encourages people to enjoy the outdoors.
It has a statutory duty to promote access to the countryside and specific responsibilities in relation to open access land, public footpaths, national trails and is overseeing the roll-out of England’s coastal access.
Launched in 2006 under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act, just six years later it is facing possible amalgamation with the Environment Agency.
Owen Paterson, secretary of state for the environment, said in his introduction to the triennial review of Natural England’s role: “The challenge for our public bodies must be to meet their environmental obligations while looking at innovative ways to reduce the burden that this may sometimes place on business.”
The BMC has been consulted about the government’s review and will be submitting its response next year. But we are worried that in wanting to further cut NE’s budget, or even merge its functions in a new organisation, its important access role will be undermined.
The BMC is already concerned that the government’s plans for national trails will undermine this important part of our nation’s infrastructure. NE has already absorbed deep cuts in its budget and we believe our national parks are now seriously underfunded.
By the end of September 2012, NE’s costs of “back office functions” had reduced by 40 per cent. This follows an earlier 20 per cent reduction made since the body was created.
The government itself recognises that merging NE with the EA “could involve significant potential direct and indirect costs in the short to medium term.” Simply getting rid of a quango to meet the Coalition’s ambition to slim down government is not a good enough reason to undermine its own wish to see a healthier, more active nation.
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