OEP publishes its first Corporate Plan

The Office for Environmental Protection has today (Thursday, June 23) published its Corporate Plan, setting out a work programme for its first operational year. The OEP intends to prioritise work on nature recovery and the quality of air, water, soil and marine environments.  

Also published today are the OEP’s strategy and enforcement policy, now finalised following a consultation exercise earlier this year. Here, the OEP sets out how it will carry out its work to protect and improve the environment by holding the UK Government, Northern Ireland Executive and public authorities to account.  

Dame Glenys Stacey, Chair of the OEP, said: “I am delighted to present the OEP’s first Corporate Plan. We are a new organisation, with a broad remit and powerful tools. The environment and people’s health and wellbeing will be best served when we use these to their greatest effect.  

“In this plan, we set out our priorities, which centre around those aspects of the environment we consider to be in pressing need. We want our work to drive positive change on critical environmental issues – nature depletion and the quality of soils, air, water and marine environments. We intend to use our full range of powers to stimulate improvement in these areas.” 

The plan sets out the actions that the OEP will take to work towards each of its strategic objectives, including work it must do each year, and specific priorities for the year ahead. These include:  

Sustained environmental improvement

  • Publish a report to independently assess the UK government’s progress in delivering its 25-year environment plan and against environmental targets for England
  • Provide and publish advice to the UK government on its approach to setting targets, and on the proposed targets to be set under the Environment Act 
  • Evaluate the UK government and Northern Ireland executive’s plans and measures for reducing nutrient sediment and ammonia pollution in the aquatic environment 
  • Consider the UK government’s soil health action plan for England and evaluate the drivers and pressures, governance for and monitoring of soil health
  • Evaluate evidence of the drivers and pressures of air quality in England and Northern Ireland 
  • Respond to any draft ammonia strategy prepared by the Northern Ireland Executive 

Better environmental law, better implemented

  • Monitor the implementation of environmental law, publish in-depth reports on selected areas of environmental law and provide and publish advice to UK Government and Northern Ireland Executive on any proposed changes 
  • Publish reports on the implementation of existing environmental law which protects nature in England and Northern Ireland, including the Habitats Regulations Assessment, Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Environmental Assessment regimes 
  • Monitor implementation of the Environmental Principles Policy Statement across UK government departments
  • Respond to the UK government on any updates to their air quality strategy, and any other changes to environmental laws intended to promote governments’ ambitions to improve air quality 
  • Report on the implementation of environmental law, including regulatory governance, that supports inland water quality in England and Northern Ireland and evaluate the river basin management plans 

Improved compliance with environmental law

  • Assess complaints about potential breaches of environmental law by public authorities, investigate serious failures to comply and work with the public authorities to resolve them, using our enforcement powers where necessary 
  • Decide our response to each complaint received by the interim organisations which came before us, and communicate the outcome to each complainant 
  • Make improvements to the accessibility of our complaints portal and information available to complainants
  • Gather information on recent infraction cases against the UK government by the European Union, and consider the seriousness and priority of each in accordance with our enforcement policy and strategy 

Organisational excellence and influence

  • Engage regularly with a broad range of stakeholders and publish timely information about our work on our website, www.theoep.org.uk  
  • Develop our people strategy, and fully embed our values: we are independent, act with purpose, are evidence-led, and trust one another 
  • Develop our procurement strategy and establish responsive and cost-effective arrangements to access technical, legal and other expertise by gaining access to relevant expert panels, and setting up our own 
  • Recruit the expertise and experience we need to deliver our role in Northern Ireland and set up access to premises for us to work and meet there 

The OEP will work in accordance with its strategy and enforcement policy. These were subject to a consultation earlier this year, with 68 responses received. Comments were largely welcoming of the proposed approaches, with some helpful suggestions and challenges. Our Northern Ireland remit was confirmed during the consultation period. In anticipation of this, we had included our Northern Ireland functions within our draft strategy and enforcement policy. Consultees told us that more detail was needed to explain our approach there. 

The revised strategy therefore sets out more clearly our approach to working with organisations in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and with the European Commission in specific areas. It now explains how we will consider transboundary issues and how we will work to balance our priorities across our remit. We have provided more detail on our operating model in Northern Ireland, including our approach to recruiting local and expert staff and our commitment to being visible and present. We have also explained more about how we will seek to grow our capabilities over time.

A summary of the consultation responses and how these have been taken into account is published alongside the strategy and enforcement policy, as is a report on some public engagement work carried out to help inform the OEP’s work.  
Dame Glenys added: “I am enormously grateful for the wide support we have had in getting this far. Our commitment now is to act expertly, purposefully and independently, and to strive to make the most positive difference as we fulfil our mission to protect and improve the environment.  

“We are experiencing worrying and persistent trends of environmental decline in England and Northern Ireland, but there is now a real prospect of change through the tools the Environment Act introduces. We at the OEP have high ambitions for the role we can play, by making the most of the independent role Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly have given us.”