The Office for Environmental Protection can undertake investigations into public authorities’ compliance with environmental law. We may do this in response to a complaint raised with us (via our published complaints procedure), or via a self-initiated investigation.
In deciding whether to investigate a matter, or pursue any other action, we follow the decision-making framework set out in Part 4 of our Enforcement Policy.
We take a proportionate approach to our enforcement activities. This means we will normally aim to resolve non-compliance through co-operation, dialogue, and agreement with public authorities. Where we reach resolution by agreement with public authorities, we will normally make this public unless there are good reasons not to. As a result, much of our work centres on the resolutions we achieve outside of our formal enforcement powers. This is summarised below under ‘Interventions and resolutions’.
Where a satisfactory outcome cannot be reached through these means, we may pursue a formal investigation, and exercise our stricter enforcement powers including, if necessary, through court proceedings. Exceptionally, where urgency requires it, we may take a matter to court outside of our bespoke enforcement functions (see Part 5 of our Enforcement Policy). You can find a summary of our investigations below.
Interventions and resolutions
|Intervention / resolution||Summary||Outcomes and additional information|
|The Environment Agency’s duty to provide a Public Register that meets the requirements specified in The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations (EPR) 2016||Intervention taken following receipt of a complaint alleging that the Environment Agency was failing to fulfil its duties under the EPR (2016) to provide access to a Public Register.||Whilst this complaint was not prioritised for investigation, we acknowledged that the transparency and accessibility of environmental data is a foundational aspect of environmental law. The external scrutiny provided by the public register is an important driver to maintain compliance standards and provide the appropriate scrutiny to environmental permits. We wrote to the Environment Agency to request an action plan detailing the development of an online public register, including planned improvements and proposed dates. The Environment Agency complied with this request and we intend to monitor their progress in this regard.|
|Fisheries Management in Offshore Marine Protected Areas||Action taken in relation to the Marine Management Organisation’s Call for Evidence on its stage two assessment of the impact of fishing using bottom towed gear in thirteen Marine Protected Areas.||We wrote to the Marine Management Organisation to express our concerns over two high-level management options under consideration as part of its stage two assessment of fishing activity impacts in marine protected areas. We were pleased to see that neither option was included in a new draft byelaw, which was published for consultation on 17 January 2023.
Letter from the OEP’s Chief Regulatory Officer and the Marine Management Organisation, and the response.
|Publication of environmental targets||Actions taken in relation to the requirement for Defra to publish Environment Act 2021 missing targets by 31 October 2022||We wrote to Defra to express our concerns over the delays and the importance of setting the environmental targets. We were pleased to see the publication of the targets on 16 December 2022 following our correspondence.
Letters between the OEP Chair and Defra
OEP News Article
|Publication of delayed River Basin Management Plans||Action taken in relation to the requirement for Defra to publish the delayed updated River Basin Management Plans||We wrote to Defra to express our concerns over the delays and the risks in meeting other statutory requirements. We were pleased to see the publication of the River Basin Management Plans on 22 December 2022 following our correspondence.
Letters between the OEP Chief Regulatory Officer and Defra
OEP News Article
|DAERA guidance on assessing applications for ammonia emitting agricultural developments||An investigation into whether the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs’ (DAERA) Standing Advice on Livestock Installations and Ammonia fails to comply with environmental law.||Commonly known as the ‘Operational Protocol’, DAERA’s ammonia guidance provides advice to local planning authorities and applicants seeking planning permission for certain livestock developments.
OEP News Article
|Regulation of combined sewer overflows (CSOs)||An investigation into the roles of Ofwat, the Environment Agency and the Defra Secretary of State in the regulation of combined sewer overflows (CSOs) in England.||OEP News Article|