Brexit: Stop-gap for environmental law change

By Conor Macauley
BBC NI Agriculture & Environment Correspondent

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image captionThe UK's Environment Bill is making its way through the legislative process and is not expected to become law until Autumn

A new way for people to complain about public bodies failing to uphold environmental law has gone live.

It is a stop-gap measure while the loss of environmental oversight as a result of Brexit is addressed.

Environmentalists have welcomed the Interim Environmental Governance Secretariat but questioned whether it goes far enough.

The European Commission previously had a role in ensuring members states complied with EU environmental law.

Those laws have been copied into domestic legislation as part of the Brexit process.

The oversight function was to have been taken over by a new UK body, the Office of Environmental Protection, which was meant to be ready for the end of the transition period.

It will come come into being with the passing of the UK's Environment Bill, which is still making its way through the legislative process.

It is not expected to be law before the Autumn.

Northern Ireland's powers

The bill gives Stormont ministers the power to extend the remit of the Office of Environmental Protection to Northern Ireland, subject to assembly approval.

The secretariat is not independent of government, but a team which sits within the environment departments at Whitehall and Stormont.

Its role is to collate and pass on complaints to the office for possible investigation once it is formally established.

Environment Minister Gordon Lyons said the interim body would ensure continuity pending the new arrangements.

"Our environment is valuable in its own right but it also sustains economic growth and facilitates social wellbeing, so its protection and enhancement are top priorities for me," he said.

"As we await the introduction of the office, this new system means everyone can be reassured that environmental oversight will not simply be ignored."

John Martin of Nature Matters NI said questions remained over the effectiveness of both the interim arrangements and the body which will ultimately replace them.

"We would encourage people to use it but does it go far enough, probably not and time will tell whether the Office of Environmental Protection is going to be effective or not."

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