Defra Secretary Michael Gove has said there is an ‘impeccable intellectual case’ for breaking up the Environment Agency.
Mr Gove made the remarks when giving evidence to a House of Lords committee last week.
Asked whether it would be a good idea to look again at the responsibilities of Natural England and the Environment Agency given the overlap in workload between the two organisations, Mr Gove said: “A compelling case for future change has been made by Professor Dieter Helm [chair of the Natural Capital Committee].
“He conceives of an Environmental Protection Agency - a revamped Environment Agency - with some of the delivery functions with respect to water and flood prevention being taken on by water companies and by others.
“It is an impeccable intellectual case, but there is only so much even the best Government departments can do at one time, so I think this is a responsibility for Ministers who will come after me to address.”
Prof Helm has previously set out his views on the break-up of the Environment Agency in a paper on waste policy.
In the paper, he said there was no way the Environment Agency could ever focus on the job of environmental protection while its spending and workload were dominated by flooding.
“The starting point of a reform of waste policy is therefore to split up the Environment Agency, create a single Environment Protection Agency, and devote the resources so it can properly carry out the waste regulatory functions”, he added.
“It will only be able to do this if it has both the powers and the budget. The current powers are diffuse and the result of a long, piecemeal process. In some cases, they are pathetic.
“Take fly tipping: the law makes the property owner on whose land the rubbish is dumped responsible for getting rid of it. The pollutee, not the polluter, pays.
“This is extremely serious for farmers, for wildlife trusts and other landowners for non-toxic materials. It is obviously very much more serious when the waste includes asbestos and hazardous chemicals.”
A Defra spokesman said: “The Environment Agency plays a critical role in protecting the country against flooding, regulating industry and enhancing our environment.”