Environment Agency: Enforcement Action

Part of Delegated Legislation – in the House of Commons at 8:29 pm on 14th May 2018.

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Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 8:29 pm, 14th May 2018

I am going to carry on if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me.

It is well known that the criminal nature of the groups operating in the waste sector has changed over recent years. Groups are using highly sophisticated techniques to evade the agency. They act violently and threateningly to their legitimate competitors and agency staff, and often use their waste business to mask their involvement in other illegal activities, such firearms or drugs.

The agency therefore works closely with the National Crime Agency to map and detect the extent of serious and organised crime. The agency also undertakes proactive disruption and prevention work. For example, a successful landowner campaign was launched in 2017 in response to the widespread dumping of baled waste in empty buildings. Some 1,300 buildings that were possible targets of waste criminals were identified, and a host of organisations was then contacted.

The EA also works with a range of partners through the Government Agency Intelligence Network. In Teesside, for example, it instigated a local group that includes the police, fire and rescue services, local authorities, HMRC, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, trading standards and UK Border Force. Following on from the positive results of that group, similar area-focused groups are being set up in the north-east.

In the north-east, the agency has a dedicated team of enforcement officers who lead on serious and significant cases of waste crime, and there is a host of resources to draw on for less significant cases. Agency officers use sophisticated surveillance equipment to detect waste crime. For example, officers have recently started wearing body cameras when visiting illegal waste sites.

The Government have ensured that enforcement is adequately resourced. An extra £30 million of funding, which was announced in the Budget in November, has been put into waste crime enforcement. That means that an additional £60 million has been committed to the agency for enforcement since 2014. The additional Budget funding will mean more boots on the ground, with over 80 extra enforcement staff across the country. The funding will aim to reduce the number of illegal waste sites, prevent illegal exports of waste and decrease waste being mis-described.

The hon. Lady made a specific point about additional powers for the Environment Agency. We are working to strengthen the agency’s powers in this area. As part of our continuing to ensure that the agency has the necessary powers and tools to enforce good compliance, we recently introduced regulations to strengthen its powers to tackle problem waste sites. They enable the agency to restrict access to a waste site by locking the gates or barring access, and to require that all waste is removed from a site, not just the illegally deposited waste. That is one example of how we have strengthened the law in this area.

We have conducted a consultation on strengthening the permitting regime. The consultation will tighten up the waste permitting and exemptions regime by raising the bar for people to operate in the sector. It also makes further proposals on fly-tipping. Subject to the outcome of the consultation, which was launched in January and ran for 10 weeks, we will seek to implement the changes later this year. This is an important step to ensure that only fully competent people are able to hold a waste permit. The process will crack down on criminals who choose to operate in the sector while acting under a veil of legitimacy. We strengthened the law on fly-tipping in 2016, introducing on-the-spot fine enforcement notices for people caught fly-tipping. One element of the current consultation is about strengthening that further so that even if we do not catch people in the act of fly-tipping, there will be an opportunity to levy a penalty notice against them when we are able to trace where the waste came from.