A rugged path between wasteland and greenfield; THE MONDAY INTERVIEW; E d Gallagher

The head of the new environment agency is gearing up to face the fury of fly-tippers, eco-warriors and anxious industrialists

Ed Gallagher, the businessman who runs the Government's new environment agency, admits he will have a tough job steering between the environmental and business lobbies.

He must prove to Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace that despite a career that took in Vauxhall Motors, Sandoz, Black and Decker and Amersham International, he will be no pushover when it comes to making business behave itself.

But he must also reassure employers that he will not use the agency's tough new legal powers against polluters to make unreasonable demands that cost them the earth.

Mr Gallagher has already received qualified praise from Friends of the Earth as a result of his three-year stint running the National Rivers Authority, the biggest component of the new agency.

This alone is bound to make him an object of suspicion among some harder- nosed industrialists.

Mr Gallagher says: "We have to operate in a highly charged political arena. On the one hand, there are people at the extreme end of business who think all environmental regulation is a disaster for the country's competitiveness."

"At the opposite end are those who believe no price is too high to protect the planet. We have to find some sort of middle way through that spectrum."

New legislation that comes into force soon will give him powers whose full scope is as yet untested. These include a new duty to look for cost- effective ways of tackling environmental problems, rather than what Mr Gallagher calls "gold-plated solutions."

In principle, this should be reassuring to manufacturers, because it puts economics explicitly into the environmental equation.

But some employers are worried that in a number of key areas, such as cleaning contaminated land, they have no clues yet to where the agency will draw the line between protecting the environment and forcing shareholders to pay up huge sums to put right damage caused in the past.

Mr Gallagher concedes that contaminated land is an issue where government guidelines, to be published soon, may not be enough to allay business fears.

He suspects that it will take test cases in the courts to resolve exactly how the balance of costs is shared.

The sensitivity of the issue can be judged by outside estimates that the clean-up costs may reach a national total of pounds 20bn. Even the planned redevelopment of Mr Gallagher's temporary offices in London, in an ageing government complex in Marsham Street, will be hit by unpredictable clean- up costs. It was built on the site of an old gasworks.

The central problem that the new agency faces is that for any given environmental problem there are likely to be a range of technical solutions at widely varying costs.

The choice between them involves political and environmental as well as financial judgement.

"Our job in a lot of cases is a public relations and political fix as opposed to working out immaculate arithmetic" Mr Gallagher says.

He cites the controversy over the dumping at sea of Brent Spar - not part of his environmental remit - as a celebrated case in which the financial arithmetic of the decision was immaculate but Shell and the Government failed to carry public opinion.

So Mr Gallagher is not prepared at this stage to give assurances to industry about the cost of contaminated land clean-up.

The same applies to new rules on reducing the waste from packaging and sharing the cost of recycling through a levy on companies, another area where the Government has not yet set out the detail.

Mr Gallagher makes clear that the gloves will come off when necessary. He says: "I understand business's problems but my job is running an environment agency to protect and improve the environment. I will run my business as effectively as I can. I don't see a conflict. It helps to make business more profitable."

Mr Gallagher is enthusiastic about the extent to which voluntary investment can cut pollution and benefit industry at the same time.

He cites a scheme on the Aire & Calder navigation where pollution was cut 25 per cent through a cooperative waste management project involving 11 firms, which cut their own bills by pounds 3m at the same time.

But he warns that the solutions may not always be so comfortable. " There will be occasions where business and the environment do not get on. If there aren't cheap ways we may have to go the expensive way."

The role of the agency, the largest and most powerful of its kind in Europe, includes helping to implement the Government's deregulation initiative, a brief that should certainly placate business.

A key objective of the new agency is to provide companies with a "first- stop shop" that will make it easier to deal with complex regulations contained in a confusing morass of 29 separate pieces of legislation. There will be special help for small businesses.

Companies will also benefit from better appeal procedures that will allow factory managers to challenge the decisions of inspectors, Mr Gallagher says.

From 1 April, the agency will bring together the NRA, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution and 83 local government waste management authorities.

Some employers are concerned that the agency's senior management is dominated by the NRA, a body whose environmental mission could be costly for industry if it sets the tone for the whole agency.

Mr Gallagher boasts that the NRA has improved water quality by 25 per cent under his stewardship over the last three years.

In contrast, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution is staffed by specialist engineers and technicians, experienced in negotiating complex pollution control deals in discussions at senior level in larger companies. Their method of working has always taken cost into account when setting requirements.

The 1,200 local authority waste regulation officers around the country are an entirely different breed from the NRA and HMIP.

Inspectors deal regularly with fly-tippers and scrap merchants, and so potentially dangerous is the job that they have recently been sent on unarmed combat courses.

In London, a fly-tipper who dumped strychnine and caustic soda was jailed for 18 months. Even reputable companies such as Coalite have faced expensive prosecutions. But there is inconsistency between the different local authorities, and industry worries how they will react to national co-ordination from the new agency's headquarters in Bristol.

Mr Gallagher says he is well aware of the problem of merging the three cultures in an organisation with a budget of pounds 550m and 9,300 staff.

Where appropriate, he intends to shift the emphasis from prosecution to prevention. Mr Gallagher says: "I expect the NRA will do a lot more enforcement rather than prosecution."

The difficulty with relying on prosecution is that once an incident gets to court the damage is already done.

One of the most important changes in the new legislation is that powers to enforce pollution controls - to stop abuses while they are happening rather than prosecute after the event - will be extended from HMIP to the activities of the NRA.

Mr Gallagher sees the correct balance for the agency as being to move more slowly than some of the more aggressive environment groups demand but faster than industry would like.

Peter Rodgers

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed