Fears for environmental protection funding

Environmentalists fear the Government is poised to slash funding for environmental protection under plans for a new 'green' watchdog.

Friends of the Earth claimed yesterday that cost savings had become the driving force behind the proposed merger of the National Rivers Authority and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution to form an Enviromental Agency. Both the NRA and HMIP have already said that budget constraints are hampering their work.

The campaigning group said a report, commissioned by the Department of the Environment from consultants Touche Ross, sets out options for the structure of the new agency. Between draft and final form, the consultants added an extra option, FoE claims. This involves bigger cuts in budgets and personnel than any of the others - about pounds 23m and just over 1,000 jobs.

Ed Gallagher, chief executive of the NRA, said yesterday he recognised good points in all the options, and hoped the Government would take the best from each rather than one in its entirety. He will comment on the report before the Government's October deadline.

The DoE said yesterday the fifth option was being developed when the draft Touche Ross report came out.