'Green' agency aims to be judged by results

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Indy Politics

Environment Correspondent

The Government's pounds 550m Environment Agency should be less independent of ministers and Whitehall than one of its predecessors, its chief executive said yesterday.

"If we're perfectly frank, the National Rivers Authority was perhaps too independent from government," said Ed Gallagher. "As a result it was left out of some important decisions. How independent you are affects how much the Government trusts you."

The new agency, which covers England and Wales, comes into being on 1 April, along with a separate agency for Scotland. It takes over the functions of the rivers authority, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution and the waste regulation departments of local councils.

Mr Gallagher, whose background is in the private sector, said the agency's key goal was to improve the environment - and it should be judged by that. Employing 9,000 people and headed by a 14-member board, it will be the largest and most powerful environmental protection body in Europe. "It has the chance to be the leading environment agency in the world," its chairman, Lord De Ramsey, said yesterday.

He and the nine executive directors of the agency yesterday set out its aims and hopes to an invited audience of businessmen, environmental and wildlife conservation groups and journalists. They also unveiled its new logo, which has cost pounds 50,000 to design and print.

The agency's biggest single task, in terms of income and expenditure, is to protect land from flooding by rivers and sea. That accounts for almost half its budget. But its most controversial and critically watched task will be its regulation of polluting industry, from individual farms which can ruin streams with slurry overflows to huge refineries.