The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill will effectively unite English Nature, the environment activities of the Rural Development Service and the Countryside Agency’s Landscape, Access and Recreation functions under one new body, called Natural England. This will occur in 2006 and many of the administrative changes have already begun. The three organisations will be united in a single body with responsibility for enhancing biodiversity, our landscapes and wildlife in rural, urban, coastal and marine areas; promoting access, recreation and public well-being, and contributing to the way natural resources are managed so that they can be enjoyed now and for future generations.
Natural England’s aim will be to seek to ensure that the natural environment is conserved, enhanced and managed for present and future generations as part of the Government’s commitment to sustainable development. It will retain the powers of the existing bodies including grants-making, advice and information, designating Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, managing National Nature Reserves, and enforcing the related controls over activities likely to harm such interests. Its functions will include:
English Nature – one of the constituent organisations forming Natural England, has worked in partnership with stakeholders to ensure that the natural environment, including geological and other Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) are protected and enhanced over the long term. They also have responsibility for biodiversity and the protection of rare or endangered species, with specific responsibility for these of national and European importance.
- promoting nature conservation and biodiversity
- conserving and enhancing the landscape
- securing the provision and improvement of facilities for the study, understanding and enjoyment of nature
- promoting access to the countryside and encouraging open-air recreation and
- contributing to social and economic well-being through management of the natural environment.
The Countryside Agency – is one of the constituents of Natural England that had been established in 1999, following on from the Countryside Commission, charged with working to conserve and enhance the English countryside. It brought together different aspects of the countryside – economic, environment, community and enjoyment into a single national body.
The Environment Agency – was established by the Environment Act 1995 and has responsibility for the protection and improvement of the environment with regard to air, land and water. It is the largest of the environmental organisations in the UK with a budget of £850million (2005). It administers controls over:
- air quality
- water resources
- water quality
With specific regard to the minerals sector, the Environment Agency regulates the abstraction and discharge of water, pollution control regimes, waste management licensing. It achieves many of the functions related to the control of emissions to air and the control of waste management activities through the system of Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) , a responsibility it shares in certain instances with local authority Environmental Health functions.
The Commission for Rural Communities – this is one of the new bodies formed under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill and takes on some of the functions of the Countryside Agency, but will be more closely focused on meeting its advisory, advocacy and watchdog functions for the benefit of rural people, communities and businesses, especially those suffering disadvantage.
English Heritage – This is a national body created by Parliament in 1984 that is charged with the protection of the historic environment and with promoting its understanding and enjoyment by the public. Its views will be considered if a proposal to work aggregate may affect a listed building, conservation area or scheduled ancient monuments and their views are often sought on matters relating to important archaeological sites revealed by investigations associated with mineral working.
Highways Agency – This is an executive agency of the Department of Transport that is responsible for operating, maintaining and improving the strategic road network in England. Its views will be taken into account where the traffic from a proposed quarry has the potential to affect the strategic network.
Forestry Commission – This is the Government department responsible for forestry policy throughout Britain. The Commission seeks to protect and expand Britain’s forests and woodland and increase their value to society and the environment. Its views will be taken into account where a proposed aggregates development may affect woodland or may involve a woodland based restoration.
Defence Estates Agency – This is the agency that is responsible for the properties and lands owned by the Ministry of Defence. With regard to mineral working the main concern will relate to issues of restoration to minimise risk of birdstrike to military aircraft.
Farming and Rural Conservation Agency – This is an executive agency of the Department for Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs which is responsible for the encouragement of farming practices that protect and enhance the environment. Its views will be taken into account where a proposed aggregates development may involve the loss of classified agricultural land.
Health and Safety Executive – This Government Agency is responsible for the regulation of risks to health and safety in the workplace. The Executive includes the Mines Inspectorate that specifically regulates health and safety matters at mines and mineral operations.
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