The Environment Agency (EA) has too little money to carry out its enforcement work effectively, a letter obtained by The Times has said.
According to the newspaper, EA chair Emma Howard Boyd last August wrote to Environment Secretary George Eustice to warn that funding cuts meant England’s environmental performance was deteriorating.
In the letter, obtained under Freedom of Information legislation, The Times reported Ms Howard Boyd saying cuts of more than half to the EA’s enforcement budget had come on top of new statutory duties.
“All this is allowing more people and businesses to break the environmental rules”, she said, adding “serious waste criminals are taking advantage: the Environment Agency is now finding illegal waste sites as fast it can close down existing ones”.
The letter also told Mr Eustice that lack of EA resources meant there had been more serious pollution incidents as its “capacity to visit and tackle polluting businesses is now significantly reduced” and that it “now has only the resources to attend the most serious environmental incidents”.
Ms Howard Boyd also said: “Water company performance, which had been improving for most of the last decade, has now gone into reverse, with more pollution incidents last year than in previous years, for which we and the government are being increasingly heavily criticised”.
She called for an annual enforcement resource grant of some £145m, while the EA’s accounts show this funding fell from £157.3m in 2010 to £75.6m last year.
The Times said it had appealed against the EA’s refusal to supply a briefing prepared for Ms Howard Boyd last September ahead of a meeting with Mr Eustice and EA chief executive Sir James Bevan and a later email to her from Mr Eustice.
A spokesperson for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs did not dispute the authenticity of the letter but denied that the EA lacked adequate enforcement funds.
Defra said in a statement: “We are determined to build back green after the pandemic – progressing our 25-year Environment Plan and our commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, while supporting our rural economy and protected landscapes.
“The Government recognises the importance of protecting the nation's natural environment and we are investing accordingly.
“Defra and its agencies received a £1bn increase in overall funding at the spending review so we can do more to tackle climate change and protect our environment for future generations.”