New independent environment regulator to be based in Worcester

A new independent regulator tasked with ensuring the Government upholds environmental standards will be based in Worcester, a minister has announced.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow told MPs the Government has decided the West Midlands city “will be an excellent location for the headquarters” of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP).

But Labour MP Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) branded the decision “inexplicable” after claiming she had been told “on more than one occasion” by ministers that the new body would be based in Bristol, creating 120 jobs.

Ms McCarthy also accused Ms Pow of informing MPs of the decision “with more than a hint of smugness”.

Meanwhile, shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard expressed his disappointment on social media, saying the news “robs” Bristol of jobs.

When created, the OEP will scrutinise all government policy in relation to the environment and will have the power to run its own independent investigations and enforce environmental law, including taking government and other public bodies to court where necessary.

Courts will then have the power to issue fines if they deem a situation appropriate.

The independent regulator will also provide scrutiny and advice to public bodies and offer a free-to-use complaints system.

Opening the report stage of the Environment Bill, Ms Pow told MPs: “I’d like to take this opportunity to provide the House with an update on the OEP.

“We want to ensure that this is located in a good, long-term place and, trust me, there were an awful lot of contenders.

“Upon considering wider locations, we’ve decided that Worcester will be an excellent location for the headquarters of the OEP.

“This is part of the Government’s commitment to ensuring that opportunities are spread fairly across the country.”

More than displeased with the announcement, during her later turn in the debate, Ms McCarthy told the Commons: “Leaving the EU without a fully functioning, properly resourced and independent Office for Environmental Protection – which can take public authorities to court over the most serious breaches of environmental law – leaves a regulatory gap which so many of us warned against.

“And were promised that the Office for Environmental Protection would be located in Bristol with the creation of 120 jobs.

“This was publicly reported and I was told this by ministers on more than one occasion.

“Yet the minister has today announced without a hint of shame, in fact with more than a hint of smugness, that the OEP will be based in Worcester.

“Rest assured, I will be seeking an explanation from her as to why this hugely disappointing and, given Bristol’s record, inexplicable decision, was made.”

Bristol had been touted to host the OEP (Ben Birchall/PA)
Bristol had been touted to host the OEP (Ben Birchall/PA)

Mr Pollard also tweeted: “In 2019 the Government promised the new environment regulator would be based in Bristol.

“Two years on they break that promise and plan to move it to Worcester.

“That robs the region of new jobs.”