New independent standards body with enforcement powers set up to protect environment in Scotland

A new independent body set up to help Scotland achieve and maintain the highest standards of environmental protection has been officially launched today.

Friday, 1st October 2021, 4:55 am

Environmental Standards Scotland (ESS) will play an important role in ensuring governments and public bodies comply with environmental laws as well as assessing how legislation is implemented and whether it is fit for purpose.

It will have power to scrutinise the actions of all public authorities, including the Scottish Government and its agencies, as well organisations carrying out functions on behalf of public authorities, and take enforcement action if found lacking.

ESS is fully independent from the Scottish Government and accountable to the Scottish Parliament.

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Environmental Standards Scotland will play an important role in ensuring governments and public bodies comply with environmental laws as well as assessing how legislation is implemented and whether it is fit for purpose

The organisation, the first of its kind in the UK, will help to navigate environmental regulation and fill a gap in governance created as a result of Brexit.

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It will also carry out essential monitoring and research to assess Scotland’s environmental performance in a wide range of areas, including climate change mitigation, and identify areas of concern where laws are being broken or prove ineffective.

The organisation aims to keep pace with current and future European Union and other international environmental laws, as well as “horizon-scanning” to identify potential issues.

Jim Martin, chair of Environmental Standards Scotland, says the independent organisation's launch has come at a "critical time" for the country, which is facing the "twin crises" of climate change and biodiversity decline. Picture: Mark F Gibson

These insights will inform the action taken to help Scotland keep abreast of new standards.

“The creation and launch of Environmental Standards Scotland comes at a critical time for Scotland, as we face the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity decline,” said Jim Martin, chair of ESS.

“Following our departure from the European Union there was an essential need for a new organisation to ensure high environmental standards are maintained.

“Environmental law can only help us tackle climate change and biodiversity loss if it is being delivered correctly and effectively.

“ESS will play a crucial role in scrutinising our public authorities’ compliance with environmental law, the effectiveness of these laws and the way they are implemented and applied.

“We intend to work tirelessly to spotlight areas where the law is not being complied with or is ineffective, and to seek solutions to the problems we identify.

“We are committed to realising our vision for Scotland’s communities to benefit from a high-quality environment, protected from harm through effective environmental laws.”

The board will set out a programme of work in coming months, following up on issues raised and areas of concern identified.

ESS has a range of statutory powers that can be used to enforce compliance and improve the effectiveness of laws, but aims to resolve matters without recourse to the courts where possible.

Areas reserved by the UK Government, such as nuclear power and civil emergencies, will not come under ESS jurisdiction.

Mr Martin said: “We will always seek to engage with public authorities concerned to resolve matters informally at all stages of our processes.

“However, if it is not possible to resolve a matter by agreement in a reasonable timescale ESS has statutory powers to ensure the necessary action is taken.

“These include issuing compliance notices, improvement reports or referring a case for judicial review.”

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