Adaptation and mitigation are not alternatives, says next EA chairman

Sir Philip Dilley has now been confirmed as the new Environment Agency chairman, taking up the role in September. He spoke to Antony Oliver about what he sees are the key issues ahead.

What do you see as the critical issue or issues facing the Environment Agency today?

I have spoken to quite a few ‘EA stakeholders’ both from DEFRA and DECC, as well as others including a water company and the RSPB. All of these conversations suggest that the relationship with the EA is positive, collaborative, and helpful. The key issue is probably that there will never be sufficient funds to do everything that could be done, and so focus and prioritisation of spend remains a key issue. 

Do you think the Environment Agency has the skills needed to tackle the growing demands of a changing climate and reduced public funding?

I will of course want to look at the available distribution of skills, but I expect to see that the Agency is generally rich in the necessary skills to deliver their commitments.

What do you see as the Environment Agency’s core role going forward?

There are two core roles. The Agency acts as a regulator, both helping define standards, and seeing that they are upheld. A good example of this is in the area of waste and a growing area in the future will be fracking.  It also delivers capital projects and maintenance interventions on the ground, for example in relation to flood protection or coastal defence.

Will the Agency’s focus be more in mitigating or adapting to climate change?

These are not alternatives. Adaption is going to be important as we experience more frequent extreme weather events.

How does the Agency engage more with the private sector?

There are already some good examples where the Agency is collaborating with others, for example with a local authority or a local enterprise partnership, to jointly fund and deliver a local flood protection scheme.  No doubt there will be further opportunities to collaborate in a similar way with infrastructure providers with assets at risk from flooding. 

The Agency also has established framework contracts with private sector consultants and contractors for the construction and capital maintenance of flood risk management schemes.

What will your biggest personal challenge be in taking on this role?

My role will be the non-executive chairman of the board of the EA so my principal role is to ensure that the board functions well as a team, as well as to offer support to the chief executive and his team.  Understanding the wide breadth of all the activities of the Agency is going to take some time, and plenty of listening!

The Agency has some world leading expertise – how can you widen its impact?

The Agency will properly focus on its defined mission principally in England, but staff do work with other countries sharing experiences and building capability to ensure that world leading expertise is maintained. 

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