Owen Paterson: 'Customers value what the two agencies do'. Photo: Defra

Owen Paterson: 'Customers value what the two agencies do'. Photo: Defra

Britain’s largest walking charity welcomed the Government’s decision not to merge two environmental agencies.

The Ramblers said plans to combine the Environment Agency and Natural England would have endangered public access and environmental protection.

But the charity said it still had concerns about cuts to Natural England, saying it believed the creation of the English Coast Path could be in jeopardy.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson today announced the findings of a review of the two bodies, which come under his Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Mr Paterson said in his report: “During this Review I have heard from many of the bodies’ customers, who have told me how much they value what the EA and NE do, and about how their services have improved significantly in recent years.

However, I have also heard ideas for ways to improve delivery. In particular, to give businesses
who work with both bodies a more integrated and effective customer experience, and the need for further innovation and greater efficiency in order to allow the bodies to remain resilient in the face of difficult challenges ahead.

“I have therefore concluded that the EA and NE should be retained as two separate public bodies with separate purposes and functions, but that both bodies should continue to reform how they deliver their services to their customers and drive further efficiencies.”

The Ramblers’ chief executive Benedict Southworth said: “Keeping Natural England and the Environment Agency as separate entities is good for both protecting the environment and promoting public access to it.

“A merger would have been a major distraction at a time when both the environment and the public purse are under extreme pressures.

“However, we are concerned that the further cuts to Natural England’s budget will affect the delivery of some of its work, including the creation of the England Coast Path.

“At a time when the Government is focusing on infrastructure spending, we urge Natural England to protect this small investment and take the coast path forward.”

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