Coronavirus: Environment Agency operational update: 4 May 2020

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We are aware communities, businesses and the environment rely on our services. This includes the advice and guidance we offer, our regulatory work which continues to protect the environment, people and wildlife from harm, managing the risks of flooding and coastal erosion, and other roles.

We will continue to review the situation in light of further advice from the government and will update you accordingly – in the meantime, we remind you to check the government’s guidance at www.gov.uk/coronavirus. You can also find out more about our ongoing work during this period in this recent blog post from our Chair, Emma Howard Boyd.

Our staff

We remain fully operational, with the majority of our staff working from home. Our remaining frontline teams will be active, where necessary, on the ground tackling priority issues such as flood risk and pollution. All staff, wherever they are working, are following PHE guidance to reduce their risk of either transmitting or contracting coronavirus.

The role our field teams play in our work is critical and remains a priority. We have agreed ways of working for field teams to reduce the risk of either transmitting or contracting coronavirus.

Maintenance, operation and repair of our assets is essential to ensure they work when required. Our work will continue where it remains safe to do so and activities comply with PHE advice.

We are also ensuring our contractors are aware of site and people restrictions and are following the correct procedures.

Offices

The Environment Agency has closed most of its offices. Four offices remain open for staff whose work is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home: Horizon House in Bristol, Quadrant 2 in Sheffield, Temple Borough in Rotherham and 2 Marsham Street in London.

Our flood defence construction work

The Environment Agency is reviewing flood defence schemes currently under construction to make sure our staff and contractors are able to work safely while trying to meet deadlines to reduce flood risk for vulnerable communities.

Much of our work has been identified as essential by the government, meaning we will continue flood defence construction work. Where work continues, we have ensured that everyone involved has been trained on social distancing and will not put anyone at risk. If the work cannot be done safely, the work will stop.

Inspections of flood defences damaged by spring storms are still underway using local inspectors. We are prioritising our work to protect the most at-risk communities so they can remain resilient. We will carry out a full assessment of the impact of coronavirus on our asset repair programme as the situation develops, but we will continue to prioritise work that has the most impact in terms of protecting lives and livelihoods. If repairs to major infrastructure assets are disrupted by the impact of coronavirus, we will where possible put in place temporary mitigation for the risk, pending a full repair.

We anticipate all our work will be impacted by the controls we and government have put in place. This is likely to mean that completion dates for new projects will slip and other key activities may take place at less regular intervals. We will do our best to keep communities informed of any delays and the action that we are taking to minimise them.

Flood warning service

Continuing to protect lives and livelihoods through our flood warning service remains fundamental to our work as the nation continues to deal with the effects of coronavirus. In order to protect our flood warning service during this difficult time, we have made some minor changes to the service.

In order to safeguard this essential service we will be focussing on the most important warnings, where flooding is expected or where there is a risk to life. We will continue to issue our lowest level of flood warnings – flood alerts – where there is a need to take action but will temporarily stop issuing them where they indicate that there is a very low likelihood of flooding taking place. Our teams will continue to work around the clock to ensure that people have the early warning and safety advice they need to stay safe.

Our regulatory role

The Environment Agency’s priority is to protect people and the environment, and to support those we regulate. We continue to carry out regulatory visits to sites that could cause serious environmental harm where appropriate.For all sites we are developing ways to continue to regulate during this period, using alternative regulatory approaches such as increasing desk-based compliance activity and remote ways of working.

We recognise that those we regulate may be facing challenges as a result of coronavirus. We expect them to take all reasonable steps to comply with regulatory requirements using contingency plans to help them comply.

We realise that because of the coronavirus outbreak, those we regulate may be unable to fully comply with regulatory requirements because of circumstances outside their control, and we have guidance in place for these circumstances.

We have also issued a number of time-limited temporary regulatory position statements which allow a degree of flexibility while still ensuring regulatory standards are maintained to protect people and the environment.

We continue to enforce regulatory requirements, following the government’s guidance on social distancing. This includes liaising with courts and, wherever possible, continuing with any sentencing cases still outstanding using remote technology to conclude our legal action.

We’re also continuing to work with the police to share intelligence about criminal activity and take action against those breaking the law.

Our fisheries

Our priority is to ensure the safety of people and the angling community. Following the government’s guidance on coronavirus, anglers are advised not to go fishing. Recreational fisheries businesses are also advised that they are subject to closure regulations as set out by the government.

Fishing licences remain on sale, at present we are not currently offering a refund on licences or changes to the time limit. All options for fishing licences remain under review and we will communicate with customers should there be any change to the fishing licensing scheme.

Our waterways

The Environment Agency asks the owners of all boats kept or used on our managed waterways not to make any boat journeys, other than to access essential services and facilities.

We advise our customers to stay at home rather than self-isolating aboard, unless your boat is your primary residence. This is so you do not put yourself at increased risk or place additional burden upon our facilities.

We will not provide ‘assisted passage’ (staff to operate locks) at any of our lock sites but locks will remain open for self-service use where possible. This will allow those living aboard their boats to reach essential services if they need to.

At the few locks where self-service is not possible, we will be reducing our normal level of service and our local teams will put special temporary operating arrangements in place to assist boats through in exceptional circumstances.

We will lift time restrictions on the short stay moorings we own or manage, to assist those who live aboard their boats so they can access essential services.

We will do the very best we can to keep open the essential facilities we provide (eg water supply, sewage pump-out and chemical toilet disposal), for those who need them. However our staff will not be able to offer the sale of keys, cards or tokens. These essential services will not include the provision of shower and toilet facilities.

Please contact us if you have further questions about Environment Agency waterways.

Billing

The Environment Agency recognises some customers will be particularly affected by the measures to restrict the impact of the virus. We will consider requests for payment plans if customers experience difficulties paying bills on time. Income from fees and charges ensures the Environment Agency can continue to provide an appropriate level of regulation and services for our customers to ensure the environment and people are protected.

Customer contacts

During this pandemic the Environment Agency continues to protect people and the environment, working alongside our partners. Please report any pollution incidents on 0800 80 70 60 and stay #floodaware.

General enquiries

National Customer Contact Centre

Email: enquiries@environment-agency.gov.uk

Telephone: 03708 506 506

PO Box 544 Rotherham S60 1BY United Kingdom

Telephone from outside the UK (Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm GMT): +44 (0) 114 282 5312

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