As I stand down as Chairman, I wanted to take the opportunity to provide some personal reflections on my time at SEPA. I joined SEPA as Chairman in January 2008, and I have to say that now would be a far better time to be joining SEPA, with a bright future ahead of it, than leaving. But after two terms, and eight years, I am obliged to stand down at the end of December.
I have been supported over that time by three outstanding Chief Executives; Campbell Gemmell, James Curran, and now Terry A’Hearn, and by a very dedicated Agency Board, but most importantly by the wider SEPA team who have inspired me with their knowledge, expertise, commitment and enthusiasm. I believe that, together, we have delivered significant achievements for the people of Scotland, and at the risk of leaving out some significant developments I want to briefly highlight some of them here.
One of the first areas I tackled in 2008 was initiating a review of SEPA’s planning service. I wanted to make sure SEPA’s engagement with the land use planning process was proportionate, clear, and focused on the needs of customers. Working both with partners and customers, SEPA has now established itself as a key player in the modernised planning system, turning the organisation into a recognised pace-setter for inter-Agency collaboration, and a statutory consultee who helps find solutions that both facilitate development and protect the environment and communities. SEPA is now playing a full and constructive role in the Planning Review recently announced by Scottish Government.
I also encouraged a collaborative approach for shared services between public bodies, to improve both the effectiveness and efficiency of service delivery. The development in the early years of my Chairmanship of the Scotland’s Environment and Rural Services (SEARS) model of partnership resulted in closer and more productive working between SEPA and other public bodies, which brought benefits for customers involved in rural land management, and for the environment. As a member of the Reference Group for the review of Scottish Government Environment and Forestry Directorate functions, I also had an excellent opportunity to look at ways of delivering best value from the combined resources of the policy and delivery bodies working in the fields of forestry and the environment. This is now being developed further through the Rural Affairs, Food & Environment (RAFE) Delivery Board, chaired by our Cabinet Secretary and Minister, and of which our Chief Executive, Terry A’Hearn is a member.
The Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Act, which was passed in 2014, marked the start of a new phase for SEPA. It set out a new statutory purpose for us, helps transform environmental regulation in Scotland, and also helps us direct our effort towards Scotland’s most pressing environmental problems and greatest opportunities. It underpins SEPA’s direction of change, reinforcing my ambitions for SEPA to become more outcome-focused, using good evidence and intelligence to deliver clearly understood results, not just for Scotland’s environment but also delivering benefits for communities and the economy at the same time. This will remain a strong legacy and was achieved by us putting considerable effort into working with our regulated customers, Scottish Government, Ministers, and the Regulatory Review Group, to work out how best to bring this new approach to regulation into being.
It was particularly rewarding for me to be recognised as a Climate Change Champion in Scotland, and to be invited to join the Scottish Energy Advisory Board (SEAB). Through these opportunities I set out a vision of SEPA doing everything in its power to help Scotland address climate change, and enabling and supporting ‘Green Growth’ in the economy, as well as making the connections between energy, environment and enterprise. Pushing to put this vision into practice, I was very pleased to be able to open a number of new, modern SEPA offices and first class laboratory facilities in recent years, including Inverdee House in 2011, the Angus Smith Building in 2013, and Strathallan House in 2015.
These buildings have very much improved energy and environmental ratings and environmentally-friendly features, and in recognition of this in 2011 Inverdee House in Aberdeen won an International Green Apple Award for the Built Environment.
SEPA’s role in flooding has grown significantly from the issuing of flood warnings to being at the heart of flood forecasting and warning, and flood risk management in Scotland, which is about to include a role in reservoir safety as well. We have raised the profile of soils, a long-neglected but vital feature of our environment, and SEPA now plays a central role in assessing the carbon balance of wind farm proposals on carbon-rich peat soils.
We are more active than ever in tackling environmental crime, and especially the infiltration of serious organised crime into the waste industry, a role which attracts international recognition. SEPA’s work on engaging farmers over diffuse pollution has also won not only the support of the sector, but praise at a European level too.
I am immensely proud of what SEPA has achieved in the last eight years. I have seen SEPA transform into a genuinely world-leading environment protection agency, and a leader in reforming the development and delivery of excellent public services focused on the needs and expectations of customers. I was honoured earlier this month to receive the Holyrood Magazine Public Service Leadership Award in recognition of the vision and leadership I have been able to provide.
But the award really reflects the leadership approach adopted in SEPA generally, and the achievements I have highlighted here are all down to the commitment and efforts of SEPA’s staff and our partners.
But it’s now time for me to move on. In many respects I wish I wasn’t – I can’t think of a better time to be joining an EPA rather than leaving when, like SEPA, it is on the cusp of going where no EPA has gone before and becoming a genuine world leader in how to protect and enhance our environment while at the same time securing economic growth and social well-being. I wish SEPA, and my successor as Chairperson, every success for the future.