In the news

November 10, 2000

As floodwater seeps over the country, Sir John Harman, chairman of the Environment Agency, has often followed in its wake, insisting "it's no good pontificating from an office in London".

He has taken a similarly robust attitude to the petrol crisis, calling for tax to be directed to improving transport because "the true cost of petrol has to be measured in terms of environmental as well as financial impact".

His appointment in January this year was supported by Friends of the Earth. Harman's predecessor Lord De Ramsey retired early after a low-key response to floods in 1998 and revelations that genetically modified crops had been grown on his land.

The environment, transport and regional affairs committee said it hoped the agency under Sir John would "say things which the government may not want to hear".

Sir John, who was shortlisted, but rejected, for a safe Labour seat in the last election, has already warned that government plans to build new homes on flood plains could worsen problems. He has also criticised proposed salmon conservation cuts.

Educated at St George's School, Weybridge, and Manchester University, where he studied mathematics, he took a teaching qualification at Huddersfield College of Education and taught maths at Greenhead College, Huddersfield. He was head of maths at Barnsley Sixth-Form College, then a senior lecturer at its merged successor, Barnsley College, for 18 years until 1990. Colleagues there praise his ability to take a global view of issues and to maintain a good rapport with students.

He is a former leader of Kirklees Metropolitan Council, a member of the government's New Deal Task Force and was part of the UK round table on sustainable development.

When not watching Huddersfield Town AFC, he is a dedicated gardener and member of a five-a-side football team, the Huddersfield Terriers.

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