Brexit Freedoms Bill, Investment Zones and Expiring EU Law: What the many announcements in the mini budget mean for the environment

On Friday, the Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng launched a new Growth Plan which sets out plans to accelerate priority major infrastructure projects across England through “planning reform, regulatory reform, improved processes or other options“.

The Plan confirms a new Planning and Infrastructure Bill will be brought forward in the coming months which the government says will “reduce unnecessary burdens” to speed up the delivery of infrastructure. This includes “the burden of environmental assessments” and reforming habitats and species regulations.

The Plan also introduces ‘Investment Zones’ which are areas (yet to be agreed) that will allow reduced taxes for businesses, accelerated development and wider support for growth. The government has said it will set out “further detail on the liberalised planning offer for Investment Zones in due course”.

Alongside the Growth Plan, the government published the full draft of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (known as the Brexit Freedoms Bill) which seeks to introduce a sunset clause on retained EU law (such as the Habitats Regulations and Environment Impact Assessment regime) which would mean all EU-derived law would expire by December 2023 unless an extension is agreed.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) currently has responsibility for 570 pieces of EU-derived law which will need to be assessed before the sunset clause deadline if the Bill is approved as drafted.

The Bill not only gives powers to ministers to amend and repeal EU law, but also seeks to repeal the principle that domestic legislation should be interpreted consistently with former EU law which allows the courts to diverge from EU case law.

CIEEM Strategic Policy Panel Chair, Ben Kite CEcol MCIEEM said:

Those who work in the fields of environmental protection and land use planning have proposed meaningful reforms to existing legislation and guidance [such as the Habitats Directive and Regulations] to expedite much needed development whilst still protecting the environment. Instead, the Government has ignored expert advice for improvements, and appears to have embarked on a reform exercise that puts crucial safeguards at risk…

Challenges like nutrient neutrality have only caused delays to development because insufficient action was taken to keep our rivers and seas clean in the first place, and to proactively develop strategies for addressing the pollution caused by new development, before it became a problem. Simply pretending now that the problem does not exist, by removing the regulation that demands a solution be found, is a recipe for environmental damage and a polluter’s charter that is incompatible with the Government’s pledges to halt the loss of biodiversity and with the UK’s wider international environmental obligations.