Government publishes new Environment Bill details

On Wednesday 21 October 2020, the UK Government published new details relating to the forthcoming Environment Bill. The information is in relation to Supplementary Delegated Powers Memorandum from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The new document relates to new clauses on:

A delegated power to allow the Secretary of State to issue statutory guidance to the OEP in relation to its enforcement functions

  • This does appear to be an eroding of the independence of the Office for Environment Protection (OEP). The Government explanation is that as the Secretary of State is ultimately responsible to Parliament for the performance of the OEP, so needs this power to ensure that the OEP performs its function (and not diverge from “serious” cases) of holding government to account. It is however noted that Ministers can currently give guidance to the Committee on Climate Change under the Climate Change Act 2008.

Species conservation strategies – A power for the Secretary of State to provide guidance in relation to the duties under subsection (6) of that clause

Species conservation strategies subsection (9) – A power for the Secretary of State to specify a public body for the purposes of this clause

  • These provisions place a duty on local planning authorities, and any prescribed authority, to cooperate with Natural England in the preparation and implementation of a species conservation strategy. The explanations specifically cite great crested newts and development, and may be a way for local planning authorities to be obliged to adopt the District Level Licensing approach. We are aware that there is ongoing development of new conservation strategies in relation to other species – including bats – and we are supportive of approaches such as Earned Recognition.

Protected site strategies subsection (8) – A power for the Secretary of State to provide guidance to public bodies, concerning how to discharge the duty in subsection (7)

  • This new clause provides for Natural England to prepare a strategy for the conservation and management of a protected site, including the management of impacts on that site from offsite sources. In certain areas where the need to manage impacts on a protected site has a significant impact on development in an area, Natural England has with the relevant authorities sought to agree strategic solutions for avoiding, mitigating and where necessary compensating for impacts on protected sites. It is considered there are wider opportunities for such strategic approaches to be taken, and giving these strategies a statutory basis will encourage such strategic solutions to be found. It is noted that this may include helping to develop mechanisms to enable important new development to go ahead by requiring a corresponding reduction in the existing impact from an activity which is the responsibility of another authority.

Further detail is given in the new memorandum regarding the context and justifications.

We await the return of the Environment Bill to Parliament in the very near future.