The Queen’s Speech and the Environment
We’ve had the Queen’s Speech today, setting out the UK Government’s ambitions for the next parliamentary session.
There are three areas that will be of particular interest to members and the sector: the Planning Bill, climate change activities, and the Environment Bill. There isn’t anything that we didn’t already know, so we will have to wait for the bills themselves and other information to find out more.
The background notes to the speech give some information on what we can expect:
“Laws to modernise the planning system, so that more homes can be built, will be brought forward…”
The purpose of the Bill is to:
- Create a simpler, faster and more modern planning system to replace the current one that dates back to 1947, and ensuring we no longer remain tied to procedures designed for the last century.
- Ensure homes and infrastructure – like schools and hospitals – can be delivered more quickly across England.
- Transform our planning system from a slow document-based one to a more efficient and easier to use digital and map-based service, allowing more active public engagement in the development of their local area.
- Help deliver vital infrastructure whilst helping to protect and enhance the environment by introducing quicker, simpler frameworks for funding infrastructure and assessing environmental impacts and opportunities.
The main benefits of the Bill would be:
- Providing more certainty for communities and developers, particularly smaller developers, about what is permitted where, through clear land allocations in local plans and stronger rules on design.
- Simpler, faster procedures for producing local development plans, approving major schemes, assessing environmental impacts and negotiating affordable housing and infrastructure contributions from development.
- Establishing a framework which focuses on positive outcomes, such as environmental opportunities and better designed places.
- Digitising a system to make it more visual and easier for local people to meaningfully engage with.
The main elements of the Bill are:
- Changing local plans so that they provide more certainty over the type, scale and design of development permitted on different categories of land.
- Significantly decrease the time it takes for developments to go through the planning system.
- Replacing the existing systems for funding affordable housing and infrastructure from development with a new more predictable and more transparent levy.
- Using post-Brexit freedoms to simplify and enhance the framework for environmental assessments for developments.
- Reforming the framework for locally led development corporations to ensure local areas have access to appropriate delivery vehicles to support growth and regeneration.
Territorial extent and application
- The Bill will extend to the whole of the UK, however the majority of provisions will apply to England.
- There is very little meaningful public engagement in the current planning system. At present only around 3 per cent of local people engage with planning applications, and for local plan consultations engagement can fall to less than 1 per cent.
- As of February 2021, only around 41 per cent of Local Authorities have an up-to-date local plan in place.
- Updating a local plan currently takes an average of 7 years.
- Thirty years ago smaller builders were responsible for around 40 per cent of new homes built, but currently this figure is only 12 per cent.
- The current system does not lead to enough homes being built, especially in those places where the need for new homes is the highest. Adopted Local Plans, where they are in place, provide for 192,725 homes per year across England (as of March 2021) – significantly below our ambition for 300,000 new homes annually. As a result of this long-term and persistent undersupply, housing is becoming increasingly expensive.
Climate Change, Net Zero and COP26
“My Government will invest in new green industries to create jobs, while protecting the environment. The United Kingdom is committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and will continue to lead the way internationally by hosting the COP26 Summit in Glasgow.”
- We are already leading the way globally in acting on climate change – as the first major economy in the world to set net zero in law, we reduced our emissions by 44 per cent between 1990 and 2019, while growing our economy by 78 per cent. This is the fastest rate in the G7.
- We have laid legislation to set Carbon Budget 6 at the level recommended by the Climate Change Committee, which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 compared to future estimates of 1990 emissions levels – the most ambitious in the world.
- The Prime Minister has laid out a Ten Point Plan for a green industrial revolution over the next decade. The Plan will mobilise £12 billion of Government investment and could unlock three times as much private sector investment by 2030 to create thousands of highly-skilled green jobs, build back a greener economy and level up opportunity across the country.
- We are delivering on our Plan. We have announced new offshore wind ports supporting up to 60,000 jobs, supported over 100,000 businesses and public bodies to transition to low carbon heating, and we are helping tens of thousands of households to upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes.
- We have already published our Energy White Paper which sets out the transformation of the UK’s energy system. Policies included will create new industries and investment in green innovation and will support up to 220,000 jobs by 2030.
- Our Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy sets out an ambitious blueprint to deliver the world’s first low-carbon industrial sector and over £1 billion to cut emissions, as well as supporting up to 80,000 jobs over the next three decades.
- Our forthcoming sector strategies, including Heat and Buildings, the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, and the comprehensive Net Zero Strategy will set out the Government’s vision for transitioning to a net zero economy by 2050.
- The UK will host the vital COP26 climate negotiations in November this year to catalyse ambitious global action to cut emissions to net zero further, to help communities adapt and increase resilience and harness growing momentum to successfully deliver the goals of the Paris Agreement.
- We will work with international partners to push a significant reduction in global carbon emissions with new or updated 2030 targets, otherwise known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), ahead of COP26, and commitments from countries, regions, businesses that set a course for net zero.
- The UK has announced a new NDC, which commits to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68 per cent by 2030 on 1990 levels, the highest level of emissions reductions by 2030 of any major economy to date, compared to 1990 levels.
- The UK is among the largest contributors of climate finance. The Prime Minister announced that the UK will double our International Climate Finance to at least £11.6 billion from 2021 to 2025 to drive clean and resilient growth in developing countries.
- From 31 March 2021 the UK Government will no longer provide any new direct financial or promotional support for the fossil fuel energy sector overseas, other than in limited circumstances. This includes UK Export Finance support, international aid funding, and trade promotion for new crude oil, natural gas and thermal coal projects. We are leading the way in R&D and innovation, including through the £1 billion Net Zero Innovation Portfolio, and the £1 billion Ayrton Fund.
- In 2019, the UK became the first major economy in the world to make a legally binding commitment to end its contribution to global warming by 2050 by reaching net zero emissions.
- We met our first and second carbon budgets that were established under the Climate Change Act 2008, and we are on track to overachieve on the third. We are taking decisive action to go further faster to deliver Carbon Budgets 4 and 5 (2023-27; 2028-32).
- Over 460,000 people are already working in low carbon businesses and their supply chains across the country, with turnover estimated at £46.7 billion in 2018.
- We are making progress. So far:
- Low carbon electricity now gives us over 50 per cent of our total. We have the world’s largest offshore wind capacity (a third of the global total). Coal’s share of generation has fallen from 40 per cent in 2012 to under 3 per cent in 2019 and will be zero by 2024.
- Emissions from business and industry have halved since 1990.
- We have halved our emissions from the natural resources sector since 1990 and emissions from public buildings are down 42 per cent since 1990.
- In 2020, 13,460 hectares of trees were planted towards our 2025 UK yearly target of 30,000 hectares per year.
- We are ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 putting the UK on course to be the fastest G7 country to decarbonise cars and vans, and from 2035, all new cars and vans must be zero emissions at the tailpipe. Currently, sales of battery electric vehicles are at seven per cent of all car sales.
- We have reduced emissions by more than two-thirds in the power sector. Renewable electricity generation has more than quadrupled since 2010 and low carbon electricity now gives us over 50 per cent of our total.
- We are taking action in every sector of the economy, investing in green industries to spur more private investment, including:
- Committing £240 million for low carbon hydrogen production out to 2024-25.
- £2 billion to kickstart a cycling and walking revolution.
- £1 billion to capture carbon from power stations and industry.
- £640 million Nature Climate Fund to provide significant funding for the creation, restoration and management of woodland and peatland habitats.
- £100 million to research and develop Direct Air Capture technologies.
- Our Nationally Determined Contribution will reduce emissions by at least 68 per cent by 2030 on 1990 levels.
- Since 2011, our International Climate Finance has helped:
- 57 million people cope with the effects of climate change.
- 26 million people with improved access to clean energy.
- Reduce or avoid 16 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.
“My Government will invest in new green industries to create jobs, while protecting the environment… Legislation will set binding environmental targets.”
The purpose of the Bill is to:
- Put the environment at the centre of policy making, making sure that this Government – and those in the future – are held accountable for making progress on environmental issues.
- Introduce a framework for legally-binding environmental targets and establish a new, independent Office for Environmental Protection.
- Introduce measures to revolutionise how we recycle; enhance local powers to tackle sources of air pollution; secure long-term, resilient water supplies and wastewater services; and protect nature and improve biodiversity.
The main benefits of the Bill would be:
- Setting up a new, independent body that will hold all public authorities to account on environmental law, helping to drive momentum on progress to protect and improve the environment.
- Improving air quality by fighting air pollution so that we have cleaner air to breathe.
- Ensuring we can manage our precious water resources in a changing climate.
- Supporting Government’s ambitions to become a world leader in using resources efficiently.
- Restoring and enhancing nature and biodiversity, with thriving plants, wildlife and habitats.
- Ensuring companies undertake due diligence to protect ecosystems such as the rainforest from illegal deforestation.
The main elements of the Bill are:
- Placing a duty on Ministers to ensure environmental considerations are central to policy development; setting legally-binding targets; producing a long-term environmental improvement plan; and setting up the independent Office for Environmental Protection.
- Preserving our resources by minimising waste, promoting resource efficiency, and moving towards a circular economy. These measures include extended producer responsibility, product labelling powers, introducing a consistent approach to recycling across local authorities in England, introducing a deposit return scheme for drinks containers, and providing for more effective litter enforcement. It will also provide the powers to introduce charges for single use plastic items to combat pollution.
- Improving air quality by requiring the Secretary of State to set at least two legallybinding targets on air quality for PM2.5, the most harmful air pollutant.
- Managing water sustainably through modernised legislation to secure a longterm, resilient water supply and wastewater services.
- Protecting nature by mandating ‘biodiversity net gain’ in the planning system, ensuring new houses are not built at the expense of nature and delivering thriving natural spaces for communities. We will improve planning for nature recovery through Local Nature Recovery Strategies and create Nature Recovery Networks to join up nature sites and create wildlife-rich places. We will give communities a greater say in the protection of local trees.
- Placing requirements on larger businesses that use agricultural commodities associated with deforestation. These requirements will prohibit larger businesses from using key agricultural commodities produced on illegally deforested land.
- We will be putting forward amendments to the Environment Bill to reduce the harm from storm overflows to our rivers, waterways and coastlines. New duties will require the Government to publish a plan to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows by September 2022 and report to Parliament the progress of implementing the plan.
Territorial extent and application
- The Bill will extend and apply UK wide, with over half of the Bill’s provisions applying to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
- The Bill has been carried over into the second session but work on implementing its measures has not stopped: Dame Glenys Stacey has been appointed as chair of the Office for Environmental Protection; a draft Principles Policy Statement is out for consultation; we have started developing our legally-binding targets with experts; and consultations have been launched on the deposit return scheme for drinks containers and extended producer responsibility for packaging.
- The Government is taking strong action to deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth and leave the environment in a better state than we found it.
- The UK was the first major economy to legislate to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and we have set out the most ambitious climate change target, cutting emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 on 1990 levels.
- This follows on action we have already taken:
- We introduced one of the world’s toughest bans on microbeads in rinse off personal care products in 2018 and introduced a ban on the supply of plastic straws, cotton buds and stirrers from 1 October 2020.
- We will increase tree planting across the UK to 30,000 hectares of trees per year by 2025, have created a Nature for Climate Fund to drive a step change in planting in England and will publish an England Trees Action Plan this spring.
- We have strengthened protections for ancient woodlands, veteran trees and other irreplaceable habitats in the revised national planning policy framework.
- We have invested £3.8 billion into cleaner air, and emissions of nitrogen oxides have fallen by 32 per cent since 2010 and are at their lowest level since records began.
- We have committed to protect 30 per cent of the UK’s land by 2030 and will create new National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and ten Landscape Recovery projects.
- The Environment Bill will work in tandem with policies introduced in the Agriculture Act 2020, supported by measures such as the Environmental Land Management schemes.