The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has responded to the government’s announcement yesterday that it wants to relax nutrient neutrality rules for developments affecting protected sites.
The letter from OEP Chair Dame Glenys Stacey to the Secretaries of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says that the proposed changes to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill will reduce the level of environmental protection provided for in law and amount to a regression.
The letter states that the proposed changes would demonstrably reduce the level of environmental protection provided for in existing environmental law, and that the Government has not adequately explained how, alongside such weakening of environmental law, new policy measures will ensure it still meets its objectives for water quality and protected site condition.
The OEP is calling for transparency over the impacts of the changes on environmental protections in law. The Environment Act requires Ministers to set out to Parliament where a proposed change in the law reduces environmental protection. Ministers should now make a statement equivalent to that required by section 20(4) of the Act and confirm that they are no longer able to say that the Bill would not reduce the level of environmental protection provided for by any existing environmental law, but that the Government nevertheless wishes Parliament to proceed.