What you need to know about the new Environment Bill

Following on from the launch of the Environment Bill by Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers this week, CIEEM has had a chance to further digest the Bill itself.

Alongside the Bill, Government has also published a policy statement.

CIEEM was very pleased to hear the Secretary of State say that the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis are inextricably linked and that we need to pursue nature-based solutions.

She also acknowledged that efforts must be across all of Government, not just Defra, and that the need for a step change is unarguable.

Setting Targets

We are pleased to see the Bill taking a long-term view with requirements on Ministers to set targets with review periods.

CIEEM believes we can be more ambitious, including more targets and for the short-term as well.

Principles

Five principles (environmental protection integrated into policy-making, preventative action, precautionary, environmental damage rectified at source, and polluter pays) are included on the face of the Bill.

However, it conspicuously excludes the non-regression principle and has some notable exemptions.

Environmental Watchdog

The new Office for Environmental Protection will have climate change included in its remit, as CIEEM has championed.

CIEEM believes the watchdog needs to be further removed from Government to make it truly independent.

Duties on Public Bodies

The Bill strengthens the duty on public bodies to not just protect but also enhance biodiversity, and that local authorities must have regard to relevant local nature recovery strategies.

Secretary Villiers in her speech said that Government will provide data, guidance, and support for authorities in producing these strategies but did not elaborate on what this would look like.

The Bill empowers local authorities, which will require funding and expertise. Appropriately competent biodiversity professionals must be at the heart of delivering the ambition and duties set out in the Bill.

In questions after her speech, Secretary Villiers acknowledged that resources and funding will be needed, adding that the Bill will create new income streams for the environment.

Biodiversity Net Gain

On Biodiversity Net Gain, the Bill makes the approach mandatory to ensure that new developments enhance biodiversity and help deliver thriving natural spaces for communities.

The Bill sets the requirement for gains at 10% but which may be amended by the Secretary of State.

The Bill obliges the Secretary of State to produce and publish a biodiversity metric and a biodiversity gains site register. Irreplaceable habitats are excluded from the provisions, but are yet to be defined.

The Bill allows three routes to securing biodiversity gains: enhancement of the biodiversity of land to which the planning permission relates; the allocation of registered offsite biodiversity gain to any development for which the planning permission is granted; and the purchase of biodiversity credits for any such development.

The Secretary of State may use payments from biodiversity credits only for the following purposes: carrying out works, or securing the carrying out of works, to enhance the biodiversity of habitat on land in England; purchasing interests in land in England with a view to carrying out works, or securing the carrying out of works, to enhance the biodiversity of the habitat on that land; or operating or administering the arrangements.

In relation to any development for which planning permission is granted, the Bill states that the biodiversity gain achieved will be the projected value of the onsite habitat at the time that the development is completed.

Biodiversity gains will need to be maintained for at least 30 years after the development is completed.

Exemptions are not explicitly mentioned on the face of the Bill, but are listed in the published impact assessment, which states that the Government will not introduce broad exemptions beyond those already proposed for permitted development and householder applications such as extensions. Instead, Government will introduce narrow and targeted exemptions for the most constrained types of development, and consider process easements for minor developments. It continues, saying that Biodiversity Net Gain will not include nationally significant infrastructure nor marine development within the scope of the mandatory requirement.

Global Leadership

Secretary Villiers said that the Government will escalate its global leadership on the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis, which will be critical in the lead up to setting new global targets for both issues at international forums – CBD COP15 and UNFCCC COP26 – in late 2020.

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