For many years now, an Environment Bill has been awaited from the Government, considering the ever-increasing concerns about matters such as reduction of waste, water and air quality issues, biodiversity and management of resources. The progress of the Environment Bill was delayed but the Bill was reintroduced in May 2021 and received royal assent in November 2021, prior to the COP26 summit.
The idea of the Environment Bill is to set out a legal framework for future targets, plans and policies regarding improvement and protection of the natural environment. The Bill also establishes the new Office for Environmental Protection, to be independent of the Government.
From a local point of view, the Environment Bill will likely have a considerable impact upon local planning matters, as well as other areas of policy.
In terms of local planning matters, planning inspectors will be required to seek a net biodiversity gain in planning applications. What this means is that developers and architects will need to factor in a rise of at least 10% in the value of biodiversity of the site pre-development, although this can include an increase in biodiversity value in off-site land, for example nearby open space, woodland or parkland, with an obligation to maintain such measures for a minimum of 30 years. The way in which the value of biodiversity is calculated is set out within the text of the Environment Bill and the requirement for the 10% gain will be dealt with either by imposing appropriate conditions in planning permissions for developments or by way of a covenant, usually within a Planning Agreement under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act entered into between a developer and the local authority.
The Environment Bill will require that the biodiversity value of a site which is being developed will include off-site biodiversity gain, via a conservation covenant or conditions in the planning permission for such features to be maintained for a minimum of 30 years. A sufficiently detailed plan for such biodiversity gain will also be required as part of a pre-commencement condition in the planning permission for a site being developed.
Further enhanced provisions have also made in terms of reducing waste, as well as requiring maintenance, repair and renewal obligations on the part of retailers.
In addition, the Bill will impose new requirements regarding parliamentary statements and reports on the impact of policies on the environment.
It will be the obligation of the Secretary of State to see that the targets set by the Secretary of State are being met. Targets which will be afforded priority are biodiversity protection on development sites, water and air quality regulation, waste reduction and resource efficiency (such as recycling, energy consumption and ways in which to extend the shelf life of goods).
The Environment Bill also targets the regulation of chemicals, a species abundance target and powers to update the care of protected sites, as well as granting powers to the Secretary of State to impose recalls of vehicles which do not meet environmental standards.
The intention of the Environment Bill had been to secure a duty upon the Government to consider environmental principles when making Government policy, notwithstanding some application might not have any significant benefit to the environment. At the heart of the Bill is the idea that Government policy should work to a principle of prevention of environmental harm. It remains to be seen how such policy will be applied in individual circumstances.
Much remains to be seen as to how future policies and legislation will take shape as a result of the requirements of the Environmental Bill. However, it is clear the powers of the Environment Bill will likely have far-reaching effects on the planning process of developing land, the maintenance of land and the manufacture and distribution of consumer products. Considering the focus with which the public and the press has regarding matters concerning the environment, the Environment Bill appears to be timely legislation to bolster environmental policy.
If you would like to talk to a member of our team or arrange a meeting, please do not hesitate to get in touch.