The Government claims that these draft clauses represent an essential step towards putting environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of government, and will address the biggest environmental priorities of our age: air quality; the protection and enhancement of our landscapes, wildlife and habitats; more efficient handling of resources and waste, and better management of surface, ground and waste water.
The Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, has said, “Our ambition is to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than that in which we found it”.
Core elements published in the draft clauses include:
- The environmental principles – such as the “polluter pays” - will help protect the environment from damage and will encourage decision-makers to further consider the environment in the development of government policy.
- The establishment of a governance body – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – to uphold environmental legislation.
- A commitment to making it a legal requirement for the government to have a plan for improving the environment.
Currently environmental decisions made in the UK – from improving air and water quality to protecting endangered species – are overseen by the European Commission, so the new Environment Bill will be critical to environmental protection post-Brexit.
Tom Fyans, director of campaigns and policy at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said:
‘While the proposed Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) has some useful legal powers, there are significant unanswered questions regarding its relationship with the planning system, when decisions are in breach of environmental law, and how it will engage with climate change – the greatest threat to the countryside. We are also seriously concerned that the OEP will lack the true independence required to hold the government to account.
‘We are pleased that the 25 Year Environment Plan will be placed on a statutory footing, with requirements to report to parliament on the government’s progress to improve the environment. But even here there is much more work required on the future environmental priorities – for example, examining how targets are set for improvements in air and water quality, soil health, and waste and resource use.’
More detail on all policy areas will be published in due course.