The Environment Bill aims to establish a new framework for environmental governance and to meet the ambitions of the Government’s 25-year environment plan. Environmental governance is currently provided by the European Union (EU). Without the Bill, there would be a gap in governance when the UK leaves the EU.

The aim of the 25 Year Environment Plan is to set out a comprehensive and long-term approach to protecting and enhancing our natural landscapes and habitats in England for the next generation.

The Environment Bill is to make provision for:

  1. targets, plans and policies for improving the natural environment;
  2. statements and reports about environmental protection;
  3. the Office for Environmental Protection;
  4. waste and resource efficiency;
  5. air quality;
  6. the recall of products that fail to meet environmental standards;
  7. water;
  8. nature and biodiversity;
  9. conservation covenants;
  10. regulation of chemicals; and
  11. connected purposes.

1. Targets, plans and policies for improving the natural environment

Targets will be set to combat the environmental and climate crises and provide a vehicle for delivering the 25-year Environment Plan. They will aim to help stimulate investments in green technology and innovative practices by providing long term certainty for business.

At least one target will be set in four priority areas:

  1. air quality;
  2. biodiversity;
  3. water; and
  4. resource efficiency and waste reduction.

The Government will decide the targets and they will come into force once approved by Parliament by 31 October 2022. An example of a target is reaching the Net Zero climate target by 2050.

Targets set out in the Environmental Improvement Plan (EIP) to be reviewed every five years and each target must be achieved in a minimum of 15 years with the government reporting annually towards meeting the targets in the EIP.

2 – Statements and reports about environmental protection

The Bill will include a UK Environmental Protections policy which will allow for greater transparency and strengthened scrutiny for Parliament regarding future environmental legislation.

Ministers will be required to make a statement to Parliament setting out the impact of new primary environmental legislation on existing levels of environmental protection. These statements will be published and open to scrutiny by Parliament, environmental stakeholders and the broader public.

3 – The Office for Environmental Protection

The Environment Bill is to establish the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) (an environmental watchdog), a new independent regulator that will hold the government to account, including through the courts if necessary. Anyone who believes that a public body is not adhering to environmental protection regulations can approach the OEP, confident in the knowledge that it will independently investigate, offer advice and take enforcement action when necessary.

The OEP will work closely alongside the Committee on Climate Change on these issues, ensuring that their individual roles complement and reinforce each other.

4 – Waste and resource efficiency

A strategy will be set out on how to preserve material resources by minimising waste, promoting resource efficiency and moving towards a circular economy.

At the same time, there’s a need to minimise the damage caused to our natural environment by reducing and managing waste safely and carefully, and by tackling waste crime.

  • The Environment Bill will allow authorities to deliver consistent and frequent recycling collections across England, ending the current postcode lottery.
  • The Bill will ensure councils operate weekly separate food waste collections, preventing food waste from going to landfill or being incinerated
  • It will allow the government to introduce clearer labelling on certain products so consumers can easily identify whether products are recyclable or not.
  • It will allow the government to expand the use of charges on single-use plastics, following the successful introduction of the carrier bag charge and will introduce a deposit return scheme on drinks containers, subject to consultation.
  • Powers in the Environment Bill to introduce new extended producer responsibility schemes will allow us to make producers responsible for the full net costs of managing their products when they are ready to be thrown away.

5 – Air quality

Air pollution is the single most significant environmental public health concern.

The air quality part of the Bill:

  • introduces a duty to set a legally-binding target for fine particulate matter, the pollutant of most concern for human health, in addition to at least one further long-term air quality target. These will deliver significant public health benefits
  • establishes a clear framework for local action and collaboration on air pollution
  • creates a simpler mechanism for local authorities to tackle smoke emissions – a source of fine particulate matter
  • provides the government with new powers to enforce environmental standards for vehicles

Objectives for targets under consideration:

  • reducing the annual mean level of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in ambient air (as required by the Environment Bill)
  • in the long-term, reducing population exposure to PM2.5

6 – The recall of products that fail to meet environmental standards

One area this will impact is on the environment recall of motor vehicles. The measure would enable the Government to compel manufacturers of vehicles and Non-Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM) to recall their products for reasons of environmental failure or non-conformity.

The Government will also be able to require the manufacturer to achieve a minimum recall level to ensure that the manufacturer fully complies with the recall requirement and that high completion rates are achieved.

7 – Water

The Environment Bill will ensure that we have clean and plentiful water resources, which are better managed in our changing climate. It will help us ensure water is taken from the environment in a sustainable way, to prevent environmental damage and protect our precious rivers and streams.

  • This Environment Bill will mean more collaboration between water companies to deliver the infrastructure needed to ensure clean and plentiful water now and for the decades to come.
  • It will ensure that water users whose licence to remove water is amended or revoked to prevent environmental damage are no longer compensated.
  • It will allow monitoring and tackling of the most harmful substances in our water to keep pace with the latest scientific and technical knowledge.
  • It will allow for the creation of new, or expansion of existing, internal drainage boards, local organisations to manage water levels, where this is needed and supported locally.

8 – Nature and biodiversity

A major part of the Bill with big implications for developers covers biodiversity net gain and local nature recovery strategies (LNRSs)

This policy mandates biodiversity net gain through the use of a specified biodiversity metric to development in the scope of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

Mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain – key points:

  • England only
  • Amends the Town and Countryside Planning Act
  • Be a minimum 10% biodiversity net gain requirement on new development (which is believed will be become mandatory in spring 2023, this allows for a two year transition period).
  • Based on Biodiversity Metric 2.0/3.0
  • Delivered, on-site, locally off-site or via biodiversity credits
  • BNG register for off-site land
  • Does not change existing legal protections
  • Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) or Marine are out of the scope of the mandatory requirements in the Bill.

It’s estimated there will be a direct cost of £199.0m per year (2017 prices) for developers to deliver on and off-site habitat creation. In addition, familiarisation costs to developers are estimated to be £6.3m in the first year only. Benefits of avoided habitat loss are estimated to be £11.4bn over 10 years.

Local Nature Recovery Strategies are a new system of spatial strategies for nature, covering the whole of England. Each strategy will, for the area that it covers:

  • map the most valuable existing habitat for nature
  • map specific proposals for creating or improving habitat for nature and wider environment goals
  • agree priorities for nature’s recovery

LNRSs will guide smooth and effective delivery of biodiversity net gain and other nature recovery measures by helping developers and planning authorities avoid the most valuable existing habitat and focus habitat creation or improvement where it will achieve the most.

The introduction of a new Species Conservation Strategy to safeguard the future of particular species at greatest risk.  This builds on the process developed for the District Level Licences (DLL) an approach taken for great crested newts.

Section 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (NERC) will amend or replace the duty on public bodies to have regard to the purpose of conserving biodiversity. This now strengthens the NERC Act for public authorities ‘to further’ the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity.’ This policy also has an expectation on public authorities to look strategically at their policies and operations from time to time (at least every 5 years).

Under the Bill, there is a duty for local authorities to consult with local communities before felling street trees unless the tree qualifies for certain exemptions. This will give communities an opportunity to understand why a tree is being felled in their local area and, if they wish, to raise concerns to the local highway authority regarding the felling of trees. This will increase transparency around decisions over these green assets.

9 – Conservation covenants

This measure plans to help leave the environment in a better condition for future generation through the use of conservation covenants, as recommended by the Law Commission.

Defra defines a conservation covenant as a ‘private voluntary agreement between a landowner and a “responsible” body, such as a conservation charity, government body or local authority. It delivers lasting conservation benefit for the public good. A covenant sets out obligations in respect of the land which will be legally binding not only on the landowner but on subsequent owners of the land.

10 – Regulation of chemicals

The Environment Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to amend two pieces of legislation regulating the use of chemicals in the UK – REACH and  REACH enforcement regulations. This will allow the Secretary of State to take further steps where necessary to ensure a smooth transition to a UK chemicals regime following the UK’s exit from the EU. It will also make it possible to keep the legislation up to date and respond to emerging needs or ambitions for the effective management of chemicals.

Further advice

If you are concerned about the implications of the Environmental Bill, talk to our experts. We have consultants in ecology, habitat management, planning and development, and chemicals who can advise you further on how the Bill may impact your business. Email us at enquiries@adas.co.uk to be put in contact with the relevant member of staff.