The long awaited Environment Act 2021 is now part of our legislation. It has been a somewhat protracted journey for the Environment Bill to make its way through the House of Commons and the House of Lords to finally be given Royal Assent and become an Act of Parliament on 9 November 2021. What does the Act mean though for our natural environment?
In this article we delve into the Environment Act to unravel the provisions that are intended to promote positive change for ecology and development.
Nature at its heart
Touted by the Government as being ‘world leading’ in its ambition, the Act sets a target of halting the decline in species through the inclusion of a legally-binding 2030 species abundance target. Aiming to restore natural habitats and enhance biodiversity, the Act requires new developments to improve or create habitats for nature (through mechanisms such as mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain), and tackle deforestation. Going forwards, UK businesses will need to look closely at their supply chains as amongst other measures they will be prohibited from using commodities associated with wide-scale deforestation. Woodland protection measures will also be strengthened through the Act.
The Act enables the reform of the Habitats Regulations and is set to further improve protection for nature through the establishment of Local Nature Recovery Strategies that support national Nature Recovery Networks. In addition, the Act provides for the production of Protected Site Strategies and Species Conservation Strategies, aimed at supporting the design and delivery of strategic approaches to deliver better outcomes for nature.
Waste, air quality and water
The Environment Act also tackles issues around waste, air quality and water. Incentivisation around recycling and sustainability, extensions of producer responsibilities, in addition to halting the export of polluting plastic waste to developing countries is enshrined in the Act. There is a duty on water companies regarding sewage discharge to ensure that there is a reduction in storm water overflow discharges and the production of statutory water management plans to reduce the level of sewage discharge into waterways. Air pollution is to be tackled via duties placed on local authorities and requirements relating to the local air quality management framework and smoke control areas.
New green watchdog
The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) was initially set up, in a non-statutory form, in July 2021. The purpose of the OEP as an ‘independent body’, is to hold the Government and public bodies to account – monitoring the Government’s environmental progress and ensuring that they meet environmental obligations.
Timeline of enactment
Not all of the provisions of the Environment Act come into force with immediate effect and there remains a degree of ambiguity regarding their enactment. Part 6 of the Act, which relates to nature and biodiversity, requires secondary legislation – coming into force when the Secretary of State “by regulations appoints”.
Biodiversity Net Gain is expected to become mandatory in two years time, although the provision for achieving a minimum of 10% net gain in biodiversity is already entrenched in planning policy and has become a standard requirement of local planning policy for many local authorities. The OEP is set to become a statutory body some time in early 2022.
If you have any queries relating to ecology and your development project, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.