Environment Bill 2019 – the first round...

17 October 2019

The Government’s Environment Bill, which was introduced to the House of Commons on 15th October, presents the biggest shake up of environmental legislation in England.

In a time of increasing public pressure and awareness around climate change, the Government’s announcement of the draft Bill comes at an opportune time, with what seems to be tougher targets, plans and policies regarding environmental protection.

Avison Young’s Environmental Planning team has reviewed the draft Bill to explore possible implications facing the property industry once the Bill is ratified during the course of next year. The Environment Bill covers five topics that are of particular note to developers:

  1. Environmental Governance: The bill recommends to legally bind policy makers to have due regard for environmental principles in policy formation, with new Environmental Improvement Plans being integral for guiding policy and setting targets. The first of these being the 25 Year Environment Plan which was published by the Government in January 2018. With a number of local authorities deciding to announce Climate Change emergencies, this will undoubtedly provide them with a stronger footing to strengthen environmental protection policies and challenge land promoters and developers alike to adhere to stricter sustainability targets.
  2. Improving Air Quality: Following the publication of the Clean Air Strategy earlier this year, the Bill makes a commitment to introducing legally binding targets to improve air quality, especially in our cities, by strengthening the Local Quality Management Framework. A number of local authorities, such as the City of York Council, have already adopted a damage cost calculation tool to assign a developer cost to schemes that contribute to an increase in pollutants. However, with the focus of the Bill being to ensure that the responsibility of poor air quality is shared across local Government bodies, it could mean an increase in such tools being used to assign a monetary cost to the environmental impact of individual developments.
  3. Biodiversity Net Gain: The Bill will mandate biodiversity protections into the planning system with a requirement to demonstrate and deliver a biodiversity net gain. The Bill will mandate 10% biodiversity net gain from developments and would legislate for conservation covenants. In practice this means schemes will have to calculate biodiversity losses and either compensate for these on site or through a monetary contribution. It is something that all local authorities, developers and property consultants will need to be aware of in both plan-making and scheme development. However, demonstrating net gains can be a considerable undertaking dependant on the types of habitat lost, and several tools exist for calculating biodiversity net gain with no central guidance on which tool to use. In such circumstances, developers can expect some discussion and negotiation in arriving at an acceptable methodology for calculating gains and losses. The Bill also introduces the concept of Local Nature Recovery Strategies with the intention of identifying sites for enhancements. This is one way of providing off-site compensation if on-site mitigation isn’t achievable. However, ensuring that there are sites and enough land available to deliver them will be a continuous challenge for Local Plan making. As a result, there may be a greater focus on the retention and enhancement of biodiversity in proposals, which could be protected through conservation covenants. These covenants would allow landowners to set legal obligations on their land to secure environmental benefits in the long term.
  4. Waste and Resource Efficiency: The draft Bill also addresses waste and resource efficiency along with water abstraction, quality and land drainage, and further regulation of water and sewerage undertakers. While these changes may not have an immediate effect on developers it can be expected that developments may be impacted by increased regulation in practical terms through changes to how our buildings are designed and how they function.
  5. Local Government Leadership: While the focus of delivering the objectives within the Bill is squarely placed on local Government, new legislation will affect all levels of the planning system, including developers, placing sustainability at the top of the industry’s agenda.

Avison Young’s Environmental Planning Team will be keeping a close eye on the Bill as it progresses through Parliament and will be producing further updates in these interesting times ahead.

+44 (0)161 956 4074
+44 (0)20 7911 2678