Environment Bill 2020: A Planning and Development Update

Environment Bill 2020: A Planning and Development Update February 6, 2020

There is still a long way to go before the Environment Bill receives Royal Assent, however, a Policy Statement issued on the 30th January 2020 sets the stall for policy objectives established within the Bill. Avison Young has taken a look at the Statement and what this could mean for the Industry.

What is central to the Bill is the governance of environmental protection now that the UK has officially left the EU. This is centred around the role of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), a new independent, domestic watchdog. The Policy Statement reinforces the role of the OEP which will be responsible for monitoring progress in improving the natural environment. It remains to be seen whether the body will have the ‘teeth’ to hold the Government to account if the climate change and carbon reduction targets are not met.

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) continues to be a key mechanism to implement nature and conservation gains in new developments within the planning system, as reinforced in the Policy Statement. The industry has been aware of this mechanism for some time and local authorities have started to request the use of a metric in calculating net gains (or losses). However, there are still significant knowledge gaps, such as securing the delivery of offset mitigation, the financial mechanisms to deliver this and the all-important resourcing quandary. It is, nonetheless, a step in the right direction to deliver sustainable development that genuinely integrates the natural environment into the built environment.

Air quality is at the forefront of the Bill as set out in the Policy Statement, highlighting this as an important area to deliver a cleaner, healthier environment. Air quality is a macro and micro problem and the Government recognises this, seeking to deliver ambitious air quality targets at the macro (national) level, and tackling fine particulate matter emissions at the micro (local) level. There is however no reference to the role of efficient and effective public transport systems. It is clear that the Environment Bill will not result in a fundamental shift in the use and efficiency that is required to deliver the true benefits of sustainable transport.

The Government closes its Policy Statement update by stating the “Government will fully fund all new burdens on local authorities arising from the Bill in order to make our ambition a reality.” We, like many in the planning and development sphere, welcome the Government’s plans to support under-funded and under-resourced services within local authorities to ensure more environmentally sustainable practices are implemented.

There are undoubtedly going to be amendments and reviews to the Bill during the following rounds of hearing and consultation at the House of Commons and House of Lords. What is clear from this latest Policy Statement is that environment and climate change remain at the forefront of the political agenda.

The full policy statement published on 30 January 2020 can be found here: Policy Statement 30.01.20.

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