The Environment Act 2021 received Royal Assent on 9 November 2021 and is now in force. Below are 10 key elements of the Act which are set to take the enforcement of environmental protection in England to a whole new level.
- All new developments to deliver 10% increase in biodiversity (biodiversity net gains), to be managed for at least 30 years (reviewable by the Secretary of State)
- Biodiversity Gain Site Register to be implemented and maintained for at least 30 years after the site scheme has completed, subject to review
- Introduction of Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRSs) – new spatial strategies to cover the entirety of England – led by a “responsible authority” in each area. Statutory guidance to be given to Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) explaining how they should take account of the LNRSs
- Introduction of a new Species Conservation Strategy – which places a duty on LPAs to cooperate with Natural England and other LPAs etc to safeguard the future of ‘at risk’ species
- LPAs to produce Biodiversity Reports every five years, describing action taken and the impact it has had
- Establishment of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), a green ‘watchdog’ to ensure the enforcement of the environmental legislation in England and Northern Ireland
- Introduction of the 5 Principles to which organisations must have regard: (i) Integretation (environmental protection should be integrated into the making of policies); (ii) Prevention (preventative action should be taken to avert environmental damage); (iii) Precautionary (a precautionary approach should be taken to the possibility of environmental harm); (iv) Rectification At Source (where possible any environmental harm should be rectified at source); and (v) Polluter Pays (the person(s) who causes the harm must suffer the financial penalty both in terms of mitigation and compensation)
- Long-term (at least 15 years, starting in 2022) legally binding targets on air quality, biodiversity, water, resource efficiency and waste reduction
- Environment Improvement Plan (EIP) to be published by the government setting interim targets (non-binding), the first of which is the 25-Year Environment Plan published in 2018, with annual reports on its implementation and progress, and a complete review by 31 January 2023
- Strengthening of the Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) framework, placing duties on LPAs to identify sources of failure not only in its only area but also those of its neighbouring LPA, to prepare action plans for LAQM areas.
- The genuine independence of the OEP has been in a constant question throughout consultation and progress through the Houses, particularly in relation to the process of appointments and the way in which it must have regard to guidance issued by the government
- The powers given to the courts to impose sufficiently strong penalties is limited. Lord Krebs said: “the act still leaves things stacked in favour of commercial interests over the protection of the environment”. Quite a damning statement when the purpose of the Act is to protect the environment
- Ministry of Defence and the Treasury are both exempt from the 5 Principles. This means that even at the early stages of internal policy making, through to ‘on the ground’ activities, they do not need to adhere to the very purpose of this legislation which is at the heart of protecting the future of the environment
- No interim legally binding targets have been adopted (to ensure that the long term targets and on course and that progress is being made)
- No commitment to setting an air quality target in line with WHO’s guideline level, despite mention of the level in the published Clean Air Strategy.
The Act is an incredibly wide-ranging piece of legislation and we will be watching its implementation with interest, and sharing a more detailed breakdown and analysis of the impact of these key elements over the coming weeks.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about the Act or any of the elements referenced above, get in touch with the team firstname.lastname@example.org