Environment Bill Second Reading, House of Commons, 23 October 2019

The measures in the Bill seek to establish a new system of green governance and accountability; drive a shift in maximising resource efficiency; enable greater local action on air pollution; secure long-term, resilient water and wastewater services; create or restore wildlife habitats; and give the Secretary of State the power to amend legislation regulating the use of chemicals.

Key messages

  • It is essential that as a nation we tackle climate change and protect our natural environment. We need to continue to improve air quality, protect against flooding, and ensure our transport, waste and energy policies are environmentally sustainable.
  • The Environment Bill sets the framework for what Government wants to deliver but does not contain all of the detail. The policies will follow in subsequent work streams and in secondary legislation. We will work with the Government to ensure that the Bill and Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) is effective in addressing the concerns of communities.
  • The OEP will have enforcement functions over public authorities who fail to comply with environmental law. It will be essential that the OEP board contains knowledge, and direct experience of, local government as one of the key public authorities it will work with.
  • The Local Government Association (LGA) supports the Bill’s intention to strengthen local powers in relation to air quality enforcement. Existing mechanisms are decades old and need to be reformed, but additional resources will need to be made available for councils to deal effectively with environmental protection.
  • We support the principle of increasing biodiversity net gain through the planning process. We have concerns about the implementation of these proposals and the new burdens for councils. Planning departments will need to be supported with the right skills and resources to make this work.
  • The LGA has long called for retailers and manufacturers to pay for recycling and disposing of packaging in household waste. We welcome the commitment in the Bill to do this but it does not provide enough details for councils to assess the financial and service impacts of the reforms. The next steps must provide clarity for local government on the full funding of costs.
  • We support proposals for councils to collect a core set of dry recyclable material but how those materials are collected should be a local decision. There are a range of issues such as geography, property type and rurality which will impact on this decision. It is helpful that the Bill proposes councils will have local flexibility where there are technical, economic and environmental reasons for collecting materials together.
  • The Bill points to a new environmental relationship between local and national government, with potentially a greater responsibility sitting with councils. Local government is well placed to take the lead on this agenda but its ability is limited by financial constraints, a lack of devolved powers and restricted access to complex Government funding pots. For the Bill to be a success, new responsibilities must be fully funded and councils should have the support and capacity they need to deliver on these ambitions.

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Environment Bill Second Reading, House of Commons, 23 October 2019