Much good in draft Environment Bill but I think it can be more ambitious still

 

Neil Parish MP’s thoughts on the environment bill.

Neil Parish  www.devonlive.com

“Yesterday I spoke in the second reading of the Environment Bill. This is the first Environment Bill since 1995 and a great opportunity to shape the future of our landscapes, biodiversity and human health. 

Broadly, this Environment Bill sets out the Government’s 25 Year Environmental Plan, announced when Michael Gove was Secretary of State. Its ambitions are commendable and urgently needed.

For instance, I welcome the introduction of the new framework for Local Nature Recovery Strategies, which will direct investment into green infrastructure projects across the country. Projects such as this can help areas rich in natural capital, like ours.

I also welcome clarity on the waste and resource strategy – including the setting up of deposit return schemes, charging for plastic bags and commercial waste. The government has grasped the nettle on these issues.

But outside the EU, we will also need a domestic enforcement agency to ensure targets are met. The Bill rightly introduces a new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), which will hold public bodies to account for breaking environmental law.

With this in mind, it’s vital the  right  long-term targets, structures and incentives are set in law. On the environment, successive governments need to work towards common objectives because businesses, who will make the real difference, need to plan effectively. Whether it is plastic packaging, nitrogen dioxide from cars or gas boilers in homes – we need clear and achievable targets in place with a route to get there.

My hope is this Bill becomes a landmark ‘25 Year Environment Act’ – implementing the principles of the 25 Year Environment Plan for decades to come.

Let’s not forget, only last year we became the first country to make a legally binding commitment to ‘net-zero’ carbon emissions by 2050. As a result, businesses are already making changes. The same clear targets are needed in this Environment Bill.

For example, the Environment Bill should include commitments to adopting 2005 World Health Organization guideline limits for tiny particulate matter, which are harmful to human health. This key recommendation was made in the 2018 Joint Select Committee report, “Improving Air Quality”, which I chaired. The Government has already carried out a feasibility study which shows this target can be met, so let’s get on and put it in law.

I also believe the new OEP should have a wider remit and stronger teeth. It must be sufficiently independent of government, with a multi-annual budget, like the Environment Agency or Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). If we are to build on our Conservative record for strong action on the environment, the setting up of the OEP will be crucial.

Over the coming weeks, I will be putting forward my amendments to strengthen the Environment Bill. The Government has done well to include so much good in the draft Bill – but I think it can be more ambitious still.”