The Environment Bill: six things you need to know

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) yesterday published its much-anticipated Environment Bill. Here are six things you need to know about it.

Biodiversity: Environment Bill intended to help reverse decline in wildlife
Biodiversity: Environment Bill intended to help reverse decline in wildlife

1. Developers must deliver 10 per cent net biodiversity gain through their schemes. Neither a December 2018 consultation that proposed mandating biodiversity net gain or former chancellor Philip Hammond’s March announcement that the policy would go ahead made clear exactly how much biodiversity gain developers would have to deliver. However, the bill confirms that the government has opted for a net gain of 10 per cent. The bill says that a "biodiversity metric" to calculate the "biodiversity value of any habitat" will be published by the secretary of state.

2. Councils must produce "local nature recovery strategies" and administer the system. The bill will require planning authorities to create "local nature recovery strategies" identifying where compensatory provision of biodiversity can be delivered. The bill says these will include "a statement of biodiversity priorities for the strategy area" and "a local habitat map for the whole strategy area or two or more local habitat maps which together cover the whole strategy area". Explanatory notes accompanying the bill say the strategies "will put spatial planning for nature on a statutory footing, and will support local action by consistently mapping important existing habitats and opportunities to create or restore habitat".

3. Developers will have to buy "biodiversity credits" if they can’t deliver biodiversity improvements locally. The bill says the secretary of state "must publish information about the arrangements, including in particular the amount payable for credits". The government will use payments received under the scheme for "carrying out works, or securing the carrying out of works, to enhance the biodiversity of habitat on land in England," the bill says. 

4. Developers have to guarantee "net gain" for 30 years, and authorities must police this. The bill says that any habitats created to deliver net gain must be maintained for "at least" 30 years.

5. The Environment Bill establishes a new public body – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) to replace the role of the European Commission after Britain leaves the European Union. The bill says the new body will have powers of judicial review. It says: "The OEP may apply for judicial review, or a statutory review, in relation to conduct of a public authority (whether or not it has given an information notice or a decision notice to the authority in respect of that conduct) if the OEP considers that the conduct constitutes a serious failure to comply with environmental law."

6. The government said it will "fully fund all new burdens on local authorities" arising from the bill. A Defra policy statement, published yesterday, said: "We are committed to working in partnership with local government, businesses and wider stakeholders on the implementation of these measures, to identify and secure the capacity and skills to deliver a cleaner, greener and healthier environment."

The Environment Bill can be read here. 

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