Environment Bill , Committee Stage, House of Lords, 5 July 2021

Local government wants to see measures that reduce the amount of unnecessary and unrecyclable material becoming an issue in the first place.


Key messages

  • We welcome the reintroduction of the Environment Bill. A legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic must be that we, as a nation, grasp the opportunity to protect and enhance our natural environment, and tackle the climate emergency. It is vital that we continue to improve air quality, protect against flooding, and ensure our transport, waste and energy policies are environmentally sustainable.
  • Local government is already prioritising environmental goals, including leading the way towards achieving net zero carbon, increasingly with ambitious plans to achieve this before the Government’s 2050 target. The LGA is supporting councils to deliver on their environment ambitions through sector-led improvement work such as the climate change improvement and support programme.
  • The Environment Bill will create powerful new laws to protect and enhance the environment. It is a wide-ranging and important piece of legislation, and we welcome the potential of the Bill. Our amendments seek to work within the ambition of the Bill, to enable it to be successful and workable at the local level. 
  • There is a bigger set of opportunities to deliver change if the Environment Bill is properly aligned with the Agriculture Act and the recently announced Planning Bill. Getting land use right is a key factor in protecting nature and meeting net zero targets. Councils are well placed to lead this agenda, and we want to work with government to develop a holistic approach to tackling the climate emergency across these key pieces of legislation. 
  • Local government wants to see measures that reduce the amount of unnecessary and unrecyclable material becoming an issue in the first place. We welcome the commitment for retailers and manufacturers to pay for recycling and disposing of packaging and household waste. This is a crucial stage in shifting the cost away from the taxpayer and back to the polluter. The Bill must set out clearly that producers will be required to pay the full net costs to councils. 
  • Following the delay to the progress of the Bill, councils and the waste industry also need urgent clarity on the timetable for implementation of the Government’s waste and recycling reforms. We support the principle of a consistent set of core materials to be collected in household recycling. However, how these materials are collected should remain a local decision. 
  • The Bill sets out a high-level framework for the separate collection of waste material streams for recycling, with the detail to be determined through regulations. These regulations should be subject to affirmative procedure so that they can be properly scrutinised in Parliament. 
  • Internal drainage boards undertake important work around managing local water levels and flood risk management. Part 5 of the Bill (Water) includes measures intended to support new and existing internal drainage boards. Further clarity around the funding of this is required as councils part fund Internal Drainage Boards. In addition, the current cost of processing Land Drainage Consent applications are not being met by the provisions within the Bill. The Bill should be updated to give funding flexibility to local government and reflect increases in line with inflation. 
  • We support the principle set out in the Bill of increasing biodiversity net gain through the planning process. Where net gain contributions from developers cannot be delivered on site, any financial “credits” should be retained by councils so that local people will have a say in how they are spent. 
  • The Bill also provides greater enforcement powers to the Forestry Commission to reduce illegal tree felling and will require local authorities to consult residents. This is a new burden and must be fully funded. Decisions on the felling of street trees should remain a matter of local determination. 
  • The Bill points to a new environmental relationship between local and national government, with potentially greater responsibility sitting with councils. The impact of this is that councils will have a new environmental improvement role within their localities. Local government is well placed to take the lead on this agenda but to deliver on these ambitious plans they will need to have appropriately skilled staff and be given adequate resources.
  • At this stage it is difficult to predict the impact of the legislation and the costs for local authorities in meeting their new statutory duties. We therefore recommend the Bill is amended to ensure an assessment is made of how the new duties are operating into the future and ensuring local authorities are sufficiently funded. 

Amendment statements

Amendment 123, tabled by Baroness Bakewell and Lord Randall, intends to require producers to pay for fly tipping removal as part of their responsibility to pay disposal costs.

The LGA supports this amendment as it endorses the “polluter pays” principle. The LGA has long called for the waste system to be reformed and for producers to meet the costs of local authorities, including the cost of littering and fly tipping discarded packaging. While we welcome the producer responsibility scheme in the Bill, litter and fly tipping of discarded packaging is not included within the section on disposal costs.

Councils are responsible for removing fly tipped items on public land and it is fair for this cost to be met by the producers rather than from local budgets. The fly-tipping statistics for England 2019/20 show that local authorities were forced to clear up just under 1 million (976,000) fly-tipping incidents. It costs local taxpayers almost £50 million a year to clear up which could be better spent on other vital services in our communities.

Amendment 142, tabled by Baroness Bakewell, intends to insert compostable flexible material into the core set of materials to be collected by local authorities alongside food and garden waste. 

Compostable and biodegradable plastic cannot be recycled through household waste infrastructure. These items have the potential to confuse consumers and so messages on non-recyclability must be clear and consistent. These products should be removed from the household waste stream at least until the infrastructure required to manage these materials is properly in place.

Non-recyclable materials being placed in the recycling bin contributed to more than half a million tonnes of household recycling being rejected at the point of sorting in 2019/20. The manufacturers of plastic packaging products are still continuing to create and sell packaging that cannot be recycled and will be put in the recycling bin by people in good faith. The burden then falls on councils to not only collect it and dispose of it, but to pay the extra cost of disposing of it, therefore the LGA does not support this amendment. 

Amendment 148A, tabled by Baroness Bakewell, intends to ban the export of all plastics. 

While exporting our waste was never a suitable solution, the additional responsibility and cost for councils arising from a total ban on the export of all plastics is a concern. Producers need to do more to prevent non-recyclable plastic from entering the waste stream. The LGA has repeatedly called for non-recyclable plastic to be removed from packaging. For too long the producers have been allowed to use a confusing array of materials in packaging with no accountability to councils, who have been left to pick up the cost.  

Our engagement with member councils has flagged up concerns about the cost implications and the lead-in times for expanding household collection of plastic. This may require new infrastructure such as depots and transfer stations and new sorting equipment. “Flexible” plastic and plastic film is difficult to sort as it snags on machinery. It requires a different recycling process that breaks the plastic down through chemical treatment. This technology does not exist at scale and will require significant investment and action to generate end markets. The LGA therefore does not support this amendment as we believe the UK market for recycling needs to be expanded and more recycling infrastructure provided to address this before all exports of plastic can be banned. 

Developing new recycling infrastructure in the UK requires action at a national level and capital investment. Defra’s Resources and Waste Strategy has little information on how this will be achieved. Government needs to show leadership in bringing all the actors together to bring forward investment in infrastructure. 

Amendment 201D, tabled by Lord Kerslake, intends to ensure that that Biodiversity Credits raised from developments are reinvested in the locality in which the development takes place.

The Bill seeks to introduce measures whereby a “credit” system will allow the sale of proposed statutory biodiversity units where improvements on site are not possible. The Bill currently does not require that Biodiversity Credits raised from developments be reinvested in the locality. 

The LGA supports this amendment as we believe that communities that accept developments in their area should be able to see improved biodiversity. Credits should be retained by local authorities so that funding stays in the area where development takes place, and local people can have a say in how this funding can be used to improve the natural environment.

Amendment 212 tabled by Lord Oates, Lord Teverson, and Baroness Boycott, would confer a power to conserve biodiversity on local authorities.

It is proposed in the Bill that local authorities or Natural England will lead on the development of the new local nature recovery strategies. Each strategy will include mapping of local sites and a set of principles for nature recovery. However, the strategy will not provide any additional protection to sites that are identified as important to local nature recovery.  

The LGA supports this amendment as it would provide councils with a useful new power to protect sites where the natural environment is at risk, for example from the actions of unscrupulous landowners or developers. 

Amendment 232, tabled by Lord Teverson, intends to require that the Secretary of State must agree with each responsible authority how the local nature recovery strategy shall be resourced.

The introduction of biodiversity net gain in new development and the reform of farming subsidy payments through ELMS (the Environmental Land Management Scheme) will open up new opportunities to restore nature. Local nature recovery strategies should be the “glue” that holds these policies together. So far only five pilot areas are working on local nature strategies and we are yet to see how ELMS will interact with local nature recovery strategies.  

The LGA supports this amendment as it recognises that there is no “one size fits all” approach to local nature strategies. To make the most of the opportunities presented by local nature recovery strategies they need to be locally led and properly resourced. 

Amendments 257E and 257F, tabled by Lord Kerslake, seek to require the Secretary of State to understand the impact of the new duty to consult residents on the felling of street tree on councils, before the duty is set out in guidance, and to allow a local highways authority to create a local exemption to the duty to consult, respectively.  

Councils work hard to protect and maintain the natural environment, including urban trees. That is why many councils have set out their long-term vision for trees and are seeking ways to increase tree planting, for example by working with local volunteer groups to promote trees and woodlands. Tree preservation orders provide an established route for protecting trees as part of the local environment. Trees in conservation areas also benefit from protection in law.

Decisions on the felling of street trees should remain a matter of local determination. We support amendment 257E as it would require the Secretary of State to consult with local authorities on the impact of the new duty in a detailed manner before guidance is introduced. There is a risk that the new duty will be bureaucratic, and care must be taken that does not clash with existing duties, for example the statutory duty to consult if street trees are to be removed as part of a housing development. 

We also support amendment 257F that would allow local authorities to set exemptions locally, in addition to the reasons for exemptions set out in the Bill. Councils must have a workable set of exemptions so they can protect the public from harm and act quickly to prevent the spread of pests and diseases. 

Amendment 293C tabled by Baroness Jones, intends to explore the extent to which local authorities are financially and otherwise prepared to deliver new schemes and responsibilities established under this legislation. 

Councils have experienced a decade of funding reductions, and this has led to many operating with significantly reduced environment functions. In addition, councils have entered a further period of financial uncertainty because of the impact of COVID-19 on income and additional pressures on services.  

At this stage it is difficult to predict the impact of the legislation and the costs for local authorities in meeting their new statutory duties. The impact assessment published in March 2020 says that the full cost of the Bill cannot be calculated at this stage because the detail will not be clear until the secondary legislation is drafted. 

The LGA supports this amendment as it would require the Secretary of State to undertake a review of the readiness of local authorities to deliver on the environmental schemes established under the Act within three months of its passing, which would include an assessment of the extent to which the financial and staffing resource of local authorities is consistent with what is required to fulfil their new obligations. If the review determines that current resourcing for local authorities is insufficient, the Secretary of State would be obliged to make a statement confirming whether central government funding for local authorities will be increased accordingly, and if not, what mechanisms the Government proposes to establish to enable local authorities to recover any additional costs.

Contact

Amy Fleming, Public Affairs and Campaigns Adviser

amy.fleming@local.gov.uk