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.
- 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.
- The LGA welcomed the Government tabling amendments ahead of Report Stage following their engagement with parliamentarians and wider stakeholders. Broadly the amendments allow for the broad powers granted by the Bill to receive further scrutiny in Parliament, through paving the way for affirmative procedure on the regulation and guidance. This in turn will give the high-level proposals in the Bill more exposure to wider review and ensure that they translate into tangible action on the ground.
- 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. It is positive to see that the Government has committed to ensuring these regulations are laid before parliament. The LGA would welcome this taking place through affirmative procedure, to allow for sufficient scrutiny.
- 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. It is imperative that any new duties on councils are accompanied by sufficient funding to allow them to deliver on these new duties, and that this is kept under review as the high-level proposals in the Bill move into the implementation stage.
Amendment 93 tabled by the Minister of State for the Pacific and the Environment (Lord Goldsmith) will require the Secretary of State to give guidance to planning authorities on how they must consider local nature recovery strategies.
- This amendment introduces statutory guidance for local planning authorities to explain how they should take into account new Local Nature Recovery Strategies, seeking to embed strategies for the environment and nature’s recovery into planning systems.
- The LGA is keen to work with the Government on the development of this guidance, given the intrinsic role that local planning authorities play in protecting biodiversity. We also hope to see in any subsequent guidance consideration given to how the Environment Bill and forthcoming Planning Bill will align on nature recovery.
Amendment 94 tabled by Lord Oates, and sponsored by Lord Kerslake and Baroness Jones of Whitchurch, seeks to give local authorities more powers to further the general biodiversity objective through the ability to serve a biodiversity contravention notice where there has been or remains a serious risk to biodiversity.
- This amendment will give local authorities more power to protect biodiversity through a new capability to both access land and serve those who damage biodiversity with notice; a mechanism by which to bring cases to court; and a new capability to issue fines to those that damage the natural environment.
- The LGA supports this amendment as we believe in place-based leadership for biodiversity. Through their unrivalled knowledge of local areas, councils are best placed to monitor and protect biodiversity and the more powers they possess the more effective the interventions they can make to safeguard the natural environment.
Amendment 90 tabled by Lord Kerslake, and sponsored by Lord Oates, and Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle, 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 55 sponsored by Lord Tope, Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, Lord Whitty, and Lord Randall will grant local authorities increased powers to control emissions from combustion plant where they have declared an ‘Air Quality Improvement Area’.
- This new clause would grant local authorities discretionary powers to control emissions from combustion plant where the air in their area exceeds air quality targets or World Health Organisation guidelines.
- The LGA supports this amendment and considers it an effective tool for councils to use in improving air quality that has not been degraded by emissions from transport.
Amendment 8, tabled by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch, would introduce a target for reducing plastic waste and single use products.
- This amendment would create mandatory targets for reducing plastic and single use products. While WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) has taken welcome action in setting voluntary targets, mandated requirements would offer greater accountability and compliance.
- The LGA supports this amendment as it works to reduce the amount of plastic waste that councils are required to process. Councils spend £852m per year on waste collection and efforts to reduce financial burdens are welcome. In addition, this amendment will help enshrine a reduction in plastic use which in turn will assist in delivering on net zero goals.