Government's new Environment Bill published 19th December - a muted welcome from CPRE...

CPRE gave a cautious welcome to draft clauses for the Environment Bill published 19 December by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

While the ambition is there, detail and clear targets are evidently lacking, said CPRE.

The core elements published in the draft clauses include:

  • Environmental principles to help protect the environment
  • The establishment of a governance body – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – to uphold environmental legislation.
  • A commitment to making it a legal requirement for the government to have a plan for improving the environment.

Tom Fyans, director of campaigns and policy at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said:

‘Environmental principles are crucial to the way law is created, from planning and land use policy to air quality and biodiversity targets, yet the draft bill offers only the weak requirement that ministers "have regard to" or "consider" them.

‘While the proposed Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) has some useful legal powers, there are significant unanswered questions regarding its relationship with the planning system, when decisions are in breach of environmental law, and how it will engage with climate change – the greatest threat to the countryside. We are also seriously concerned that the OEP will lack the true independence required to hold the government to account.

‘We are pleased that the 25 Year Environment Plan will be placed on a statutory footing, with requirements to report to parliament on the government’s progress to improve the environment. But even here there is much more work required on the future environmental priorities – for example, examining how targets are set for improvements in air and water quality, soil health, and waste and resource use.’

CPRE looks forward to having many opportunities in the coming year to engage with Defra officials and through Parliamentary processes to ensure the Bill is improved and is able to deliver the admirable ambitions of the government