Theresa Villiers outside Downing Street last week. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images Theresa Villiers outside Downing Street last week. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images

Government to unveil ‘transformative’ Environment Bill

The long-awaited Environment Bill will equip a post-Brexit green watchdog with the power to hold ministers to account over the UK’s climate change targets and introduce legally binding targets on an array of environmental issues.

The mammoth new bill, which covers everything from water quality to waste management, marks a step-up in the government’s environmental ambitions since draft passages of the bill were published earlier this year. 

As hinted by former environment secretary Michael Gove in his Kew Gardens speech, the bill gives the proposed Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) responsibility for ensuring the government meets its commitment to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

Its role will be to examine new green policies, investigate complaints and take enforcement action against public authorities for breaching environmental law.

The OEP will be based in Bristol, home to the Planning Inspectorate, Natural England and the Forestry Commission, and will employ up to 120 people, the government has confirmed. Gove said in March he would like to see the watchdog based in Aberdeen

The inclusion of legally-binding targets on fine particulate matter emissions, water quality, biodiversity, and waste efficiency represents a win for DEFRA ministers, who have on several occasions warned that other government departments, particularly the Treasury under former chancellor Phillip Hammond, were opposed to the idea.

Environmental principles currently set out in EU law will be “embedded in government decision making”, DEFRA has stated.

Other measures include: 

  • Mandating ‘biodiversity net gain’ for new houses and amending a duty on public authorities to encourage biodiversity
  • Supporting a nationwide ‘Nature Recovery Network’ through a series of local strategies
  • Letting communities have more of a say in protecting local trees
  • Introducing charges for a number of single use plastic items;
  • Giving local authorities the power to cut emissions from domestic heating
  • Introducing extended producer responsibility for waste and a bottle deposit return scheme
  • Cracking down on littering and organised waste crime
  • Establishing new powers to direct water companies to work together to secure sustainable water supplies.

Environment secretary Theresa Villiers said in a statement that the bill would secure “environmental ambition and accountability” after Brexit. 

“Our landmark Environment Bill leads a green transformation that will help our country to thrive,” she added. “It positions the UK as a world leader on improving air quality, environmental biodiversity, a more circular economy, and managing our precious water resources in a changing climate.”

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