The bill returned to parliament for a third time on Wednesday, with three new government amendments setting out plans to tackle sewage pollution, create a species abundance target and make changes to habitats regulations. A raft of amendments tabled by backbench MPs aimed at strengthening environmental protections were dismissed.
Green MP Caroline Lucas called the bill a “wasted opportunity” and shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard added: “Labour tried to amend the bill to meet the scale of the crisis we're facing in our climate and natural environment, but the Tories voted against this. It's all spin and press releases from the government, with no meaningful action”.
Sarah Olney, a Liberal Democrat MP, who tabled a defeated amendment aimed at tying planning decisions to local nature strategies, told the Guardian it is “utterly outrageous that the Conservatives voted down vital protections for our green spaces, rendering this environment bill nothing more than toothless,” she said. “The Tories have with one hand stripped away local communities’ rights to protect their green spaces and with another left their developer friends an open goal to bulldoze and concrete over it.”
READ MORE: Environment Bill briefing: Your comprehensive guide to what we already know about the bill and the issues that remain unresolved
Friends of the Earth campaigner Kierra Box said that rather than locking in existing protections, the new legislation is “riddled with exemptions and loopholes”.
Responding In a blog post published yesterday, DEFRA said the criticisms were “not true” and that the bill would “ensure the environment is at the heart of all government policy making and that both this government and future governments are held to account if they fail to uphold their environmental duties”.
Despite rejecting calls to set a stronger air quality target, DEFRA said the bill “will improve air quality by requiring legally-binding targets to reduce concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), the pollutant of most concern for human health, and increasing local powers to address sources of air pollution”.
The bill will also “restore and enhance nature by ensuring new development enhances nature, while giving communities a greater say in the protection of nature… The government is leading by example to maintain and enhance existing environmental protections, by committing to protect 30% of our own land and sea and setting a legally binding target with the aim of halting species decline by 2030”, it said.