The Environment Bill: The government amendments promised, published, and waiting to be seen

When the Environment Bill returned to parliament in May it did so with a series of promised government amendments. Here’s a recap on what’s been proposed, what’s materialised, and what still remains to be seen.

The Environment Bill returned to parliament in May. Photograph: Simon Montgomery/Getty Images The Environment Bill returned to parliament in May. Photograph: Simon Montgomery/Getty Images

1. An amendment to extend net gain to major infrastructure projects

On Monday, the government announced it would table an amendment to the Environment Bill that would require major infrastructure projects to provide a net gain in biodiversity and wildlife. 

The amendment was announced in the government’s response to the Dasgupta review on the economics of biodiversity. The response said the government “will legislate to introduce biodiversity net gain for new nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) in England through an amendment to the Environment Bill”.

This, it said, will embed a “nature positive approach” to the development of many of England’s largest new infrastructure projects. 

NSIPs are large scale developments relating to energy, transport, water, or waste, however other kinds of projects like major housing developments, would not be covered by this amendment.  

2. Targets on species abundance

In May, environment secretary George Eustice, made a speech at Delamere Forest in Cheshire where he announced an amendment to the Environment Bill which he said would set a legally binding species target for 2030 to halt the decline of nature, hailing it as “the net zero equivalent for nature”.

However, when the proposed amendment was published last week it was met with dismay from green groups, who claim that the wording falls short of this promise.

Campaigners say that, rather than set a firm commitment to halt the decline of species by 2030, the amendment ensures that any target made or amended would “further the objective of halting a decline in the abundance of species” so long as the secretary of state is “satisfied” that it will do so.

The NGO coalition Wildlife and Countryside Link has called for the government to replace the word 'further' with 'meet'. 

3. Breaking the link with the Habitats Directive

Described by the government as a “refocusing of the Habitats Regulations”, this amendment would give the secretary of state the power to amend the regulations as they apply to England and to break the link with the overarching EU directive.

The amendment lays out that in making new regulations, the environment secretary must “have regard to the particular importance of furthering the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity” and the reasoning behind the rules must be laid before parliament. The government has said it will publish a green paper on the reforms later this year, setting out how it will deliver the target as part of its ambition to protect 30% of terrestrial land by 2030.

4. An amendment to tackle sewage pollution from storm overflows

Announced in the Queen’s Speech earlier this year, the environment secretary has said amendments are to be brought forward in the Lords which would create new duties on the government to publish a plan to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows by September 2022. The amendment would also require the government to report to parliament on the progress towards implementing the plan, and water companies and the Environment Agency would have to publish data on storm overflow operations annually.

However green groups have criticised the move, saying laws already exist enabling the government and the Environment Agency to tackle sewage pollution but they are not being used. 

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