Levelling Up Bill nature restoration duty rejected by government

Attempts to introduce a nature restoration duty and environmental equality mission to the Levelling Up Bill have been rejected by the levelling up minister, who argued that the government’s commitment to the environment is already “incredibly clear”.

Last week, the committee stage of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (LURB) concluded. This is where parliament scrutinises a bill line by line and amendments can be tabled by MPs. 

Labour MP Rachel Maskell had tabled two amendments for consideration, one seeking to  establish a duty on ministers to “identify and maintain a network of sites for nature” and another concerning the inclusion of a specific mission on environmental equality.

Arguing her case, Maskell said: “We have a serious duty to monitor the natural environment, end the harm and restore nature before it is too late. Homing in on key sites must be our priority. We have heard so much this year about the climate emergency, and COP15 is highlighting the ruinous state of our natural environment [...]. 

“We have to stop and save. My new clause [on nature restoration] would be the first step in that and would show that the government [was] serious, not grandstanding, on such a serious issue.”

However, Dehenna Davison, minister for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities (DLUHC) pushed back on the proposed amendment, stating that the government has already committed to protecting 30% of land for nature by 2030 and to “developing the most appropriate approach to increasing and enhancing protected land as we do so”.  

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She added that the government’s response to the Nature Recovery Green Paper, which among other areas sought views on changes to the system by which sites are protected, would be published “in due course”. 

“This is the means through which the government will implement and identify sites for the 30 by 30 commitment, but I hope the government will be given the opportunity to respond on the Green Paper first. On that basis, I hope I have provided enough reassurance for the honourable member for York Central not to press her new clauses,” said Davison.

Regarding Maskell’s other amendment which would have required the government to include a mission on environmental equality within the levelling up programme, Davison said: “The government [has] already explicitly acknowledged the importance of natural capital in the White Paper. As an asset, it underpins sustainable GDP growth, supports productivity over the medium term and provides resilience to future shocks. 

“Natural capital has been estimated to be worth £1.2 trillion in the UK alone. It also has a place under the 25-year environment plan, which sets out the government’s plans to help the natural world regain and retain good health.” 

She added that the Environment Act 2021 “already contains provision for the setting of long-term environmental targets for England, which is also referenced in the levelling-up White Paper, so the government’s commitment to the environment is incredibly clear”.

Maskell said that she disagreed with Davison that “such priority is being given to the natural environment”.

She added that while the 25-year environment plan sets out an ambition, “it is weak on targets and monitoring. We need to go far further, which is what this proposal will do if it is a central mission in levelling up.”

However, Maskell ultimately said that she would not push her amendments, “save to say that the natural environment does not have high enough priority in this legislation, but it is essential for our future”. 

LURB will now move to its report stage, where MPs can consider further amendments on the floor of the House of Commons, and vote on them.