Abolish Ofwat, nutrient negativity, and planning reforms: 12 key points from Lib Dem party conference

The Liberal Democrats agreed key measures for tackling the nature crisis, in a ‘pre-manifesto’ motion passed on the last day of their party conference yesterday. Here are the key takeaways.

1. Reverse the decline of nature by 2030

One of the key points from the motion was to reverse the decline of nature by 2030 and ‘double nature’ by 2050. This included funding the local government to increase the network of local nature reserves. A pledge was also set out to double woodland cover by 2050.

Currently the government has pledged to safeguard 30% of land for nature by 2030, and 30% of seas. The Lib Dems also committed to safeguarding 30% of seas by 2030. 

2. Establish a 'nutrient negativity' requirement in vulnerable areas

In the motion, the Lib Dems said they would Introduce nutrient budgeting in English catchments. Projects in “vulnerable areas” would have to demonstrate “nutrient negativity” before they proceed. This means that a development would have to go further than current measures intended to deliver nutrient neutrality, and would see developers required to reduce the amount of pollution in waterways in order to develop there. 

3. Abolish Ofwat

The motion set out that the Lib Dems would plan to abolish industry regulator Ofwat and replace it with a “regulator with real and meaningful powers”.

4. Set a blue flag standard 

One of the commitments was to set a new 'blue flag' standard, which is the classification that a beach meets international water quality standards, and introduce a 'blue corridor' programme for rivers, streams and lakes to ensure clean, healthy water.

5. Align with Europe on chemical legislation 

The Lib Dems pledged to reduce the UK's environmental impact globally by rejoining the EU REACH programme and the European Chemical Agency. 

The UK’s regulation of chemicals has faced a number of hurdles since Brexit, with a chemical strategy promised in 2018 still not yet delivered and deadlines for businesses to submit hazard information on chemicals extended, whilst a new model for registration is still developed. 

6. Establish a new authority on green washing 

Under measures for managing UK land for nature, the party proposed establishing a new Environmental Markets Authority to eliminate greenwash and set standards to “ensure all markets work for nature and climate”. 

7. Ban bottom trawling in MPAs

The Lib Dems said they would put a ban on bottom trawling in marine protected areas (MPAs), and would fund coastal local authorities to increase the monitoring of the health of coastal waters.

8. Reduce the UK’s resource consumption 

The Lib Dems said they would go ahead with comprehensive deposit return schemes and Extended Producer Responsibility Schemes. These are facing delays under the current government.

They also said they would introduce standards for repairability, interoperability, sustainable construction and reusability in products. 

9. Reform the planning system

A key measure was to reform the planning system to make environmental improvement and quality of life “explicit purposes of planning” and make sure local authorities have the tools and funding to assess plans for environmental improvement. 

It was also set out that areas that are “most important for nature and climate” would be mapped and gain extended planning protection and investment. 

10. Improve Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) requirements

The Lib Dems would increase the length of time that net gain habitat must be maintained from 30 years to 120 years and increase the net gain requirement for major developments from 10% in smaller sites up to 100% in larger greenfield sites.

11. New framework for land and seas

The motion also proposed setting up a  Land and Sea Use Framework to balance competing demands. The government has committed to creating a Land Use Framework. 

12. Complete ban on horticultural peat use

The motion said that horticultural peat use would be banned outright. Currently a ban on peat is not expected until 2030 at the earliest. Other ways of protecting carbon stores were also raised, including  restoring peatlands that have been damaged and setting a Blue Carbon Standard and a Soils Carbon Standard.