The UK government last week formally tabled its long-awaited Environment Bill in Parliament, promising that the “landmark” legislation will reshape environmental regulation and enforcement in the UK post-Brexit.
Currently, most of the UK’s environmental rules are enforced by Brussels, but last week’s legislation would see the creation of a new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) established to ensure the UK complies with environmental standards.
The Bill will also enshrine environmental principles such as the ‘polluter pays’ principle into UK law, forcing the government to embed the environment into its decision making. In addition, it will set legally binding targets for environmental improvement on areas such as air quality.
The confirmation of the bill came after the government promised in last week’s Queen’s Speech that its new air quality target would be “among the most ambitious in the world”. Under the new regime, councils will be given more powers to tackle sources of air pollution, while developers will be subject to mandatory biodiversity rules in the planning system that will require them to protect existing habitats or pay for land restoration elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the Bill will also see further action taken on plastic pollution, with charges applied to some single-use items and a new rule requiring packaging producers to pay for the cost of clean up. The government confirmed the OEP will be based in Bristol, and have a staff headcount of up to 120. But concerns still abound that the watchdog may have its funding decided by Defra, which some industry insiders argue would risk its independence, and will not have the power to levy fines or compel witnesses to attend hearings.