Environment Act finally gains Royal Assent
15 November 2021
After years of deliberation and over 1,000 days since the concept was first discussed, the Environment Bill has finally received royal assent and has been written into UK law as the Environment Act (2021). This piece of pioneering legislation has great ambition and targets drastic improvements to the state of our natural environment through a number of channels such as sustainability objectives, improved water and air quality objectives and mandatory delivery of biodiversity net gains in new development.
On the Act, Environment Secretary George Eustace states:
‘The Environment Act will deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth. It will halt the decline of species by 2030, clean up our air and protect the health of our rivers, reform the way in which we deal with waste and
tackle deforestation overseas. We are setting an example for the rest of the world to follow.’
As ever these are determined words from a Secretary of State, but they make no tangible progress towards a halt in the decline in our natural Environment which requires action, collaboration and innovation at the national and local level.
It feels as though on too many occasions historically, landmark environmental legislation has failed to deliver the promise of betterment, and so it is perhaps sensible to have reservations, but something does feel slightly different this time round, particularly within the context of biodiversity.
As part of the Act there will be a mandatory requirement for the delivery of a 10% net gain for biodiversity in all new developments. This represents the most significant amplification of ecological pre-planning requirements in perhaps a generation. These gains will be measured using quantitative assessment, via DEFRA metric 3.0 at present, and can be delivered on-site as part of proposed landscaping or off-site within separate land assigned for such use by the applicant. Where net gains cannot be delivered on or off-site as part of new development, local authorities will be providing a mechanism for commuted sums to contribute to ambitious plans to implement local, regional and national Nature Recovery Networks which will form the cornerstone for the recovery of the UK’s biodiversity.
There will of course be a ‘teething period’ and so helpfully the Act at present includes a 2-year transitional phase while the appropriate mechanisms for commuted sums and Nature Recovery Networks are established and standardised. This in practice will mean - for that period- increased dialogue will be required pre-app between applicants and local authorities to ensure ecological outputs meet the expectations of each authority and to understand their respective mechanisms for commuted sums. For now however the message is clear, the Act is written into law and all development should be seeking net gains for biodiversity with a keen eye on local policy noting the relevant changes as they occur.
At BWB we as a team of ecologists are finding early engagement in masterplan design to be a key factor in the successful delivery of biodiversity net gains. We have a wealth of growing experience in this area and continue to deliver successful schemes that will leave a lasting legacy for biodiversity.
If you routinely find yourself requiring ecological advice or wish to know more about the impact this new legislation could have, please get in touch and we would be happy to help. We also intend to schedule biefing sessions and summary guidance to our clients and partners as the intepretation and implementation of the act becomes apparent.