Concerns expressed over delays to Environment Bill 

Environmental lawyers and House of Commons select committee chairs have voiced concerns that delays to the Environment Bill mean the UK will have no supreme environmental protection organisation operational after Brexit.

The lawyers at Irwin Mitchell have “voiced dismay” that the Environment Bill has been delayed “yet again”, with further amendments to the legislation proposed.

And, the chairs of two House of Commons select committees have written to the environment secretary, George Eustice, calling for transparency around the proposed ‘interim’ Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), which is be legislated for through the environment bill.

Not enough time is left to check the Environment Bill before Brexit, says Irwin Mitchell lawyers (picture: Shutterstock)

December

The public bill committee is not due to report on its work until 1 December, having been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. The work of the committee scrutinising the Environment Bill was suspended in March (see letsrecycle.com story). Its next meeting is on 3 November.

Irwin Mitchell says the delay means there will no longer be enough parliamentary time available for the bill to pass into law before 1 January 2021, the end of the Brexit transition period. The law firm claims the UK will thus be without an environmental watchdog and that there will be a gap in environmental legislation, points about which the two select committee chairs have also expressed concerns.

Vital

Claire Petricca-Riding, head of planning and environment at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Given the announcements from the cabinet throughout the summer which went to heart of the key environmental issues the country faces, the delay of this vital piece of legislation is a disappointing setback.

Claire Petricca-Riding described the delay to the Environment Bill as ‘disappointing’

“The bill should have been before the parliamentary committee in September and the delay will mean the bill has not been seen in the House of Commons for over 200 days.”

Irwin Mitchell is a British law firm established in Sheffield in 1912. It employs a dedicated team of solicitors who specialise in environmental law.

Binding targets

On 19 August the government said it would set legally binding targets under the environment bill to help the country “build back greener” from the coronavirus pandemic (see letsrecycle.com story.)

To set the targets, which will also apply to any future governments, Defra said it would use a robust, evidence-led process in collaboration with independent experts and stakeholders to ensure they are ‘“strong, meaningful and environmental-outcome-focused”. Ms Petricca-Riding expressed concerns that consultations on the targets are yet to take place.

She said: “Not only is the bill delayed, but we have been promised various consultations on the 16 binding targets the government which to set in the four main areas of air, waste and resources, water and biodiversity, together with the fundamental reform of the environmental impact assessment framework. None of the consultations have yet to come to light.”

Office for Environmental Protection

The OEP will monitor the government’s progress towards improving the natural environment and will investigate complaints regarding failures of public bodies to comply with environmental law.

The regulator is needed in light of the UK’s departure from the European Union. Previously, the European Commission would have acted against the UK if, for example, it had failed to achieve statutory EU recycling targets. In future this task will sit with the OEP.

Neil Parish, chair of the EFRA select committee is one of the chairs worried about the delay (picture: Parliament TV)

Amendments to the bill introduced on 21 October have prompted concerns about the future independence of the regulator. An amendment proposed by recycling minister Rebecca Pow would give the secretary of state powers to issue guidance to the OEP regarding its enforcement policy.

Neil Parish, chair of the environment, food and rural affairs committee, and Philip Dunne, chair of the environment audit committee (EAC), have expressed concerns about an “embryonic’” stop-gap form of the OEP in a joint letter to the secretary of state for Defra.

They claim delays to the environment bill mean the proposed new independent regulator will now not be established as planned in time for the end of the Brexit transition period.

Questioning the powers and structure of the provisional OEP, the two committee chairs have asked for guarantees about the independence, governance and budget of the new body, and set a deadline of 6 November for a response from the environment secretary.

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