1. The new Bill has been published after the previous one failed to complete its passage through parliament before dissolution.
2. Much of it focuses on the further avoidance of decline in environmental quality and monitoring of climate change policies. It is a very large Bill, with the following parts:
- Part 1 Environmental governance
- Part 2 Environmental governance Northern Ireland
- Part 3 Waste and resource efficiency
- Part 4 Air quality and environmental recall
- Part 5 Water
- Part 6 Nature and biodiversity (This includes Biodiversity Net Gain and local nature recovery strategies)
- Part 7 Conservation covenants
- Part 8 Miscellaneous
3. It will introduce some new policies and ideas, including Local Nature Recovery Strategies, which will put spatial planning for nature on a statutory footing, and provide the legal framework for a series of Environmental Improvement Plans, the first of which is likely to be the 25 Year Environment Plan.
4. It is full of positive words but, as ever, it will be judged, along with the government, on its impact.
5. The Environmental Audit Committee criticised the previous Bill on three main points:
- Point 1 the independence and ‘teeth’ of the new Office for Environmental Protection, as it will rely on Ministers to appoint its chair and board;
- Point 2 more detail on how the environmental principles in the Bill will be used in practice; and
- Point 3 the need for targets across all ten Environment Plan goals.
6. The Committee on Climate Change criticised the previous government for inaction. In June 2018, it advised that 25 headline policy actions were needed for the year ahead – only one was delivered in full and 10 had not shown even partial progress. Its advice, which it repeats often, remains ‘do it now’.
7. The Natural Capital Committee has said that the government should consider how the new Office for Environmental Protection could work in collaboration with the Regulatory Policy Committee in assessing how well natural capital has been considered. This would help give it ‘more teeth’. It also advises that that there should be a section in the procedure for assessing the impact of policy changes on the natural capital impacts and how the policy is contributing towards the Environment Bill objectives.
8. Second reading took place on 26 February.