The Environment Bill, after over 1,000 days since it first appeared in Parliament, was finally given Royal Assent to become an act. The Environment Act 2021 has been long-awaited by many, which promises to establish biodiversity targets overseen by a new watchdog – the Office for Environmental Protection (the "OEP").
Rebecca Pow, the Environment Minister described the Act as a 'ground breaking framework for a sustainable future'.
This Environment Act 2021 will impinge on every aspect of Planning law and further strengthens the courts' powers to enforce green laws. The Act provides for a range of legally binding targets relating to soil health, water, air quality and waste. Most notably, the Act has introduced a new requirement for developers to ensure all new schemes of 'nationally significant infrastructure' involve a biodiversity net gain. This is significant as it puts a legal obligation on a developer to improve the biodiversity of the site and not just maintain it. In addition, where sites have secured a biodiversity net gain, a Biodiversity Gain Site Register will be implemented and managed for at least 30 years. This will need to be considered in long-term strategies for a development.
The biodiversity net gain will be read into local plans and decision making across England. We await more information on the new Local Natural Recovery Strategies (the "LNRS") system and how it relates to local planning authorities.
There has been concern over the Act not going far enough, but many view this as an incredibly important step forward. Developers must be incredibly mindful of these new requirements, as the OEP has regulatory powers to oversee these targets and hold everyone to account – including public authorities and the government.
More detail will be published soon, but it's crucial that developers pay heed to these legally binding and long-term targets as there is no escaping their reality. We will provide further analysis on the Act to our clients in the coming weeks.