Environment Bill (UK)

I posted months ago about HMG proposal for a new Environment Bill. There has not been an Environment Bill since 1995.

Progress to date has been weak, and the aspects that were published so far related only to the Governance and Principles aspects.

Today, 23rd July, the DEFRA Secretary has published an updated Policy Statement (of intentions) – here.

Note : Environment is a policy area that is devolved to the regional nations, so the legislative proposals below would apply in England only. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would decide themselves whether and what to follow.

Note : this Statement identifies the Environment Bill will be introduced in the second Parliamentary Session (we are still in the First).

Air quality

(1) Legislation on key measures in the Clean Air Strategy – sharing responsibility for tackling air pollution (across local government structures and with relevant public bodies), plus enabling local government to tackle emissions from domestic burning.

(2) Powers for government to mandate recalls of vehicles and machinery, when they do not meet relevant legal emission standards.

Nature

(3) Nature policy to have a local community focus – a mandatory approach to biodiversity net gain requiring developers to ensure habitats for wildlife are enhanced, with a 10% increase in habitat value for wildlife compared with the pre-development baseline (national infrastructure projects excepted – we will continue to work to establish potential approaches to achieving biodiversity net gains for nationally significant infrastructure projects and marine development, which remain out of scope of biodiversity net gain in the Bill).

(4) Re net gain, planning and the future Environmental Land Management system (replacing agricultural land subsidies) – a new statutory requirement for Local Nature Recovery Strategies. The aim is for these strategies to help to map out important habitats and opportunities for the local environment to be improved, linking communities’ knowledge and priorities with national environmental objectives.

(5) A new duty on local authorities to consult with local communities to ensure that consultation takes place when a street tree is to be felled.

(6) Legislation on conservation covenants – voluntary agreements between a landowner and others (for example, a conservation charity) to help deliver positive local conservation.

Waste

(7) A series of measures that will fundamentally change the way government, businesses and individuals produce and consume products (this will be a big change).

(8) New legal powers to allow government to set resource-efficiency standards for products, driving a shift in the market towards products that are lasting, can be repaired and can be recycled. Plus clear labelling to enable citizens to make fully informed purchasing decisions.

(9) New powers to introduce Extended Producer Responsibility schemes – for packaging, producers will pay the full net cost of dealing with their packaging waste to incentivise recyclability in its design (this is in line with other countries). At the moment, producers currently only pay about 10% of these costs. This will be a fundamental change to the Packaging and Packaging Waste Producer Responsibility Law.

(10) Legislation to modernise the government’s powers to set producer responsibility obligations, extending them to prevention and redistribution of waste, in particular tackling food waste where there is no Legislation in England.

(11) A simplified approach to recycling across local authorities, making it simpler for the public to recycle. A consistent set of materials will need to be collected from all households and businesses in England, with clearer labelling on packaging.

(12) New powers to enable deposit return schemes, particularly dealing with plastic waste. Plus a new power to be able to introduce charges for specified single use plastic items. (Note, there is new EU Law in this area, I posted about recently).

(13) The Litter Strategy commits to review the mechanism by which councils and other land-managers can be held to account for maintaining their land to the standards set out in the Code of Practice. This includes the current section 91 Environment Protection Act process and other options, taking into account the impacts on local authority prioritisation and costs, the court system and the exchequer.

(14) A series of measures unspecified) to improve the management of waste, enabling better use of resources and to reduce the risk of economic, environmental and social harm.

Water

(15) Legislation to strengthen Ofwat’s powers to update water companies’ licences – in particular bringing the way in which water companies appeal Ofwat decisions in line with that for other utility regulators.

(16) New powers to direct water companies to work together on how they will meet current and future demand for water; making planning more robust, even in drought conditions and/or in areas of water stress, for example by working jointly to transfer between catchments when needed.

(17) A new power to enable future updates to a list of harmful chemicals which must be tackled to protect the aquatic environment.

Water Abstraction Plan (UK)

UPDATE : the DEFRA Report to Parliament (see timeline below) is here

The UK Government has a Water Abstraction Plan. This was updated on 11th April 2019 – here.

I posted before about this.

Most businesses taking more than 20,000 litres of water a day directly from rivers or groundwater require an abstraction licence.

The Plan states that the current approach to managing abstraction has three main issues:

* some older licences allow abstraction that can damage the environment

[and indeed the decision in what became the Catfield Fen test case established this – see this useful Blog account of the issues and what happened – here]

* the current approach is not flexible enough to cope with the pressures of increasing demand for water and climate change in the long term, or to allow abstractors access to additional water when it is available

* the abstraction service is outdated and paper-based

The Plan document states – The Government published a range of approaches to address these issues in January 2016 following formal consultation. This plan explains how these will be implemented over the coming years. Our approach to addressing these issues has three main elements:

(1) making full use of existing regulatory powers and approaches to address unsustainable abstraction and move around 90% of surface water bodies and 77% of groundwater bodies to the required standards by 2021

(2) developing a stronger catchment focus – bringing together the Environment Agency, abstractors and catchment groups to develop local solutions to existing pressures and to prepare for the future. These local solutions will:

* protect the environment by changing licences to better reflect water availability in catchments and reduce the impact of abstraction

* improve access to water by introducing more flexible conditions that support water storage, water trading and efficient use

(3) supporting these reforms by modernising the abstraction service, making sure all significant abstraction is regulated and bringing regulations in line with other environmental permitting regimes

The Plan document states – We will report to parliament by May 2019 on progress made on abstraction reform.

The Plan document states – the Environment Agency will publish updated abstraction licensing strategies for 10 catchments by 2021.

The Plan document states – We are planning to move abstraction and impoundment regulations into the environmental permitting regulations. The move will provide a more modern and consistent legal framework for the day to day management of abstraction. We expect to consult on the detail of the move in early 2020.

The Plan document key milestones :

• January 2018 – start testing digital abstraction licences

• January 2018 to 31 December 2019 – application process for previously exempt abstractors open

• April 2018 – Environment Agency begins work in 4 priority catchments to test the approaches to improve access to water and begin to address local pressures

• By end of 2018 – Environment Agency to have revoked around 600 unused abstraction licences

• During 2019 – Defra reports to parliament demonstrating progress on abstraction reform

• By end 2019 – majority of licences available digitally and approach to submitting records online is improved

• Early 2020 – consult on moving water resources licensing to Environmental Permitting Regulations

• 2020 – Environment Agency publish 4 updated abstraction licensing strategies from initial catchments

• March 2020 – Environment Agency completes restoring sustainable abstraction programme

• 2021 – Environment Agency publish an additional 6 updated abstraction licensing strategies

• 2021 – 2,300 time limited licences reviewed by 2021

• 2021 – Environment Agency will report on progress against environmental targets

• 2021 – abstraction licences become environmental permits (subject to consultation)

• 31 December 2022 – all previously exempt abstractions will be permitted

• By 2027 – Environment Agency will have updated all abstraction licensing strategies

Following Catfield, and in accordance with this Plan, the Environment Agency has begun reviewing and withdrawing time limited abstraction licences in the Fens.

River Basin Management (Ireland)

The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has published the (second) River Basin Management Plan 2018-2021 for Ireland. An earlier RBMP had been published. This second RBMP plans on the basis that Ireland is defined as a single River Basin District – the Ireland RBD (NOT including Northern Ireland). The areas bordering Northern Ireland are included in two other River Basin Districts – the North Western RBD and the Neagh Bann RBD that are run from Northern Ireland (part of the UK, a separate country and currently exiting the EU).

The River Basin Management Plan for Ireland 2018-2021 is here.

[The Neagh Bann River Basin Management Plan 2015-2021 is here.]

[The North Western River Basin Management Plan 2015-2021 is here.]

RBMPs set out the actions that an EU member state will take to improve water quality and achieve ‘good’ ecological status in water bodies (rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters) by 2027. EU member states are required to produce river basin management plans under the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD).

BREXIT : it is not yet clear how River Basin Management planning will occur in the UK going forward. I will issue a separate Blog on this, when there is further information.

Water quality in Ireland has deteriorated over the past two decades. This second RBMP provides a more coordinated framework for improving the quality of waters — to protect public health, the environment, water amenities and to sustain water-intensive industries, including agri-food and tourism, particularly in rural Ireland.

The Irish River Basin District (RBD) covers an area of 70,273km2, with 46 catchment management units — consisting of 583 sub-catchments, with 4,829 water bodies. With regard to protected areas within the District, there are 140 designated bathing waters, 64 shell fish waters, 47 nutrient sensitive areas and 358 special areas of conservation (SACs) with water dependency. These SACs are geographically concentrated along the western seaboard – with a significant overlap between high-status waters and SACs. The RBD has a population of around 4.76 million, with 33% of people living in cities, 29% in towns and 38% in rural areas. The requirement for water and waste-water services reflects these spatial patterns. Nationally, the economy is strongly export-focused, but the sectoral drivers of economic growth across the RBD are diverse – with the agriculture and food sectors being particularly important in rural areas.

Key measures during the first RBMP included the licensing of urban waste-water discharges (with an associated investment in urban waste-water treatment) and the implementation of the Nitrates Action Programme (Good Agricultural Practice Regulations). The urban waste-water licensing made significant progress in terms both of compliance levels and of the impact of urban waste-water on water quality. The Nitrates Action Programme created an environmental baseline which all Irish farmers must achieve and has resulted in improving trends in the level of nitrates and phosphates in rivers and groundwater.

This second RBMP will establish :

(1) an Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme to be implemented by 30 new Advisors — funded by Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government (DHPLG), Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) and the dairy co- ops — who will work under Teagasc and the dairy co-ops. The Advisors will work on a one-to-one basis with farmers to bring about behavioural change through improved agricultural practices in areas which have identified pressures on water bodies.

(2) Local Authority Support and Advisory Teams to carry out scientific assessments and to drive the implementation of mitigation measures at local level. Recruitment of investigative assessment personnel commenced in Quarter 1 2018 and provision has been made for up to 43 specialist staff to be in place by mid-2018. These resources will be assigned across the five regions.

(3) Agri-environment schemes implemented through the Rural Development Programme (RDP) to lead to investment in manure storage and improved nutrient utilisation. In particular, the targeted approach to the Green, Low-Carbon, Agri- Environment Scheme (GLAS), which has 50,000 participants, is intended to ensure appropriate supporting measures on farms to protect and improve water quality.

(4) improved compliance with the existing Good Agriculture Practice Regulations through implementation of the enhanced Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) for 2018–2021 and of the associated inspection regime. The Programme entails new strengthened water- protection measures, focused on intercepting and breaking nutrient transport pathways and on preventing sediment and nutrient losses to waters.

(5) a National Inspection Plan 2018–21 for domestic waste-water treatment systems, currently being finalised by the EPA – this will use the outputs of the catchment characterisation work to further improve the risk-based approach to inspection of septic tanks. It is expected that approximately 1,000 inspections will be carried out by local authorities nationally each year.

(6) significant planned investment in urban waste-water collection and treatment infrastructure. Over the period 2017–2021, the plan is for Irish Water to invest approximately €1.7 billion in waste-water projects, programmes and asset maintenance.

(7) a register of water abstractions (held by the DPHLG), who will consult on a proportionate and risk-based framework for the regulation of abstractions to ensure continued sustainable use of our water resources. The EPA will continue work on assessing risk due to abstractions, making use of new information as it emerges during the second cycle.

Plastic Microbeads in Cosmetics Ban (UK)

UPDATE 3rd August : the 2017 Regulations are now notified to the EU and to the WTO. The EU notification gives detail, and is here

A few days ago, the DEFRA Secretary of State confirmed the UK will introduce a ban on plastic microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products. Following consultation, the proposals are summarised :

(1) the ban on manufacture (England) will start 1st Jan 2018 and the ban on sale (England) will start 30th June 2018

(2) precise definitions of “microbead”, “plastic” and “rinse-off personal care product” have been developed to clearly define the scope of the ban

(3) the scope of rinse-off products will be as set out in the consultation, but DEFRA is additionally working with the Hazardous Substances Advisory Committee (HSAC) to assess the case for addressing further categories of products

(4) Trading Standards will be the regulator to manage compliance and enforcement in England

(5) enforcement in England will be carried out through a range of sanctions including variable monetary penalties, compliance notices, stop notices and enforcement undertakings

(6) the Devolved Administrations (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) will consider appropriate enforcement mechanisms, regulators and timescales according to devolution settlements.

The summary of DEFRA responses is here.

Legislation is expected by the end of 2017. This is a UK initiative, and is unconnected with the EU. 

Liz Truss continues as UK DEFRA Secretary

Welcoming the continuation of Rt Hon Liz Truss MP as Secretary of State for UK Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

DEFRA is a large UK government department responsible for policy and regulations on environmental, food and rural issues, covering:

* the natural environment, biodiversity, plants and animals 

* sustainable development and the green economy 

* food, farming and fisheries 

* animal health and welfare 

* environmental protection and pollution control 

* rural communities and issues 

DEFRA only works directly in England, by concordat works closely with the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and generally leads on negotiations in the EU and internationally.

DEFRA’s work and priorities are delivered by 35 separate agencies and public bodies, listed here.