I am thrilled that the Environment Act has now been passed into UK law after good debate and scrutiny in Parliament. This legislation will protect and enhance our environment for future generations, ensuring that the environment is at the heart of all decisions made and that current and future Governments are held accountable if they fail to uphold their environmental duties.
The Environment Act will contribute to meet targets of net zero emissions by 2050, which will be completed through fulfilling targets such as reducing emissions of five damaging air pollutants (halving the effects that air pollution has on health by 2030), clean and plentiful water, using resources more sustainably and efficiently, minimising waste, mitigating and adapting to climate change and enhancing biodiversity.
On biodiversity the Act includes new legally binding targets on species abundance for 2030, which will help to reverse declines of iconic British species like the hedgehog, red squirrel and water vole. A new biodiversity net-gain for development will also be introduced. This will ensure habitats for wildlife are enhanced, with a 10 per cent increase in habitat compared with the pre-development baseline. Under the net-gain proposals, developers will have to assess the type of habitat and its condition before submitting plans, and then demonstrate how they are improving biodiversity such as through creating green corridors, planting more trees, or forming local nature spaces.
Ancient woodlands are already strongly protected under the National Planning Policy Framework. The Government also provides advice for local authority planners for when they make planning decision proposals affecting ancient woodland, ancient trees and veteran trees.
The Government has now published the England Trees Action Plan, which sets the UK on the path to ensure that we have at least twelve per cent woodland cover by the middle of the century.
I am pleased that the Government is expanding the Nature for Climate Fund to ensure total spending of more than £750 million by 2024-25. This will help meet the commitment to plant at least 7,500 hectares of trees every year in England by 2025 and restore 35,000 hectares of peatland. The Government is committed to ensuring that the right trees are planted in the right places, that trees and woodlands are better protected, that more green jobs are created in the forestry sector and that people have greater access to trees and woodlands.
From the Nature for Climate Fund, a series of investments will support the creation and management of woodland, including the Woodland Creation Partnerships, the Urban Tree Challenge Fund and a Local Authority Treescape Fund.
The Government will also create a new Centre for Forest Protection and develop a Woodland Resilience Implementation Plan to improve the ecological condition of woodlands, as well as publish a new Great Britain Plant Biosecurity Strategy by 2022.
The Environment Act will help transition to a more circular economy, incentivising people to recycle more, encouraging businesses to create sustainable packaging, making household recycling easier and stopping the export of polluting plastic waste to developing countries. I am pleased that work on implementing Environment Act policies is already well underway. The Government has already started work on legally binding environment targets, launched consultations on the deposit return schemes for drinks containers, extended producer responsibility for packaging and consistent recycling collections.
Cleaner air matters to us in Norwich too. The Government has a ‘Clean Air Strategy’ which explains how the UK will go further than the EU in reducing exposure to particulate matter pollution, with the underlying goal to halve the number of people living in locations with concentrations of particulate matter above WHO guidelines. I am pleased that this strategy has been described by the WHO as ‘an example for the rest of the world to follow.’
The Act places a duty on the Government to set at least two air quality targets by October 2022: a target to reduce the annual average level of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in ambient air, and a further target to improve air quality.
I also welcome that the Environment Act will crack down on water companies that discharge sewage into rivers, waterways and coastlines. It will see a duty enshrined in law to ensure water companies secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows. Alongside this, it will also require the Government to publish a plan to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows by September 2022 and report to Parliament on the progress towards implementing the plan.
For further information on the Environment Act please see the helpful link. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/world-leading-environment-act-becomes-law
Like you, and like the Government, I want our environment left in a better state than we found it for future generations. I am confident that the Environment Act will help care for our environment, which is one of my key priorities I have set out for my constituents.