Further progress under the Environment Bill
Although the Environment Bill is currently paused owing to the pandemic, DEFRA is continuing to roll out the policy framework associated with the Bill for when it becomes law (sometime in the autumn of 2021 on current predictions). Now DEFRA has circulated a consultation on the environmental principles policy statement which will supplement the approach taken on biodiversity net gain in the planning system – and help to inform government decision-making on environmental matters.
The draft sets out five principles which ministers must have “due regard” to when making policy:
- The integration principle – requiring policy makers to embed environmental protection in other fields of policy that have impacts on the environment.
- The prevention principle – meaning that government policy should aim to prevent, reduce or mitigate harm.
- The rectification at source principle – meaning that if damage to the environment cannot be prevented it should be tackled at its origin.
- The polluter pays principle – meaning that those who cause pollution or damage to the environment should be responsible for mitigation or compensation.
- The precautionary principle – meaning that where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, a lack of scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.
The purpose of these obligations is to make environmental considerations central to policy development. The principles oblige Government to consider policy options that cause the least environmental harm. There are a number of specific exceptions – for example policy relating to the armed forces, defence or national security; and to taxation, spending or the allocation of resources within government.
There is a wider question, too: exactly what will “due regard” amount to? The minimum environmental principles to be included in the policy statement were set out in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and it was understood then that the principle of non-regression in environmental law would also be included. Whether that finds its way into the final draft remains to be seen, but it isn’t in the consultation document – so readers can draw their own conclusions! It is questions like this as much as the policy principles themselves which will shape the environmental policy of the UK in the years ahead.
Meanwhile, the consultation is open until 2 June 2021 and responses can be submitted using the link attached below: