The long-awaited Environment Bill was recently given Royal Assent which means it is now an Act of Parliament, forming part of the legislative framework for environmental protection within the UK. But, what does it mean for town planning and ultimately, your planning application?
It can be confusing when new legislation comes into force, as it is not often clear how it will be used in practice. Atticus Planning has unpicked the new Bill and provides a brief overview of its relevance to planning applications.
The purpose of the Bill is to:
Make provision about targets, plans and policies for improving the natural environment; for statements and reports about environmental protection; for the Office for Environmental Protection; about waste and resource efficiency; about air quality; for the recall of products that fail to meet environmental standards; about water; about nature and biodiversity; for conservation covenants; about the regulation of chemicals; and for connected purposes.
The Bill acts as a new direction of travel for town planning and development within the UK, and will undoubtedly impact on how planning applications are determined. The Bill makes it clear that it is no longer enough to simply mitigate the impacts of a development; you must now go a step further, by providing an enhancement to the environment and leaving it in a measurably better state than it was before.
One aspect of the Bill which is relevant to planning applications is that it requires new developments to provide a minimum 10% gain in biodiversity, to help boost depleting wildlife populations in the UK. Whilst it is not yet a mandatory requirement for planning applications to demonstrate a net gain in biodiversity; BNG will become mandatory when it forms part of the Town and Country Planning Act, which is expected in 2023. In the meantime and in the absence of local planning policies which require new developments to provide a net gain, the Bill is likely to form a material consideration in a local planning authority’s assessment of planning applications alongside national policies contained within the National Planning Policy Framework.
Continuing with the topic of BNG, the Bill also legislates for pre-emptive tree felling; where works are undertaken on a site on or after 30th January 2020 which are not in accordance with a grant of planning permission and the works have resulted in a site having a lower biodiversity value, the site’s biodiversity value before the activities took place will be used when calculating the 10% BNG.
The Bill also places great emphasis on the importance of recycling and producer responsibility, air quality, water and waste. It also sets out a variety of strategies for local nature recovery, species conservation and protected sites, as well as plans to tackle deforestation.
The Bill ultimately forms part of a wider Government strategy to improve the natural environment and combat climate change. As a result, it is likely that planning applications for new developments will come under greater scrutiny where wildlife, trees, air quality, recycling, water quality and carbon emissions are concerned.