Top priority needed for environmental principles

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‘New environmental principles should apply to all public bodies as well as central government. Natural England should be given greater resources, clout and independence to enable it to fulfil new obligations to protect the environment.’

So we have said in responding to the consultation from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on future principles for the environment after Brexit, to be enshrined in the forthcoming Environment Bill.

Says our case officer Nicola Hodgson: ‘We are concerned that the proposals in the Defra consultation downgrade the importance of environmental principles. We strongly disagree with the statement that there is a “need to balance environmental priorities alongside other national priorities, such as economic competitiveness, prosperity and job creation to provide sustainable development overall”. We believe that the environment should be top priority.

‘The Environment Bill should place a duty on all public bodies to apply the environmental principles—and there is no reason why Natural England could not be the enforcing body, provided it is given the powers and resources needed, and it is made sufficiently independent of government.

‘The recent House of Lords Select Committee on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 recommended government “to take steps to enable Natural England to operate with the appropriate degree of independence. As a minimum requirement, we recommend that government should allow Natural England to re-establish its own, independent press and communications function”. That has not yet happened, but it needs to.

‘The enforcing body should ensure the correct application of relevant environmental law within the planning system and advise on the environmental impacts of planning policy. Then we might see better protection of open spaces,’ Nicola declares.

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