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What You Need to Know About The Environment Act 2021

19 November 2021

The Environment Act 2021 Blog

The Environment Act 2021 has finally been granted royal assent into UK Law.  

Firstly, this Act establishes the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) as a new regulatory body for legislative enforcement regarding environmental issues. 

What is the OEP? 

The OEP is the office for Environmental Protection – the new regulatory body for legislative enforcement for environmental issues, to hold government and public authorities to account. Previously, the European Commission would have been responsible for holding member states to account; after Brexit the formation of this new body is to make sure the UK’s environmental goals are met. The OEP has been legally established this month (November 2021) as the Environment Bill has passed for royal assent into UK law.  

What will the OEP be able to do?

According to theoep.org.uk, once fully established this body will: 

  • Review and report on government’s progress in meeting environmental goals and targets, such as the 25-year Environment Plan  
  • Monitor and report on the implementation of environmental law  
  • Advise government on proposed changes to the law and other environmental matters  
  • Investigate suspected failures to comply with environmental law by government and other public bodies and enforce compliance where needed 

(theoep.org)

The Chair of the OEP expects that the OEP will be able to take faster action against infringements such as air quality limit breaches. (ENDS Report)  

What is the new UK Environmental Protections Policy? 

Part of the Environment Act requires ministers to make a statement to Parliament setting out the effect of new primary legislation on existing levels of environmental protection. This is part of the UK Environmental Protections Policy and will give parliament greater scrutiny over legislation.  

The statements will be published and open to inspection by Parliament, environmental stakeholders and the broader public.  

There will also be a requirement for the Secretary of State to conduct a two-yearly review of the significant developments in international legislation on the environment and to publish a report on the findings. 

(https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/

Biodiversity Gains  

Another key point to take away from the Environment Act is the requirement of 10% Biodiversity Net Gains (or BNG) for all new developments. The Environment Act will enshrine this in law.

How Will Net Biodiversity Gains Be Created? 
  • Local planning authorities will be responsible for delivering BNG for all Town & Country Planning Act developments and all national infrastructure projects. 
  • There must be a mechanism in place to deliver BNG, and evidence that BNG can be secured for at least 30 years within the development site boundary. 
  • Alternatively, large-scale offset sites can be set up off-site for wildlife conservation 

See our blog on biodiversity to learn more about its importance.  

REACH and the Environment Act 2021 

The UK REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals) regime began operating in 2021, following the decision not to seek to remain within the EU REACH system. The Environment Act gives the Secretary of State the power to amend two pieces of legislation: The REACH Regulation, which regulates the manufacture, market authorisation, and usage of chemicals, and the REACH Enforcement Regulations 2008 which lay out how the Regulations are enforced.  
(gov.uk) 

Storm Overflows and the Environment Act 2021 

Only 16% of English waterways are classified as being in good ecological health. (DEFRA)
After media coverage of illegal dumping of untreated sewage from CSOs, amendments to the Environment Act placed several duties on water companies. 

What Will Water Companies Have to Do? 
  • They will be required to publish data on their storm overflow operation in annual reports. 
  • Water companies will have to publish near real-time information (within 1 hour) of the commencement of an overflow, its location and when it stops. 
  • They will have to continuously monitor the water quality upstream and downstream of a storm overflow and of sewage disposal works. 
  • Comprehensive statutory Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans must be produced setting out how the company will manage and develop its networks, and how the storm overflows will be addressed through these plans. 
What Will the Government Have to Do? 

The government is also required to publish a plan by the 1st of September next year (2022) for the reduction of sewage discharges from storm overflows. They also need to publish a report on the actions needed to eliminate them, evaluating the costs and benefits. (https://www.gov.uk/

The Environment Act 2021 is a significant milestone for the protection of our environment. Organisations should already be planning how they will respond to environmental regulations as they are introduced. 

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