The Environment Act 2021 was granted royal assent into UK Law in November 2021.
Firstly, this Act established the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) as a new regulatory body for legislative enforcement regarding environmental issues.
What is the OEP?
The Office for Environmental Protection is the 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 was legally established November 2021 as the Environment Bill passed for royal assent into UK law.
What will the OEP be able to do?
According to theoep.org.uk, this body:
- Reviews and report on government’s progress in meeting environmental goals and targets, such as the 25-year Environment Plan
- Scrutinises environmental law
- Advises government on environmental law
- Enforces action against failures to comply with environmental law by government and other public bodies
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.
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 enshrines this in law.
How will biodiversity gains be created?
- Local planning authorities are 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.
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.
- They will have to publish near real-time information (within one 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 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 was also required to publish a plan by the 1st of September 2022 for the reduction of sewage discharges from storm overflows.
Organisations should be conscious of this evolving legislation as more continues to be introduced.