Baroness Parminter debates involving the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 13th Sep 2023
Mon 4th Sep 2023
Tue 18th Jul 2023
Thu 18th May 2023
Mon 24th Apr 2023
Mon 27th Mar 2023
Mon 20th Feb 2023
Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 1 & Committee stage & Committee stage
Tue 17th Jan 2023
Mon 17th May 2021
Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB)
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I shall speak to my amendment, Amendment YYZB, to which the Minister offered her support. It proposes two brief additions to the new clause proposed in Amendment 247YY, prompted out of concern about the wording of the clause we are being asked to approve.

I make it clear that this amendment is a probing one only. I very much regret—this follows a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben—that we are being asked to deal with this at such short notice at Report, particularly in view of the importance of the points raised by the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Moylan. This is a great misfortune, because we should really be dealing with this in the ordinary way in Committee, when we have the freedom to propose and discuss amendments and improve their wording stage by stage. We are faced with a measure produced at Report, and my amendment is an attempt to probe and draw attention to defects, not to cure a basic defect in the way the whole process is being handled.

My wording, and the points I have mentioned in my amendment, have been reinforced by what was said by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in paragraph 9 of its report: that the power proposed to be given to the Secretary of State by this clause is

“subject to little by way of constraint”.

That is a generous understatement, I suggest. It is a broad, open Henry VIII clause. In its full vigour as it stands, it lacks any requirement for consultation or any indication of the criteria that must be satisfied in this highly sensitive subject.

There is one other aspect of this clause that I, as one who believes in the quality and integrity of the legislation we are asked to approve, find very disturbing. This is a very controversial subject that has been worked through already, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, pointed out in her reference to the Environment Act. The question raised in my mind when I saw that we were dealing with the whole issue of nutrients in water was, “What does the Environment Act say about it?” There is no indication in the Government’s new clause that that Act has been given any thought at all.

Water is dealt with in Part 5 of that Act, and the powers of the Secretary of State in relation to water quality are set out in some detail in Section 89. We find here a set of carefully designed powers that are combined with requirements for consultation before they are exercised. They also take account of the fact that some of England’s rivers flow into or have their source in Wales or Scotland, so there is provision for consultation with the devolved authorities.

There are other safeguards in that Act as well. Section 20 provides for Ministers making Statements to Parliament about Bills making changes to environment law. We have not had that, because of the way this has been handled. Of course, Section 22 provides for the establishment of the Office for Environmental Protection, with important regulatory and reporting powers. What disturbs me—I may be mistaken—is that all this seems to have been ignored by the Government in formulating this new clause. It is as if the environment protections, which we spent so much time two years ago discussing in great detail, in an Act which the Government themselves promoted, did not exist. I think that many of us remember the satisfaction we felt when that Act was eventually passed, because we had done such detailed work on improving the Act in the interests of our environment. Yet apparently—and I stress the word “apparently”—it has been ignored.

My amendment seeks in a modest way to meet the point that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee makes in paragraph 11 of its report about the warning by the Office for Environmental Protection. There appears to have been no public consultation prior to the publication of these new measures. The first paragraph of my amendment would require regulations made under this clause to be consistent with what Section 89 of the Environment Act requires, and the second would require consultation.

However, this is a probing amendment, and I will not be moving it when the time comes. The first reason for that is that I support those who argue that this new clause should not form part of the Bill. It is not just a matter of small amendments; it is a much more fundamental objection, as others have made clear. The second is that, quite frankly, I am not confident that my amendment, with its mere reference to Section 89 of the Environment Act, is an accurate way of trying to reconcile the clause with what is in the Environment Act. It requires more careful study, and simply to accept my amendment as the Government propose to do is not the way to deal with it.

I do not suggest, and I never did, that I have the complete answer to this; I simply raise issues for the Government to consider. If the Government succeed in the vote that will take place, then I urge them to consider an amendment along these lines at Third Reading. However, if they bring back the legislation at some later stage, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, contemplated, then I very much hope that they will pay attention to the points that my amendment raised.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, in the spirit of brevity, I will not speak to the amendments to which I have given my name. However, I would like to address the amendments that the Government have brought forward, which, if accepted, will be a profound change in how we regulate for the environment in this country. To be clear, we are not talking about all water catchments or all houses. We are talking about the most environmentally sensitive sites: those which are home to our curlews, lapwings, and shelducks. These are our internationally and globally significant chalk streams—sites of greatest environmental sensitivity. That is what we are talking about, not the whole country and not all homes.

Here on these Benches, as on other Benches, we recognise the need for more homes. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, I took slight exception to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Best. The current situation around nutrient neutrality is not a ban on housebuilding. There is a system whereby, if you wish to build houses in a particular sensitive fresh-water area, you can do so if you buy credits to mitigate the damage you will cause. For example, in Poole harbour, one of our most magnificent sites for wildlife and wetland birds in this country, a proposal came forward to build homes. In 2021, a site of 420 acres was built in Bere Regis to mitigate the damage that would have been caused, and 2,111 homes were built. There is not a ban; there is a system of mitigation where the developers must pay—I will return to this point in a moment—to mitigate the environmental damage they are going to cause.

There may well be problems. It is a system that has been in existence for six years; all of us would accept that it is not perfect. Mitigation credits are not, perhaps, coming on as quickly as they need to. The guidance to local authorities about what is acceptable for mitigation may not be as clear as it needs to be. However, that does not mean that, at the 11th hour, the Government can suddenly throw in an amendment to a Bill. You collaborate; you consult with all the parties; you give adequate parliamentary scrutiny. Then, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said, I am sure Parliament would accept that.

We have heard a lot this afternoon already about a report which we are going to get from the Built Environment Committee. I will give you something from a report we have already had: the report of my committee, the Environment and Climate Change Committee, which has looked this year at how we will meet our 30 by 30 target, to protect our nature which is in such a dire state. We looked at the habitats regulations, which are what the government amendments will amend. We concluded, on a balance of the evidence, that those habitats regulations should be retained. However, we said that if they were going to be subject to amendment, because there were clearly some teething issues with this scheme, then any changes should not be

“subject to amendment without an appropriate degree of parliamentary scrutiny or where the protections afforded by the regulations are weakened”.

We can hardly call this process today an appropriate degree of parliamentary scrutiny. The Office for Environmental Protection has been clear: these government proposals will weaken regulations. Like the noble Lord, Lord Deben, I am distraught—I think that is the word I would choose—at how the Government have responded to the clear communication by the OEP, which was set up to be the watchdog for the environment in this country.

Nutrient Neutrality: Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Baroness Parminter Excerpts
Tuesday 5th September 2023

(9 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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In the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill we address pollution at source by placing a new statutory duty on water companies in designated catchment areas to upgrade wastewater treatment works by 2030. Interestingly enough, the analysis suggests that this will lead to about a 69% reduction in phosphorus loads and around a 57% reduction in nitrogen loads in total from wastewater treatment works across all the affected catchments, reducing a significant source of nutrient pollution and supporting the recovery of habitat sites most affected by this pollution. This is on top of the much wider improvements being driven forward through our plan for water.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, when the Minister introduced the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill into this House on 19 December, in accordance with the Environment Act, she made a statement. I quote from the front page of the Bill:

“Baroness Scott of Bybrook has made the following statements under section 20(2)(a) and (3) of the Environment Act 2021 … In my view … the Bill will not have the effect of reducing the level of environmental protection provided for by any existing environmental law”.

Given that, as my noble friend Lord Teverson said, the Government’s statutory watchdog, the OEP, has said that the amendments that she has tabled to this Bill to reduce water quality will demonstrably reduce the environmental protection afforded by current laws and that they are a “regression”, does she stand by her statement?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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Yes, I stand by our statement. As I think I have said before, we do not accept that this constitutes a regression on the environmental outcomes and therefore we do not agree with the Office for Environmental Protection, because it took into account the amendments without the mitigation alongside them, as I understand. The package of environmental measures, which are backed by significant additional investment, will more than offset that very small amount of additional nutrient discharge attributed to the development of 100,000 houses between now and 2030. So, I do not agree with the noble Baroness. I stick by what I said because we are mitigating any small amount of additional nutrient discharge.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Baroness Parminter Excerpts
Moved by
182: After Clause 86, insert the following new Clause—
“Local nature recovery strategies(1) A local planning authority must ensure that their development plan (taken as a whole) incorporates such policies and proposals so as to deliver the objectives of the local nature recovery strategy.(2) Any policies or proposals in subsection (1) must be consistent with the proper exercise of the authority’s plan making functions.”Member's explanatory statement
This new Clause sets out the relationship between local nature recovery strategies (LNRSs) and statutory development plans to ensure LNRSs objectives are delivered and aligned with development plans. This is to help secure implementation of Environment Act requirements.
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, I have two amendments in this group, which have been kindly supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown, who cannot be here this afternoon, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for which I am extremely grateful.

I do not wish to detain the House long by explaining what local nature recovery strategies are; we have been through that in Committee. They are an important new initiative created by this Government to find a mechanism to ensure that we can bring forward the nature recovery we need. However, they will not work unless they have a firm purchase in the local plans and spatial plans and various other constraints of the planning system. That is what the arguments we made throughout Committee were about. Presently, local authorities do not have to sufficiently have regard to them. The amendments we proposed called upon the Government to bring forward legislation which would incorporate the policies and proposals of local nature recovery strategies in local plans.

I am pleased that, over the summer, following much consultation with Ministers and their civil servants, while we may not have come to an accord we have come to a position where the Government have certainly moved more than half way. They are now proposing seven amendments, whereby local authorities “must” take account of local nature recovery strategies in their various plans and proposals. That does not mean they have to incorporate the policies and proposals, but to my mind—and indeed to legal minds—if the local authority plans were to go, for example, to an inspector, the local authority would have to show how they had taken the local nature recovery strategies into account.

I think we have made demonstrable progress. It has not gone as far as I would have liked but I am a politician and I know you do not always get what you want. However, we have in this House made the arguments and the Government have been prepared to listen in a way that they have perhaps not been prepared to, and are not going to be prepared to, on other environmental arguments.

I thank Ministers and their civil servants, who have gone to the trouble of putting together seven amendments to make the intentions of the Government crystal clear. I hope that, when the guidance comes forward to local authorities on how they should implement this new legislation, it is crystal clear that they “must” take account, as the Government’s new wording says, and that we can therefore do what I think both sides of the House want and ensure that local nature recovery strategies have a firm footing in the planning process. We know that without that we will not deliver the environmental gains that we all want. I beg to move.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I will speak briefly to the amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, has set out extremely well why we are keen to make local nature recovery strategies an effective tool for helping the Government hit their legally binding 2030 nature targets.

The noble Baroness quite rightly said that we did not believe that the current requirements for local planning development plans to simply “have regard to” their local nature recovery strategies would be an effective delivery mechanism. A planning authority could disregard all the spatial recommendations of the local nature recovery strategy and still be compliant with the duty. They could simply write that they “had regard to” the local nature recovery strategy without providing any evidence of how it had shaped the substance of their plans.

When we debated this in Committee, the Minister extolled the virtues of the guidance, and the noble Baroness made reference to the forthcoming guidance. But we did have a very good debate, led by the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, which highlighted the many omissions of the guidance already published. I will not go over all of that, but there is still a concern about the detail of it, and I hope that it will now reflect this new wording in the Bill.

As I said, and like the noble Baroness, I am grateful for Ministers having had subsequent meetings and for the further consideration of our arguments that has now taken place. The Government’s proposals make it much clearer that all tiers in the planning process must take account of local nature recovery strategies when they make their plans. It is not perfect, but it is a welcome concession. I therefore share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, that we should not pursue Amendment 182 at this stage.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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I am extremely confused about the order we are taking this in, but I understand that the government amendment has to be put. I just want to say one thing: every single time I have a conversation with Ministers or civil servants about the land use framework the Government are preparing, they tell me that local nature recovery strategies are fundamental and central to that. That is why it is important that the government amendment to strengthen the link between local nature recovery strategies and the planning system not only happens but is vigorously pursued and implemented.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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I apologise if the order has been a bit wrong; it is just that we are not very used to saying thank you to the Minister. So, I will just sit down and withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 182 withdrawn.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Baroness Parminter Excerpts
Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness (Con)
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My Lords, what my noble friend has said is absolutely right; he has said much of what I was going to say. I want to raise one point about what the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown, said. It is a point that we ought to consider. She said that some species are thriving better outside national parks than inside them. As I said at great length on the Environment Bill and the Agriculture Bill, the management system is absolutely crucial. You can have whatever targets or designations you want on our land, but it is the management system within and on that land that will provide the right answer.

There is no doubt that, in the national parks, we can continue to produce food which we need for an expanding population. We can make them more productive and improve biodiversity. But having served on the Rural Economy Committee in your Lordships’ House, I know what a small proportion of the whole rural economy farming is, although it is still the backbone of it. Like my noble friend Lord Lucas, I have sympathy with all three amendments. I am not wedded to their wording but hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to come forward, as he did with our amendment on water, with wording that captures everything we all want but in the right format to make the Bill a better one, and to make our national parks and AONBs the places we would like them to be—but also living communities and not just set in aspic.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, briefly, in the absence of my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, I add our Benches’ support for Amendment 139 and will make three brief points. The first has been touched on by other Members, but I do not think the figures have been set out as strongly as they need to be.

If the Government are to achieve their 30 by 30 target by 2030, which is seven years away, they will have to rapidly increase the amount of protected areas that we have in the UK. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, 25% of our protected areas are national parks and AONBs—15% of them AONBs and 10% national parks. If we do not use the opportunities in those protected landscapes, it is frankly inconceivable that we will be able to get to 30 by 30. We cannot just extrapolate and say that all those areas will be able to equate to the 30 by 30 target, but the strongest increases in purposes will enable the landowners, and people who care for that land, to help move towards that target.

The second issue is connectivity, which the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, touched on. Given the size of the national parks and AONBs, and given the threats to our species and the impacts of climate change, we know that we need more connectivity between our sites. These large areas of our national parks and AONBs offer the best opportunities, if not for 30 by 30 then for providing areas of respite and connectivity for species. I wanted to highlight that point.

My third point has been touched on by other Members and I just want to reiterate it. This amendment gives equal weight to the other existing statutory purposes for national parks and AONBs. It does not say that nature is above the requirements for economic activity in them, which we accept, or above the rights of people to live and work in—and enjoy—a national park, which we accept. It is saying that, at the moment, it is not on a level playing field, and given the nature biodiversity crisis that we have, we need all the statutory purposes to be on a level. We need people to work; we need our farmers; we need people to want to live there.

With the AONB where I am in Surrey, I know how much nature underpins the economic activity and businesses—the food producers and wood crafters. We need all that activity. We are not saying that nature needs to be above that but that, at the moment, as the Government themselves admitted in the Glover review response, the terminology—to conserve and enhance—is not strong enough. That is what the Government said; that it is not strong enough and that they would do something about it. This is the chance to give it that level pegging and this is the Bill to do it in. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, says, if the Minister is not prepared to accept the wording, can he please be clear in explaining why not?

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I just want to say how much we support the amendment tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and so ably introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown. We have heard that it would deliver a new focus on nature by implementing the key recommendations from the Glover review of protected landscapes, all of which were previously agreed by the Government. This is an opportunity to move forward on them and I really hope that the Minister can give us some hope that we are going to achieve some of that.

The point I am trying to make, which I hope the Minister will accept, is that we need to be absolutely certain that proposed new Section 96D(5) is not used as a lever to exempt plants which otherwise should be properly brought up to standard and made compliant with the regulations. I hope the Minister fully understands that I am probing a situation which at the moment is ambiguous and very much a commercial pressure point for the companies operating these plants. I seek an assurance from the Minister that he has heard what has been said will perhaps be able to come back on Report with something accurately reflecting the nature of the debate we are having.
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, in her Amendment 390, to which I have added my name. It is a really important amendment as we struggle to meet the Government’s environmental target and our need to build more homes and develop our land. We have to do that in a way that understands there are fundamental environmental problems we need to address, particularly nutrient pollution.

It is clear that we need a statutory underpinning for nature-based solutions because, without that, they are not going to happen. We have evidence of that. You only have to look through previous price reviews, in which Ofwat turned down recommendations from water companies for nature-based solutions because, on a crude cost-benefit analysis, putting in a grey concrete storm tank was a damn sight cheaper than wetlands and various other proposals. If my memory serves me right, Ofwat turned down some very detailed and thoughtful proposals from Anglian Water because of the cost. Unless there is statutory underpinning, Ofwat will just carry on with its usual economic model.

This amendment is an important way of ensuring we get that win-win of nature-based solutions as we seek to address our nutrient pollution problems. It is an elegant way to move forward on the Dasgupta review, which talked about finding new ways to build nature into our economic model. Giving this a statutory underpinning would, as I have just made clear, give Ofwat the confidence to build into its economic models support for nature-based solutions. We know these are going to be fundamental if we are going to get to our 30 by 30 target.

The only thing I want to say, because it is late and so much has been brilliantly said by the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, is that you would expect us to say this. We are the usual green environmentalists. But I hope the Minister hears that we are also saying that we understand why this is important. We need development, and there is stalemate in many housing developments because the nutrient pollution issues cannot be solved. We are trying to be constructive in resolving that problem. We are not just saying this with our usual green hats on. We realise that this is a tricky issue which needs resolving.

It is not just us in the environmental groups, such as Wildlife and Countryside Link. The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee did an excellent report on nature-based solutions recently. Again, this underpins the support for this amendment. The Government’s own environmental improvement plan talks about the benefits of nature-based solutions. If you are going to deliver on your own words, then you should be supporting this.

For me, the most important and powerful thing is that the water companies support this amendment. In addition to the comments made individually to the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, Water UK put out a release saying that the water companies want this amendment. It would be wonderful to be able to say that this amendment has been supported on a day when the water companies have said, “Mea culpa”, said sorry for the appalling way that they have handled our sewage problems, and promised that they will put £10 billion-worth of new investment into this area. This would ensure that we get the win-win, both to overcome some of our problems with building the homes we need and to ensure that we get the benefits we need for our hard-pressed nature.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions. I will come to the various points but, first, I say that I agreed with nearly everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said, particularly the quotation from Dasgupta. But her criticism of Ofwat is slightly out of date: I had those arguments with it a decade ago. It liked a bit of concrete and steel then because it could measure water going into it and the quality going out, and it did not trust nature-based solutions because it could not get that degree of measurement of asset value. There has been a sea-change in how we do that, but I agree with her in every other respect.

On this group on nutrient pollution standards, I begin my remarks with Amendment 390. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown, and others that we should ensure that water companies deliver this new statutory duty in a timely way. Throughout the delivery of the Water Industry National Environment Programme, the Environment Agency regularly liaises with water companies to ensure progress and to address risks to delivery. Under Section 202 of the Water Industry Act, the Government have the power to request that water companies provide information regarding the delivery of improvements to wastewater infrastructure, and we intend to use these powers if necessary.

Should it become evident that a delay in upgrading a particular wastewater treatment works is unavoidable, the legislation makes provision for the Secretary of State to disapply the requirement placed on local planning authorities to assume that the upgrade will be delivered by 1 April 2030 for the purposes of a habitats regulations assessment. The Secretary of State must notify local planning authorities accordingly so that they can factor this into their planning discussions.

I agree with the noble Baroness that we should ensure that water companies are delivering against this duty in a way that maximises benefits for the environment, and ensure that nature-based solutions are a vital part of our sewage treatment infrastructure. The Government want to see water companies making use of these solutions as part of the treatment processes that they apply. In the strategic policy statement for Ofwat, we set out that water companies should

“increase … the use of nature-based solutions where appropriate”.

The new statutory duty has been designed to ensure that water companies can use nature-based solutions as part of the wastewater treatment process—for example, water companies may use integrated wetlands to remove nutrients from wastewater. The legislation also allows water companies to use nature-based solutions as part of this process. I am repeating myself, so I will move on, as the hour is late.

In the most recent strategic policy statement for Ofwat, the Government set the clear expectation that it should continue in this form. Therefore, I assure the Committee that sufficient provisions are already in place to ensure that nature-based solutions are taken forward where appropriate.

I turn to Amendment 391 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock. Upgrading wastewater treatment plants smaller than a plant capacity of 2,000 population equivalent would require significant investment in new infrastructure and deliver minimal environmental benefit, and it is therefore unlikely to represent value for money. However, we have provided a power for the Secretary of State to lower the plant capacity in individual catchments so that, where appropriate, we can require upgrades at smaller treatment works too.

Although I welcome Amendment 392 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, it is unnecessary because the Secretary of State will of course consider all relevant information and advice before making any exemptions from achieving the nutrient pollution standard. In addition, if a wastewater treatment plant is exempt from this statutory duty, the Environment Agency will still make use of environmental permits to set limits on the quality of wastewater being discharged, thereby ensuring that the water environment is protected.

In relation to Amendment 393, I reassure the Committee that wastewater treatment plants with a capacity of less than 250 population equivalent can already be designated as not exempt where appropriate. If the evidence shows that it is necessary to put enhanced treatment in place at a wastewater treatment plant with a capacity of less than 250 population equivalent, the legislation allows for the Secretary of State to do so within a set timeframe.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that we should ensure that nutrient pollution standards for wastewater are protected. However, as already made clear, wastewater treatment works that are exempt will still be subject to all the other existing standards set by the Environment Agency on a site-specific basis, but I am happy to continue discussions on this as the Bill progresses.

Amendment 400 raises the issue of accurate monitoring and reporting. I agree that this is critical. Under this Government, we have gone from just 7% of storm overflows being fitted with event duration monitors in 2010 to over 90% today, and by the end of this year that will rise to 100%. The Environment Agency already regulates many water quality monitoring stations through permits to ensure that they operate to established regulatory standards. We aim to bring forward regulations to implement a new duty on water companies to report data on sewage discharges from storm overflows in near real time. In those same regulations, we will implement a duty to monitor the water quality impacts of those discharges. That will make the UK world leaders in understanding the impact of sewage discharges on the receiving environment. I therefore reassure the Committee that this amendment is not necessary, as the Government are already taking steps to ensure the accurate and timely reporting of monitoring data from wastewater treatment works. The Committee should expect further announcements on this soon.

Considering Amendment 401 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, I will assume that she is referring in it to the environmental improvement plan. The plan includes the steps that we are taking to meet the legally binding long-term target to reduce phosphorus loadings from treated wastewater to the water environment. Every five years, the Government must review the environmental improvement plan and update it as necessary to ensure that it contains any further policies needed to achieve long-term and interim targets. It is therefore important that we retain flexibility to update the actions in the plan rather than setting them on a statutory footing, so that we can ensure that the actions reflect the most appropriate path to achieving our policy. It will be for this and the other place to hold Ministers to account on this in future years.

Government Amendments 393A to 393J will improve the enforceability of these provisions by making it clear that the Environment Agency needs to treat excess nutrient pollution discharge which results from the failure to deliver upgrades on time as environmental damage. The sewerage undertaker would then be liable to remediate the excess nutrient pollution determined as having been discharged. For the reasons set out, which I hope provide sufficient reassurance, I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, to withdraw Amendment 390, and noble Lords not to move the other amendments in their names and to support the government amendments.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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My Lords, Amendment 267 is in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill. This amendment has the support of the LGA and it would enable local authorities to charge planning fees that met the cost of providing the service, but would prevent them making a profit from it.

One of the themes of our debates on the Bill has been the importance of local authorities providing up-to-date plans. Indeed, my noble friend has made the point that up-to-date plans are more likely to produce the increases in housing that the country needs. But if we are to do that and have up-to-date plans, we need properly resourced planning departments. We also want to see planning applications promptly processed so that development can go ahead, again to meet housing need. That requires properly resource planning departments, but we know that they are all under pressure. Of the respondents to the Home Builders Federation’s recent SME development survey, 92% said that lack of resource in local planning authorities was a major barrier to growth—up from 90% in 2021.

Planning departments will also need to respond to proposals in the Bill, which has 47 clauses that relate to planning. They are going to have to get up to speed with that if they are to succeed in the Government’s ambition to improve the planning system. They are going to need to digitise and streamline the planning process. They will have to understand the implications of the NDMP and the new NPPF. They will have to deliver the new environmental assessment procedures and the new procedures on heritage and for neighbourhood plans, along with other changes to the planning system that we have been debating—not to mention the implication of street votes.

At the moment, planning fees do not cover the cost of processing planning applications. According to the LGA, council tax payers subsidise the planning system to the tune of £180 million per annum—money that could be spent on social housing. I know that the Government are consulting on an increase, but there are two problems. First, even if granted, the increase will not meet the gap or give us the well-resourced planning departments we need. Secondly, it will not enable individual local authorities that have active planning departments to set fees that cover their costs.

Recently, the Government have tabled Amendment 285C, but I am not sure that it addresses the problem. That amendment will allow certain bodies to charge fees for advice in relation to planning applications. My noble friend will explain what that means; I suspect that it is a response to Amendment 283 and will enable bodies such as the Environment Agency and Natural England to charge for advice on planning applications. In any case, the wording of the Government’s amendment would not cover the ability for local authorities to charge fees for the processing of planning applications, because it refers to the ability to charge fees for “advice” in relation to applications, and, of course, the authorities can already do that.

However, there is a wider principle at stake here. This Bill was going to be called the “Devolution Bill”. The Government want to decentralise and give local authorities the ability to respond to local needs, so here is a golden opportunity to put that policy into practice. I was rereading the foreword of the levelling-up White Paper published in February last year. It said:

“We’ll usher in a revolution in local democracy”.

It seems to me that here is a good opportunity to put that ambition into practice.

Finally, this central control sits uneasily with the freedom local authorities have to set building control fees, which are part of the same planning family. That is an anomaly I find difficult to explain. There is no central government control over parking charges, school meal costs, rents or swimming pool tariffs. Why are the Government so insistent on retaining control of planning fees? I ask my noble friend whether she is prepared to relax the Government’s vice-like grip on local authority. I beg to move.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, in the absence of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, who cannot be here this week, I will introduce her Amendment 283, to which I and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, have added our names. As it is her amendment, I will not do what I normally do and speak off the cuff. I have some notes from her, and I will, unusually, read from them.

A number of statutory consultees receive requests to provide expert information and opinion on planning applications and other planning cases. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, just mentioned some of them. The main statutory consultees include Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive, Historic England and Highways England.

The volume of planning application requests has increased by 38% over the six years up to the financial year 2021-22. It is estimated that this trend will continue. Natural England alone received almost 18,000 requests in the last financial year. In 2019 the main statutory consultees estimated the total cost of providing this advice at approximately £50 million. Obviously, costs will rise with volume.

Amendment 283 inserts a provision into the Town and Country Planning Act. It would allow the Secretary of State to make regulations to allow statutory consultees to charge developers and others for the provision of such advice and information about planning applications and other planning cases put forward by developers and others to local planning authorities. This provision would bring the cost-recovery arrangements for the majority of planning applications under the Town and Country Planning Act, in line with the proposals in Clause 118, which will allow cost recovery in the case of nationally significant infrastructure projects.

Amendment 283 lays out what particular provisions the regulations may make, including who should pay, how much and when. It also defines an “excluded person” who cannot be charged, unless that person is the applicant for the planning permission. Broadly speaking, in at least the first instance, it seems that the charges would be for the planning applicant or developer to pay, and charges would not be levied on the planning authority. It is all very straightforward and essential if our hard-pressed statutory consultees are to provide a prompt and efficient service to both planning authorities and applicants in the face of the growing case load.

The Minister has ostensibly agreed, as the Government have laid what seems like a similar amendment, Amendment 285C. However, proposed new subsection (3)(b) in the government amendment could be interpreted as prohibiting a statutory consultee charging fees to a planning applicant in respect of the provision of advice to a local planning authority by any route. It could even prohibit current scenarios where a developer is willing to meet those costs under a voluntary agreement, for example under a planning performance agreement or a service level agreement. If that is not the intention in proposed new subsection (3)(b) in the government amendment, the ambiguity needs to be removed.

It would be good to have confirmation today from the Minister that the Government intend to ensure that the statutory consultees can recover their costs. I ask the Minister whether she might be prepared to meet the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and other interested Peers between now and Report to identify a mutually satisfactory and unambiguous version of these two amendments.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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My Lords, I speak to my Amendment 287, which would achieve a planning fee system that would cover costs for local planning authorities. It largely mirrors Amendment 267 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and my noble friend Lady Thornhill. I concur entirely with his arguments, but have some additional points to make in support of the plea to enable local planning authorities to set their own fees.

Too often planning applications, especially those that are complex, such as a major commercial development, have a set fee that nowhere near covers the costs, simply because there is so much more to planning applications than simply considering the plan details submitted at the first stage. I give an example of a recent application near me for a very large commercial development of 1 million square feet—probably a bit more than that—with a fee of £300,000. That is, and sounds, a considerable sum. However, in the end there were more than 200 different elements of the planning application to consider, 96 of which were amendments to the original plan. One of those, which I endeavoured to read, was of itself more than 100 pages long.

Understandably, these applications are hugely complex and require considerable expertise within the local planning authority to understand and respond to them. They are not just about the design and features of the building itself—there is also highway access, road safety, landscaping, biodiversity, trees, noise and light pollution, and the impact on the landscape. In my local authority, they have to consider drainage and, in this instance, 14 attenuation tanks had to be built in the end to deal with run-off from the development. Hugely complex issues are being considered, and it all has to be done within that set fee, regardless. It took nigh on two years for that application to be fully considered and ready for a planning committee. Clearly, the fee failed to cover the costs of the details of the application.

There are implications to all this. The Royal Town Planning Institute reckons that there were 42% cuts in planning budgets over the 10-year period from 2008. There have been increases since, not all of which have been directed towards day-to-day planning officers. Digitisation was one of the issues rightly being considered by the Government. As the noble Lord, Lord Young, has said, the information is that local council tax payers are subsidising planning applications. If I told local people where I am that that was the case, they would rightly be very concerned, when other vital services have insufficient funding.

The RTPI research showed that one in 10 planning officer roles was unfilled. The reason for that is that so many expert planning officers find life much better rewarded—in many ways, not just financially—in private practice. The draining of local planning officers from the system is putting immense pressure on dealing with planning applications, and the timeliness of those, which again is hindering the Government’s aim to build more housing. None of this is helpful to achieving that.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Baroness Parminter Excerpts
Moved by
184ZA: After Clause 85, insert the following new Clause—
Local nature recovery strategies(1) A local planning authority must ensure that their development plan (taken as a whole) incorporates such policies and proposals so as to deliver the objectives of the local nature recovery strategy.(2) Any policies or proposals in subsection (1) must be consistent with the proper exercise of the authority’s plan making functions.”Member's explanatory statement
This new Clause sets out the relationship between local nature recovery strategies (LNRSs) and statutory development plans to ensure LNRSs objectives are delivered and aligned with development plans. This is to help secure implementation of Environment Act requirements.
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 184ZA and 242I, which are in my name and in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Willis of Summertown and Lady Young of Old Scone, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, cannot be in her place today as she has tested positive for Covid; she is sorry she cannot be here to add strength to the weight of the case.

The point of these two amendments is to do the job that local nature recovery strategies need to do—as the Government set out in their Environment Act in only 2021—which is to help restore our much-depleted nature. As the strategies currently stand, they will not be able to do that unless they are given further significant weight in the planning processes. As we all know, nature is all about place; it is a spatial matter, so we need to protect the areas where our birds, species and ecosystems are placed. For noble Lords who are not familiar with local nature recovery strategies, I explain that they are a new requirement of the Environment Act which are due to come into place next month. They are spatial plans across England that will help us to identify where places are special in terms of biodiversity and habitats, to put together policies to enable us to protect areas, and to encourage our local authorities to build protection into their plans. There are about 40 of them across England, mainly at the county level. As local authorities currently need only to have regard to them rather than take account of them, there is a real danger they will not be able to do the job we need them to do. This is a job that the Office for Environmental Protection said earlier this year was essential because the Government are not delivering at the speed and the level we need them to in order to protect our environment.

All of us in this Chamber—particularly those of us who have been local councillors—know that when push comes to shove, nature often gets pushed aside if there is a planning application for a housing development or some other form of infrastructure. We need these local nature recovery strategies, which are done principally at the county level, to have some purchase on the unitary, district and borough plans of councils, as they seek to ensure that our areas meet the needs of local people and protect our nature at the same time. This amendment is needed because currently local authorities need only to have regard to these principally county-level plans. I think the plans will probably take a year or two to come into force, so there is time for us to get this right.

However, I acknowledge that the plans for county councils and other groups which will be drawing the local nature recovery strategies together were produced last week. For those of us who have had the chance to review that guidance to the local authorities, there are some significant concerns about what is being proposed. I know that we as a House will have our chance to say something on that, because a statutory instrument will have to come forward. This is the guidance to the county councils that will be bringing the local nature recovery strategies together. They will be bringing together different landowners and local people to pull all these elements together so that there is an agreed sense of what, on a landscape scale, our priorities for the future are. Bringing people together as part of that job is really important. It is also important that the plans are evidenced. It is extremely good news that Natural England is going to resource each one of these local nature recovery strategies with a policy officer in support so that the evidence is there, because we have to make sure that these are evidence-led.

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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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There are over 200 clauses in the Bill, and what good legislation seeks to do is to achieve the right balance between the needs of society—new houses, energy and the rest of it—and the understanding that we have a serious problem. We think we have that degree of flexibility about right here. There may be other parts of the Bill that are more rigid in what they seek to achieve, but I have tried to explain that if flexibility did not exist here, rather timid plans might be created, and we want ambitious plans to be created for these local nature recovery strategies. That is why we think this degree of flexibility is the right way forward.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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I thank the Minister for his remarks, and for the fact that he recognised the strength of feeling right around the Committee. As he said, we all want the same thing; we all want to restore nature from its depleted state, and these local nature recovery strategies are a brilliant tool. As my noble friend Lord Teverson acknowledged, on these Benches and others we think this was a good initiative by the Government. The trouble is that it is not going quite far enough. Like the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and others, I was initially buoyed by the Minister’s comments. In his words, this is about hard-wiring nature into the planning system. It is—that is what we are trying to do. Frankly, it is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to respond to the challenges that nature faces and that the citizens in our country are desperate for us to address.

Guidance alone will not be enough; it will not cut it—we know that. There are enough people in this Chamber who have been or are councillors who know that, when push comes to shove, if there is not some purchase on the planning system—if the local plan is not clear that the local nature recovery strategies are a key evidence base for the local plan—it just will not happen. Nature is not something you can just talk about, and the Government are good at getting plans together on local nature recovery. You can make as many targets as you like but if you do not will the means we will get nowhere.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Baroness Parminter Excerpts
Finally, my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond is ubiquitous. When this debate started, he was in Grand Committee addressing amendments of his own on the Financial Services and Markets Bill. I do not have his eloquent speech in my hand, but if, when she replies, my noble friend the Minister can assume that he made an eloquent speech on Amendment 14, which addresses specific issues concerning the disabled, that would be a courtesy. He would have spoken to the amendment himself but, as I said, he is only human and unable to divide himself in two. I would be grateful if we could have just a word or two on Amendment 14.
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, I support the three amendments in this group to which I have added my name, which were all very ably introduced by my noble friend Lord Stunell and the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown. They are all about willing the means for the Government’s environmental and net-zero targets. We have seen a pattern in recent months of this Government not using the many Bills we have, such as the Procurement Bill and others, to actually will the means to deliver the targets. The targets are welcome but on their own they are completely meaningless.

On the first issue of access to green space, it was less than a month ago that the Government made the very welcome commitment for the first time ever to introduce an ambition for people to be able to access green or blue space within 15 minutes of their home. That is a fantastic commitment, and I applaud the Government for it. However, the point is that you then have to deliver the means to address this.

At the launch of the environmental improvement plan, when she made this commitment about green space, the Secretary of State said:

“We will … work across government to fulfil a new and ambitious commitment that everyone should live within 15 minutes walk of a green or blue space”.

I repeat:

“We will … work across government”—

that is what she said less than a month ago. This is the Minister’s chance to prove it. This is her chance to say that the Government believe in that commitment and welcome it, which the whole House would support, and that they will use this levelling-up Bill as the first mechanism to address it. That would give all of us, and indeed the broader country, a sense that this Government are committed to the environmental targets they are producing, and that they are not just a piece of paper about which they can say at hustings, saying, “Oh, we’ve set all these targets”. Let us see a bit about implementation. The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, is important because it is about finding the mechanisms to deliver this. I applaud her for that.

Secondly, I need to say very little in addition to what my noble friend Lord Stunell has said. He made the case powerfully with regard to why deprived communities are suffering the most burdens from climate change, and about the need for a just transition. A just transition is what levelling up is about in practice, and why all the missions—not only the new ones—should be taking account of the net-zero requirements. He made the point that we now have environmental targets; we have commitments on biodiversity and good-quality air. Again, the communities in the most deprived areas that are suffering the worst air pollution, which is an impact of the environmental degradation that this country has suffered in recent years, and why we need the environmental targets. However, again, we also need the means to deliver them, and this amendment from my noble friend Lord Stunell is a means to deliver them. We are not expecting the Minister to say great things today but we want her to listen, because willing the means is so important. If we are going to level up for people, we have to level up on net zero and the environment too.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. I share the disappointment of the noble Lord, Lord Young, that we will not hear from the noble Lord, Lord Holmes. As someone who also knows that problem of running between the Chamber and the Moses Room all too well, I sympathise.

I do not feel that I need to add anything to the child poverty point made in the three powerful initial speeches. All one can say is that we hope that the Government in both Chambers were listening to those three speeches or will at least read them, because, really, how could they not act on the basis of them?

I want to focus on three amendments: Amendment 8, adding climate emergency as a mission, Amendment 18 on net zero, and Amendment 19, on the Environment Act. I broadly support what the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, said, but I slightly disagree with him because he said that he could not imagine a Government who did not have a net-zero-by-2050 target. I can imagine it: I know that we need a Government who have a target for net zero long before 2050, and indeed, who need to explore very closely that phrase “net zero” and what exactly it means. Perhaps I should add that that is a friendly disagreement,.

I am not quite sure that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that net zero should not be sitting there as a target on its own. As he was speaking, I could not help but think about the often-repeated phrase that what is not measured is not prioritised. If it is across all the targets—I very much agree that it applies across all the targets—is there a risk that it just disappears into the “Yes, we’ll put a few nice words in without really putting the counting in there”? We are seeing from local councils, so many of which have declared a climate emergency or, indeed, a nature crisis, that they are desperate to do that—to be able to show their own contribution.

A lot of our discussion about the climate emergency has focused on mitigation and the possibilities of mitigation. It is important to put that in the current global context, where we see both the United States and the European Union—particularly the US leading, with the EU trying to follow—putting massive sums of investment into what is loosely called the green economy. If we think about the Government and their often-expressed desire to be world-leading, there has been a real change in the global context just in the last few months. In that light, I want to pick up a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. Most of the talk has been on climate mitigation. When we are particularly talking about what are commonly described as “left-behind communities”, such as the rural and coastal communities which we were talking about in the last group, the issues of adaptation and resilience to the climate emergency really need to be highlighted.

Here, we speak in the week when the UN Security Council had its first ever debate on the impacts of sea-level rise, and in just the last day or so we have seen some truly terrifying research coming out about the weakness of ice sheets that have the potential to cause a massive sea-level rise. As I was sitting here thinking about this, I thought about a visit I made to a small rural village called Hemsby in 2014 after it had been hit by a storm and a number of homes had been swept away. I just looked up Hemsby and realised that this year, Hemsby has been hit by serious storms three times again, and the lifeboat has lost its ramp again and again. If we think about places that desperately need support in the climate emergency, communities such as Hemsby have to be at the forefront. We have not really heard much discussion about that in this debate. I am not sure whether this needs to be a separate mission. The issue of resilience needs to be across all of the missions, making sure that everything we are aiming to invest in and build can stand up to climate and other shocks when we live in this age of shocks.

A number of noble Lords made the point about the interaction of human health and well-being and the environment. I do not know whether the Minister is aware—I point this out to her as a constructive suggestion—of a UN project called the Healthy Urban Microbiome Initiative, known as HUMI. It focuses on how human well-being benefits from a healthy environment even in the most concentrated urban settings. A more biodiverse setting, even on the busiest urban street, is better for human well-being. That has to underpin everything the Government are doing and thinking about here.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, I add my voice to those of other noble Lords who have outlined their severe disappointment that the Bill shows a Government not willing the means to address the ecological and climate crises that we face. We may not yet have had the environmental principles policy statement, which would have put a duty on Ministers to ensure that Bills do just that, but we already have, as many noble Lords have mentioned, climate and new environmental targets, to which this Bill should have a fundamental link. We know that planning is a means to address both those crises.

I see that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, is in his place. As others have indicated, the Climate Change Committee has made clear the pivotal role of planning in helping us meet our climate targets. As someone who sat on a planning committee for eight years, I know that turtles, newts, birds and bees live, breed and travel somewhere. The planning process is a fundamental tool for us to meet the targets that we are rightly setting ourselves in this country to address the weaknesses of our biodiversity in the UK.

I will come on to the major missed opportunity in meeting some of those targets in future, but I first add my voice to those of my noble friend Lady Sheehan and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who highlighted that we may be regressing on environmental standards. I am sure that the Minister signed off on the Bill that there should be no environmental regression in good faith—she could do so because so much is being pushed down the line into secondary legislation, particularly the environmental outcomes reports, which could fatally undermine protections for our most precious habitats that we have protected through environmental impact assessments in the past. It is not just this House saying that; the Office for Environmental Protection, the new governmental watchdog, has outlined its concerns to the Government that the scope of these environmental outcomes reports is not clear.

I add my voice to others and add an extra point for the Minister, which I hope she will address in summing up. It is very hard for this House to move forward with taking a position on the environmental outcomes report if, by the time we come to Committee, we have not had the scope of that report set out. Of course you can do the detail in secondary legislation but we need the scope by Committee so that, if there are reassurances the Government can give us, those can be addressed. Additionally, we need to see the links to the environmental and climate targets, and equally the links to other important pieces of planning legislation such as the local nature recovery strategies, which is what I want to come on to.

There is a big opportunity here of which I am sure that not all noble Lords will be aware; again, this was addressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown. The Government, in a very welcome step, created in the Environment Act new local nature recovery strategies; the aim is to have about 50 around England, linking up all the local priorities in biodiversity —a statement of local priorities accompanied by a map. It would help the noble Lord, Lord Randall, who early in the debate talked about the Colne Valley park, which covers more than one constituency. These local nature recovery strategies are clearly anticipated by the Government to be at the county level; they are about bringing together local priorities so that we can build up those fonts of nature, and join them to create a national network of nature recovery, as well as reflect local priorities.

I will go on to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, about devolution. As they stand at the moment, these local nature recovery strategies have absolutely no weight in the planning process. Local people will put in their plans and invest all their time, and their views will then be ignored, because there is no grip on the planning process. I will argue that Clause 85 should be amended so that local nature recovery strategies are part of the local development plan, to protect our environment and to give local people a say over the environment they want protected in their areas, and which we will not meet our targets for unless we use the Bill to deliver.

Queen’s Speech

Baroness Parminter Excerpts
Monday 17th May 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I add my welcome to the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse.

We face a climate and nature crisis, yet this Government are not on track to meet their fourth or fifth carbon budgets and have failed on almost all the global targets to reverse losses in wildlife and the natural environment by 2020. We needed the gracious Speech to offer up new plans to deliver for our environment, protect our rights to environmental justice and ensure that all of government aligns with climate and biodiversity goals.

Despite some welcome steps, the gracious Speech is not sufficiently transformational. The Environment Bill should include a legally binding target to halve the decline of biodiversity by 2030. Doing so will drive action across government to restore nature and encourage other nations to raise their nature ambitions in advance of COP 15. Your Lordships must amend the Bill to include such a target and to strengthen measures to tackle waste and to improve resource efficiency and air and water quality, if we are to deliver the scale of environmental improvements that future generations need.

This Defra Bill also risks being undermined by other departmental plans, as other noble Lords have mentioned. The planning system should create great places for people to live and contribute to nature recovery, but the Project Speed planning proposals and recent decisions on extending permitted development rights and excluding major infrastructure proposals from biodiversity net gain run counter to that. The Government must do far better in encouraging co-ordination between departments to deliver climate and biodiversity goals.

The Queen’s Speech comes at a time when the clock is ticking for environmental action to protect our planet. All of us, not just the Government, must act. As citizens, we must transform how we travel, what we eat and how we heat our homes—in short, live sustainable lifestyles. Some 59% of the measures in the climate change committee’s recent pathway for the sixth carbon budget contain some element of societal behavioural change. Securing those changes requires public engagement, yet the one climate assembly in the UK to build consensus on how to do that was initiated not by the Government but by six Select Committees in the House of Commons.

The Government must provide more opportunities for participation in environmental decision-making alongside better education and communication. Doing so is part and parcel of delivering our right to environmental justice. Worryingly, the Queen’s Speech points in three ways to a Government determined to undermine that right—a right established in the Aarhus convention, to which the UK is a signatory.

First, as proposed, the office for environmental protection, which will hold public bodies to account on environmental law, is insufficiently independent of the Government and has limited remedies, including no powers to fine. This means that we have weaker sanctions to hold the Government to account now than when we were members of the European Union. I wish the body well, but it is even blocked from advising the Government on planning proposals contrary to environmental legislation in the way that the climate change committee did so effectively recently on the impacts of allowing a new coal mine in Cumbria.

Secondly, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill proposes measures that could curtail peaceful environmental protest, despite the police already having powers to limit protest to ensure safety, as my noble friend Lady Miller rightly said.

Thirdly, the judicial review Bill could neuter environmental groups seeking to hold the Government to account. Only last week, three climate activists applied for a judicial review to challenge the Government’s support for continued North Sea oil and gas production. Maintaining the right of citizens to challenge the Government of the day to deliver the climate and environmental goals that we must deliver is a fundamental cornerstone of British democracy.

The threats in this Queen’s Speech to our right to environmental justice, alongside insufficiently transform-ational initiatives to deliver for our environment, show a Government not yet fully committed to putting climate and biodiversity goals at the heart of all their agendas.