Environment Bill

Lord Blencathra Excerpts
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I shall speak in favour of all the amendments in this group—even, in a very soft way, the government amendments. They address issues that I spoke on at considerable length in Committee, so I will, given the hour, be brief. It is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and all the speakers on this group. I think the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, really hit the nail on the head. If 30 years is all we can tie things up for, if it works, you are tying it up, one would assume, indefinitely, which 125 years serves as a figure for.

In Committee, I talked about 30 years being a blink of an eye in nature, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, set out a very nice template for us thinking about different kinds of habitats and ecosystems. I will add to this my—perhaps now inevitable—point about soil, which is about the biodiversity of the soil and producing what you might describe as a mature soil, whether it is under any of those habitats. A meadow might look quite nice on the top, but the soil is not going to be anything like a long-term developed meadow for many years. These are ecosystems that take a long time to develop to get the real richness you would need for a proper, healthy soil.

I will just note that we are strongly behind Amendments 85 and 87, which my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb signed, but I would also particularly compliment the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on Amendment 84A. I would have signed it had I actually spotted it, but I am afraid I missed it. There has been much discussion in the media, in the public and in the environmental community about the utter inadequacy of the biodiversity metric. In this amendment, the noble Lord is going some way to finding a way forward to fix that, and I really do hope the Minister will take it on board.

Lord Blencathra Portrait Lord Blencathra (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as on the register. I want to comment briefly on two amendments. First, I welcome my noble friend’s Amendment 89; it is important to keep under review the amount of land available for the net gain register.

Secondly, I want to comment on Amendment 84A from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I say this to him: I do not think it is necessary. As he said, this is evolving. The metric as published by Natural England is not set in stone. It will be an evolving measure, and as further and better particulars come along, it will be changed and amended. An annual review by the Government is not needed for that to happen.

The other point I want to make is this: yes, of course, the metric could be made more complicated. Some on the Climate Change Committee condemn it, because it is just a biodiversity net gain metric. They want an environmental net gain metric, which would be an all-singing, all-dancing super one, but incredibly complicated to produce. No one is capable of doing it properly at the moment.

If we bring in lots of other factors, which would no doubt make this much better in biodiversity terms, we would be faced with an industry and builders that have not a clue how it would work. Net gain is terribly, terribly important. It will be one of the greatest improvements to planning and the environment we have ever seen in this country. But it is a completely new concept; it is innovative. For it to happen, we have to get developers on side, working with it. At the moment, they have not a clue how it works. They have a couple of years, I think, to get that right.

I am concerned that we keep this initially simple. The current metric, which is still doing a good job and can evolve and can change, will not be detrimental to biodiversity; it will be a big improvement to biodiversity. But I am certain that in a couple of years’ time or a year’s time, it may be tweaked again to improve it. As developers and Government and Natural England bed this down, I am certain it will become more sophisticated and more perfect from a purist environmental point of view.

So I say to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, who is incredibly able and thoroughly knowledgeable in this matter—he is 10 times more knowledgeable than I am, though I am practical—that we have to start somewhere. There used to be an army acronym KISS: “Keep it simple, stupid.” We have to keep it simple to begin with, and we can make it a lot more complicated as we get used to it.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, says, but I still think the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, raised some real concerns that this House deserves answers to, and I hope the Minister, in his summing up, can give the reassurances the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has asked for. I wanted to briefly add my voice to the others in support of Amendment 87, which deals with the issue of perpetuity versus the 30 years for the biodiversity net gain.

I will not add to the other arguments people have made, but I just wanted to remind noble Lords that in Committee, in response to a question from the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, the Minister said that the Government wish to introduce biodiversity net gain

“in a way that requires developers … to bear as little cost as possible.”—[Official Report, 7/7/21; col. 1377.]

It seems to me that overriding constraint is as much relevant in terms of this debate, because this is not about worrying that there will not be enough landowners coming forward to provide the amount of nature conservation that we need. It is really about limiting the liability of developers. That is at the heart of this, and that is why I support the amendment.