Environment Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Lord Goldsmith of Richmond ParkMain Page: Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Conservative - Life peer)
(1 month, 1 week ago)Lords Chamber
Well—follow that. I thank my noble friend Lord Berkeley for moving this amendment. He has identified a situation that clearly needs rectifying. We should thank him for drawing the Government’s attention to this. I hope that the Minister has understood the concerns raised and the potential way forward outlined so clearly by my noble friend today.
It was interesting to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. I have learned an awful lot about the Isles of Scilly that I never expected to today. Clearly, as someone who has never been there, I need to arrange to go as soon as possible and enjoy the islands’ pleasures.
I am sure that the residents of the Isles of Scilly will be very pleased to get this properly sorted out. So, as I said, I am grateful to my noble friend for his work on this, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I am grateful to the Minister for that response, to my noble friend, and to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his intervention. Perhaps I might press the Minister just a little bit further and ask him to make it quite clear that this charge sheet that came in a couple of weeks ago, and will start to come into effect on 1 October, will not be applied until the relevant work has been done. My next door neighbour, if he does not like it, will feel threatened. There is a good solution: stop emptying septic tanks. That is not something that any of us want to see. So a little bit of comfort from the Minister on the charges would be very helpful, before I withdraw my amendment.
My Lords, I am speaking in support of Amendment 84A of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I will then speak to my Amendments 85 and 87. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for adding their names to my amendments.
First, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has raised important points about the quality of the metric currently being developed to implement biodiversity net gain. Over the summer he was kind enough to share the paper to which he referred by his colleague Professor Katherine Willis. I have to say that it shocked me, as it shows that we are in danger of drifting into a new system which, far from being a positive asset, could be highly detrimental to the environment. This is why I am not reassured by the use of words such as “progressing”, “virtuous” and “improving” by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. We could be going backwards if we do not get this right.
We therefore support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that would set up a process of review of the metrics within six months, taking into account the broad range of factors that determine the ecological importance of sites. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has been in dialogue with the Minister about these concerns, and I hope that, in his response, the Minister will provide sufficient reassurance that this matter is being addressed.
My Amendments 85 and 87 address the length of time that any habitat enhancement agreed through the planning process should be protected. As it stands, Schedule 14 to the Bill defines this period as 30 years. After that, the habitats could be destroyed, losing any ecological gains or carbon storage benefits. This goes against the grain of ecological best practice, which emphasises the need to let nature recover for the long term.
In recent advice, Natural England has said:
“Mitigation measures will need to be secured for the duration over which the development is causing the effects—generally 80-125 years.”
The building developments on the land where the displacement takes place will clearly be expected to last more than 30 years. For example, MHCLG has issued advice on property that makes it clear that a long lease is usually 125 years. So it is right that the creation of any new habitat, in compensation, should also last a lifetime. Our view was echoed in the recent Environmental Audit Committee report, Biodiversity in the UK: Bloom or Bust?, which stated:
“Nature recovery does not happen overnight and must be maintained and built upon for generations. The proposed 30 year minimum to maintain biodiversity net gains will achieve little in terms of delivering long-lasting nature recovery.”
In Committee, we tabled an amendment that would have protected habitats in perpetuity. There was considerable support for our position, but there were also questions about how perpetuity could be measured. So in our new amendment, we have now defined this period as 125 years, which was the only legal definition of the concept, as set out in the Perpetuities and Accumulations Act 2009. We believe that this is the right length of time to create and maintain long-term species-rich habitats to compensate for the destruction of existing established habitats elsewhere.
In Committee, the Minister made it clear that the provision of 30 years was a minimum requirement. He has now tabled further amendments in this group that would give the Secretary of State a power to increase the 30-year period and keep that duration under review. However, we do not believe that this gives the guarantees of long-term habitat protection that we need. There is no indication in the Government’s amendment of the criteria that would be used to vary the duration. I am also grateful to the Bill team for their recent advice that this variation, if introduced, would apply at a policy-wide level and not on an individual project basis. However I do not see where in the Bill this would be assured, since the Government’s amendment just gives a general power to vary the time period and could therefore, in my reading, apply to particular building developments.
The Minister has also raised concerns about whether sufficient landowners would make their land available for a longer term period, but surely landowners who contract to create these new habitats would have to be there for the longer term, otherwise our very fear that the habitat would be destroyed after 30 years becomes a reality. We believe that the long-term timescale of 125 years, as set out in Amendment 85, gives landowners certainty and would ensure that habitats which are destroyed could be recreated for the long term on a like-for-like basis.
This is an important principle which is necessary to legitimise the process of biodiversity net gain. Otherwise, the truth is that it would just be delayed damage. On that basis, I hope the Minister is able to give further reassurances, and I look forward to his response.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. I also thank the Minister for his response. With regard to Amendment 84A, in brief, I accept the reassurance that he gave in his reply. The metric will be regularly reviewed in light of scientific evidence. The Government recognise the importance of species and microhabitats, and the need for connectivity across landscapes. Rare and protected species will be safeguarded by regulations that will work alongside net gain, and the Lawton principles will underpin net gain and be considered when updating the metric.
I still think that, given the concerns expressed by many stakeholders on the current version of the metric, there should be an urgent consideration before it is finally put into practice, so that we can get it as good as it can be. I also accept the point that the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, made: that this is an ongoing work in progress and will be continually improved.
With regard to Amendments 85 and 87, I am disappointed that the Government are not prepared to go further. However, I accept the reassurances of the Minister on Amendment 84A and beg leave to withdraw it.
My Lords, I rise to speak to a number of amendments which have been debated at this late hour in your Lordships’ House. I will make my comments brief.
I turn first to Amendment 90 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, on supporting local authorities to be able to keep funds as they are better placed to promote biodiversity than people sitting in Whitehall. My noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch mentioned the Environmental Audit Committee’s recent inquiry, Biodiversity in the UK: Bloom or Bust?, earlier this evening. This report highlighted that funding shortfalls and a lack of in-house ecologists in local authorities means that they may not have the capacity to deliver some of their statutory duties under the Bill, specifically biodiversity net gain and local nature recovery strategies. Local authorities are essential to the successful implementation of many of the Bill’s provisions. However, their effectiveness relies on the resources and expertise they have available to deploy these crucial tools.
Moving to Amendment 91 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, I absolutely agree that local councils need to be empowered. I look forward to hearing the response from the Minister to see how he will reassure the noble Baroness, who made some pertinent points in this area.
I also agree with the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Oates, in Amendment 94. It is important that strategies do not become just more paper gathering dust and that the powers provided to enforce them are not controlled from Westminster but in local authorities, which are on the front line and know better how to save nature in their localities.
I am also grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for raising a number of important points, and I appreciate his efforts and sincerity in wanting to improve this landmark Bill.
Finally, the Minister will be glad to know that we are happy with government Amendment 93. It is good to see that the Government have listened to the concerns across your Lordships’ House and accept that local authorities require more support and information concerning the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity.
In the same spirit in which the Minister has presented Amendment 93 to address cross-party concerns expressed in Committee about empowering local authorities, I hope he can address the concerns of noble Lords who have spoken on the various amendments in this group. I look forward to his response.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response. He will not be hugely surprised to know that he has not reassured me, particularly in regard to Amendment 90 and my Amendment 94. He is wrong to state that my amendment would mean that the country was de facto covered—that is, that these local authority powers would de facto cover the whole country—as they would apply only to sites designated under Clause 102(3).
However, overall, I regret that the Government have arranged business so that a meaningful vote is not possible on my amendment tonight, and also that a number of noble Lords who would have liked to take part in this important debate were not able to. It is critical that local authorities are given not just duties but also powers to implement them. The Minister can be assured of our determination to ensure that local authorities are given these powers, which they need to protect biodiversity in their local areas, and we will seek the next possible legislative opportunity to do so. In the meantime, with great regret, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, we have had some excellent contributions this evening, and I am sure that because of the lateness of the hour, your Lordships do not need to hear my views on this. The Minister will be much more enlightening in his response to the debate.
My Lords, I apologise to Extinction Rebellion for having completely forgotten its name. No doubt there will be a picket line outside my farm gate when I return to Cornwall later this week.
I thank every noble Lord for their contributions—particularly, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for her examples and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. I look forward to her amendment on a tree strategy when we meet again, which I think we still have to do. And I thank the three noble Earls for their contributions.
I am not going to prolong this evening. I thank the Minister for his enthusiasm for agroforestry and his recognition that this is an important part of the jigsaw for the future. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.