Environment Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Lord OatesMain Page: Lord Oates (Liberal Democrat - Life peer)
(1 month, 1 week ago)Lords Chamber
90: Clause 97, page 99, leave out lines 27 and 28 and insert “Payments received under arrangements under this section are to be retained by local authorities for the following purposes (only)—”
Member’s explanatory statement
The effect of the amendment would be that credits would be retained by local authorities for local use in promoting biodiversity rather than retained by central government.
My interaction with local government colleagues indicates that this is indeed a widespread issue across the country, and I am pleased to say that this amendment has the strong support of the Local Government Association, as well as Greener UK. As to the motivation of landowners, that is not so hard to discern. They may simply want to make their sites easier to manage, they may regard the biodiversity on it as untidy or problematic, or they may simply not recognise its importance. Indeed, were this not a problem, there would be no need for nature recovery strategies in the first place.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. The Government have listened carefully to the valuable debate both here and in the other place, and I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for their drive in this area in particular.
We share the desire to make sure that local nature recovery strategies are actively used and delivered, and we entirely agree that the planning system is a key mechanism for achieving this. That is why we have tabled government Amendment 93 to make it a legal requirement for the Government to produce guidance on how local planning authorities should “have regard” to local nature recovery strategies. Local planning authorities, as part of the planning system, will have to “have regard” to relevant local nature recovery strategies, as will all public bodies. Defra is supporting MHCLG in developing proposals for planning reform ahead of the introduction of the planning Bill, including creating a clear role for local nature recovery strategies.
Turning briefly to Amendment 91, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, I appreciate that she is also seeking to ensure that local nature recovery strategies are actively used, and I know she tabled this amendment before the government amendment in my name was tabled. I thank her very much for her thoughtful response and her—was it support?—gentle support for our amendment. The local nature recovery strategies will be developed collaboratively to identify where changing the way land is managed will give greatest benefit for nature and the environment, which will also reflect local priorities. The shared vision will then guide the delivery of biodiversity net gain, environmental land management schemes, planning, use of nature-based solutions and many other current and proposed actions for nature’s recovery across the public, private and voluntary sectors. To do this, each strategy must capture potential actions relevant for all these purposes, brought together to create a coherent overall approach. The duty on public authorities to “have regard” to the strategies will require them to consider which of these proposed changes they can realistically make and then take that action. The amendment the Government have tabled will strengthen the integration of the strategies into the planning system in particular.
Turning to Amendment 90 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, local authorities will be able to fund habitat creation or enhancement on their own land by selling biodiversity units to developers, on exactly the same basis as other suppliers on the market. Local authorities may also choose to work with other local landowners to bring additional habitat creation or enhancement opportunities to the market. Statutory credits are separate from market biodiversity units. They are intended to be sold by government as a last resort, when developers are unable to achieve net gain on site or off site, either on their own land or by purchasing biodiversity units on the market. It is therefore necessary for central government to sell credits as a last resort and use the revenue to invest in new habitat creation and enhancement.
We do not, however, want lots of money to come through the route of government-supplied credits. We want the market to provide locally led solutions, in which local authorities will of course play a key part. We intend to set the cost of government credits in a way that does not undercut the biodiversity unit market.
Turning to Amendment 94, I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Oates, regarding the degradation of important sites for nature. I thank him for our discussion over the summer. As he said, I recently received a great deal of correspondence from concerned residents in Kingston regarding the Seething Wells filter beds site; I have read it with interest and will respond over the coming days. However, for this debate, I must address the implications of this amendment for local authorities and the protection for biodiversity more widely.
I am afraid that I do not agree that giving local authorities such sweeping powers is the best way to address the issue. It would amount to de facto protection of the entire country, which, although on the one level it would be fantastic, could have a wide-reaching effect on land use nationwide, creating confusion over whether an area is protected. We have a system of protections for our best sites for nature and our most important landscapes. Wildlife, including all nesting birds and other rare and declining species, is protected across the country. The forthcoming Green Paper will explore specifically how these protections can be strengthened and improved.
Turning to Amendment 98, tabled by my noble friend Lord Caithness, Natural England’s assessment of licence applications will be evidence-led and based on robust science, taking into consideration the likely impact on the relevant population and biodiversity. The Government remain fully committed to our international obligations on biodiversity. The wording used for these proposed tests within a reformed Wildlife and Countryside Act is in alignment with Article 9 of the Bern convention on the conservation of fauna and flora. I agree with my noble friend that any assessment of impact should be at the scale of the population concerned. The clause in this Bill intends to do that by referring to any population of the protected species concerned, be that at local, regional or national levels.
Amendment 105 was also tabled by my noble friend Lord Caithness. As I said, the Bill introduces a comprehensive statutory cycle of monitoring, planning and reporting. Our proposed objectives for domestic biodiversity targets reflect current draft international targets being developed under the CBD. The Government are already developing an evaluation and monitoring programme for biodiversity net gain and have commissioned the first stages of delivering this. The relevant public authorities will report every five years on their actions to comply with the biodiversity duty, including contributions to net gain and local nature recovery strategies; those strategies will themselves be regularly reviewed and updated. These processes go beyond merely reviewing regulations and will ensure that the Government’s actions are both adaptive and effective.
Finally, turning to Amendment 92A, I fully agree that future farming practices should support nature recovery. We are strengthening the existing duty by requiring authorities to “have regard” to clear strategies that will include specific actions. However, having regard to a broad concept such as “nature-friendly farming” would not make the overall duty any clearer or more meaningful. Also, to reiterate the point I made in Committee, where an authority has influence over farming or has farms on its land, it already needs to consider what it can do to ensure that biodiversity is supported. The Government have already committed to aligning environmental land management farming schemes for rewarding environmental benefits with local nature recovery strategies; this should be revolutionary for our countryside and biodiversity. With the environmental land management schemes contributing to biodiversity enhancement through the provisions of the Agriculture Act and targets set in the Environment Bill, we believe that an amendment such as this is not necessary.
I hope I have reassured noble Lords. I beg them to withdraw or not press their amendments.
Amendment 90 withdrawn.