Last month, the Environment Secretary, George Eustice, set out his vision for Britain’s green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Within his speech he outlined many changes that the Government plan to make in order to progress Britain’s environmental recovery from the coronavirus. In part, this has been progressed by people’s pandemic experience. Many have used the lockdown period to reflect on what is important to them. For large numbers of people the lockdown has taken them back to nature in order to reflect and consider how it contributes to their well-being and mental health.
Post coronavirus environmental recovery
From autumn 2020, the Government will be investing an additional £4 million in introducing a green prescribing pilot scheme which will allow doctors to prescribe nature to people in four rural and urban areas that have been hit hardest by the coronavirus.
The Government also plan to make changes as we leave the EU, recognising the fact that we will no longer be able to rely on the EU to legislate on behalf of the UK when making environmental decisions. The Government have committed to setting long-term targets on biodiversity, waste, water and air quality in their new Environment Bill which they hope to establish before the end of 2022 and, as mentioned in my previous blog post on the Environment Bill, a new public body will be introduced in 2021 to hold the Government to account as they move towards these targets.
In autumn, the Government will also be launching a new consultation on changing their approach to environmental assessment and mitigation in the planning system. The purpose of this will be to front-load ecological considerations so that developers are required to actively protect the ecology of the local area. There are likely to be habitats and species which will be off limit to developers so that there is further clarity in the planning process and the restrictions that are implemented.
In order to assist the Government’s planning strategy a Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment will be carried out. This is a £5 million pilot which attempts to improve the understanding of habitats across the country in every planning authority so that future development is better equipped to improve the environment through development of the lack thereof. In theory, this will also avoid time and money being wasted by developers in exploring potential development areas by outlining clear areas containing ecological restrictions.
Many environmental campaigners and charities have been critical of Mr Eustice’s speech, noting the fairly small financial commitments that have been made when compared to the backdrop of planning deregulation. However, as more announcements are made in the autumn we may have a clearer picture of the Government’s plans.