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Environment Bill strengthened to protect nature and tackle waste

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The Government has brought forward changes to help improve and strengthen the Environment Bill, making sure we continue to build back greener and remain a global leader in tackling environmental issues ahead of COP26.

We have tabled a number of amendments which include measures that would allow ministers to introduce charges on all single-use items, not just plastics – helping to cut waste and put an end to throwaway culture. There has been widespread positive coverage of this announcement in the Times, Telegraph, Daily Mail and Daily Mirror.

We have already made huge progress turning the tide on plastic, banning the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds, while our carrier bag charge has cut sales by 95% in the main supermarkets. But new powers will mean we can target any single use item destined for landfill.

Speaking in the House yesterday, Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:

This charge will help us to future-proof the Bill and protect the environment for generations to come by providing a powerful tool to incentivise the right shifts towards more reusable alternatives to single-use items and towards a circular economy.

We want to take this opportunity to strengthen our hand and encourage citizens to reduce, recycle and reuse.

New measures will also help landowners to secure long-term environmental benefits through conservation covenants and better protect ancient woodland in England.

Our ancient woodlands are not only iconic parts of the nation’s countryside but their complex ecosystems harbour countless species and woodland wildlife, as well as reducing flood risk and improving water quality. Measures announced yesterday will underline the importance of these valuable habitats and make clear the government’s view of ancient woodland as irreplaceable habitat.

New measures include:

  • An amendment to the Environment Bill to create a new single-use items charge power to support our shift to a more circular economy.
  • A review of the National Planning Policy Framework to ensure that it is being implemented correctly in the case of ancient and veteran trees and ancient woodland.  Should this review conclude that implementation can be improved, we will look to strengthen the guidance to Local Planning Authorities to ensure their understanding of the protections provided to ancient woodland.
  • A consultation on strengthening the wording of the National Planning Policy Framework to better ensure the strongest protection of ancient woodlands, whilst recognising the complex delivery challenges for major infrastructure.
  • We will amend the consultation direction under the Town and Country Planning Act, alongside these reforms, to require local planning authorities to consult the Secretary of State of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities if they are minded to grant planning permission for developments affecting ancient woodland.
  • An amendment the Environment Bill to require that conservation covenant agreements are executed as deeds. This will help to ensure that these agreements are legally robust and formal, at the same time as being flexible tools accessible to a wide range of landowners, and straightforward to enter into. Government guidance will also encourage parties to seek legal advice before entering into a conservation covenant.

The Government has also released further information through a Written Ministerial Statement about the upcoming, new Soil Health Action Plan. This Action Plan will provide a single, strategic approach to driving improved soil health across England. It will focus on preventing soil degradation and improving soil health by looking at how land management practices and planning can be adapted to help protect soil from the impact of climate change.

Our Environment Bill will ensure we deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country - transforming how we protect our natural environment, make better use of our resources and clean up our air and water.

The Government has previously made amendments that set a new, historic legally-binding target to halt species decline by 2030, and place numerous new duties on water companies and government to tackle storm overflows and improve water quality.

The Environment Bill is expected to complete parliamentary passage shortly.

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