The UK Government has “fallen short in its own ambitions” with its Environment Bill, according to the chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee, which has launched an inquiry.
The long-awaited bill is intended to tackle air quality, plastics pollution, waste management, water stewardship, and nature and green spaces.
While action following a lengthy delay was welcomed, the bill also came in for a great deal of criticism. Concerns were raised that it did not go far enough and that the new regulatory body, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), would not be powerful enough.
EFRA committee chair Neil Parish said: “The Environment Bill represents an extremely rare opportunity to rethink how we protect the environment. It is vital that the standards we currently adhere to do not slip.
“It remains imperative that the Government does not squander its chance to get this right – it is unlikely they will get another any time soon.”
Questions have previously been raised around the role and powers of the OEP, which will have a staff of 120 people, and whether it will have enough ‘teeth’ – even though the Environment Secretary, Theresa Villiers, has claimed that the OEP will have the power to take the Government to court.
Parish said the committee was pleased that the Government had heeded its previous advice to strengthen the OEP’s powers but added “the committee is disappointed that it does not include safeguards that similar bodies have, which allow Parliament to ensure that appointments to it are truly independent.
“The OEP must be able to fulfil its essential function of holding the Government to account.
“After discussing this and a number of other concerns, the committee will look at these questions again in detail and make sure this vital bill receives the robust scrutiny it deserves.”
The inquiry will look at OEP powers, resources and effectiveness, what –if any – secondary legislation is required, and whether the bill ensures government and public bodies act in accordance with environmental principles.
The committee also wants to hold the Government to its promise that, post-Brexit, UK environmental standards will not fall compared to EU levels.
Formally launched last month, the bill will require the Government to set legally binding, long-term environmental targets, including emissions targets.
And while the bill only applies to England, more than half of the measures in it are designed to be applied across the UK with the consent of the devolved administrations.