Houses of Parliament, London, UK

Queen’s speech: will we get our Environment Bill this time around?

Time to turn these pledges into action with tangible policies and funding, argues CIEH.
13 May 2021 , Katie Coyne

The Queen’s speech at the state re-opening of Parliament earlier this week unveiled 30 planned new laws for the year ahead. These included bringing forward legislation for legally binding environmental targets, and re-committing to net-zero by 2050.

The government also promised to publish its consultation response on reforming tenancy law, abolishing Section 21 (so-called ‘no fault’) evictions, and exploring the merits of a landlord register. The Environment Bill was also mentioned though it is not new, and has been delayed multiple times.

CIEH said it was “time to turn these pledges into action” with “tangible policies and funding for building a greener economy, for improving energy efficiency and housing standards, and for meeting World Health Organisation targets for reducing air pollution."

Debbie Wood, executive director for membership and external affairs at CIEH, said: "The UK government's focus on protecting our environment and improving housing standards is very much welcome.

"The commitment to bringing in ambitious and legally binding environmental targets is promising, as is the pledge to explore the key CIEH campaign call of creating a national register for landlords.

"However, it really is time that their rhetoric was matched by action. The Environment Bill has repeatedly been kicked into the long-grass before its re-announcement today.

"Likewise, the Renters Reform Bill remains out of reach, with only a white paper being offered for some time later in the year.”

Here’s what some of the rest of the sector thought about the government’s proposals…

Junk food advertising

The government committed itself to restricting junk food adverts before 9pm and a total online ban. It will also restrict promotions on high fat, salt and sugar food and drink retailers from April next year.

Sustain's Children's Food Campaign has been lobbying for this ban. Coordinator Fran Benhardt said: "In committing to restrict junk food adverts pre-9pm watershed on TV and a total restriction online, the government has today chosen to stand firm in the face of industry lobbying and focus instead on child health. This is welcome news and we look forward to scrutinising the legislation when it comes."


Environment Bill

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said: "This was the third successive Queen's speech which has promised to pass an Environment Bill. With half of wildlife already in long-term decline, there's no time to lose – the government must bring the Bill back as a matter of urgency – and proceed to deliver it as quickly as possible.

“We cannot tackle the climate crisis and meet our net-zero target without similar ambition to meet the nature crisis head on – the two are inseparable. If the government wants to keep its commitment to passing the Bill ahead of the COP26 climate change conference in November, we must see the Bill back in Parliament before the end of this month.”

The Wildlife Trusts want to see that the delay has been used to strengthen the Bill, including a legally binding target to reverse the loss of nature within a decade.

Cllr Sue Baxter, chair of the National Association of Local Councils (NALC), said: "Just as England's 10,000 local (parish and town) councils stepped up to support their communities during the pandemic, they will continue to have an important part to play in the recovery.

"Which is why the government's proposals in the Queen's speech to create a stronger, healthier and more prosperous nation must ensure local councils are empowered to build strong, healthy and prosperous localities.

"More and more local councils are playing their part in tackling the climate emergency and I look forward to the Environment Bill continuing its passage through Parliament, and NALC will be pressing for additional powers and funding to help councils do even more.”

 

Climate change

Sustain said it was encouraged to see that tackling climate change was seen as a priority, but said it was “astonishing” there was nothing in the plans relating to the impact of our food and diets.

With part two of the National Food Strategy due out in the summer, it expected to see recommendations on reducing the amount of factory-farmed meat in our diets, supporting quality UK producers, and making climate-friendly foods more accessible. Introducing net-zero-proof public sector food standards, extending the school fruit and veg scheme, and boosting Healthy Start vouchers could all go a long way to tackling carbon emissions.

Sustain said it was not possible to meet Paris Agreement targets without making changes to our diets “so missing out food makes the whole strategy weak and insufficient”.


Planning

NALC said “communities must be at the heart of a modernised planning system which is kept local and democratic. While we agree the planning system can be improved and there should be more emphasis on design, new legislation must also strengthen the neighbourhood planning process and provide greater protection for neighbourhood plans.”

Cllr Darren Rodwell, London Councils' executive member for housing and planning, said: "The government's complete overhaul of the English planning system is a complete disaster in the making. We're desperate for more affordable housing in the capital – but these reforms risk making the situation worse.

"Councils play a crucial role in the planning system, upholding quality standards and ensuring new development includes affordable housing for our communities. With around 50,000 planning applications granted by London boroughs each year, we're doing our best to facilitate the new housing the capital needs.

"Our concern is that ripping up planning regulations will only lead to more slum housing built to maximise profits rather than address Londoners' needs. There's so much more the government should be doing to invest in affordable housing and to support local councils' housebuilding ambitions."

Craig Bennett of The Wildlife Trusts said: "New legislation to modernise the planning system must also help our efforts to tackle the nature and climate crisis. The obstacle to house building is not environmental protections, but turning the vast unused planning permissions into homes. The Planning Bill must contribute to the recovery of nature through a new Wildbelt – a bold designation which will protect land that's put into recovery for nature, helping to tackle climate change and levelling up access to green space."


Procurement Bill

Sustain welcomed the proposed Procurement Bill and said more of the £2.4bn spent on public sector food could be used for sourcing sustainable British produce, providing jobs and opportunity for UK agro-ecological farmers, fishers and food producers, and help meet the UK’s net zero commitments.

The charity warned that speeding up and simplifying public procurement must come with clear standards for delivery, to ensure the highest standards and create a level playing field for service providers. They also urged the government to carefully balance the principles of 'value for money' and public benefit, concerned that a drive for low cost could trigger a race to the bottom on standards.


Animal welfare

Animals will formally be recognised in UK law as sentient beings for the first time, and most live animal exports will be banned, as well as the import of hunting trophies.

Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International UK, said: "Britain prides itself as a nation of animal lovers, so the countless millions of animals still suffering both here and overseas for food, fashion and our entertainment, deserve this proactive plan for greater protection.

“The Action Plan for Animal Welfare has the potential to right many wrongs for animals, and send a clear message that abusive or careless industries causing animal suffering will no longer have a place or a market in modern Britain.

“However, the devil will be in the detail. For example, the government already appears to be watering down a ban on trophy hunting imports. So we must ensure that these ambitious aims are met with equally ambitious and robust legislation.”

 

Health and Care Bill

Cllr Paulette Hamilton, vice chair of the Local Government Association's community wellbeing board, said: "We support an equal partnership approach to improving health and wellbeing, health and care services and ensuring the best use of resources, through the Integrated Care Board and an Integrated Care System (ICS) Health and Care Partnership.”

"There should be local flexibility, with health and local government leaders working as equal partners, to establish the ICS Health and Care Partnership in a way that works for each area and builds on existing effective partnerships.”

Hamilton raised concerns that children and young people’s health was not included in the white paper, and wants the government to resolve problematic ICS footprints – and see them match those of councils with adult social care responsibilities.

Richard Murray, chief executive of The King's Fund, said: “Despite the cruel toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on people using social care services and the Prime Minister's promise to ‘fix the ... crisis once and for all’, the Queen's speech once again stops short of a meaningful commitment to reform England's broken social care system.

“The focus on supporting the NHS to recover from the past year is welcome, but for that to succeed there must be equal focus on ensuring social care and public health services also recover, along with a long-term workforce plan that addresses staff shortages, tackles staff stress and burnout by improving working cultures and recognises the impact of the past year on staff wellbeing.”


Building Safety Bill

Lord Porter, building safety spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said: "This Bill cannot come soon enough to reform our broken building safety system and enshrine tough new legislation into law. People have a right to be safe and to feel safe in their own homes, and industry and duty-holders now need to step up and deliver the remediation work required.

"No innocent person should have to pay the costs of fixing the problems to make their homes safe. Everything should be done to force the guilty parties to meet the costs they have imposed on the country through decades of failure on an industrial scale and prevent wider economic damage that could result if the cladding scandal continues to impact the housing market."


Regions

Dan Jarvis MP, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, said: "The giants of deprivation, division and environmental crisis have not slept while we fought the pandemic: they have grown ever greater. We need transformation, not tinkering at the edges. This Queen's speech shows the government lacks the ambition or the vision to answer that challenge.

"This government talks about levelling up, but they have failed to define what it means, have no coherent plan to achieve it, and have not put in the investment transformation demands.”

He added: "The neglect of South Yorkshire and the north is both an injustice and a colossal waste of potential that harms the whole country. That's why we are taking our future into our own hands with plans to invest hundreds of millions and deliver a genuine transformation for our region, but government needs to play its part. We won't be left behind any longer."

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