Amendment 110

Part of Environment Bill - Committee (4th Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 30th June 2021.

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Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 4:15 pm, 30th June 2021

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, because they have proposed additions to the definition of the natural environment. When I started looking at this, I thought, “Well, everything’s covered anyway”. In debates on many previous Bills, Ministers have always said that they do not like lists because you always leave something out of lists, and that is serious. But the arguments from the three noble Lords who have spoken indicate an obvious concern that water and soil are not in fact included in this definition. I hope that the Minister, when he responds, will confirm that they are, and maybe even add them in.

My small addition is to suggest that “ecosystem” should be included as well because it covers everything that is in paragraphs (a) to (c) of Clause 43 but also soil and the maritime area—I shall come on to water later—and, I think, it goes wider. On the role of ecosystems, the definition that I found included this:

“A community is created when living and nonliving components in an environment are in conjunction with each other.”

The components, including “biotic and abiotic components”, “interact as a system” to form an ecosystem. So, the word “ecosystem” covers everything. I am not suggesting that the Minister should leave out anything that is there at the moment or not include soil or water, but I think that there is an argument for having something that talks about the conjunction between them and the way they work together. I am interested in hearing the Minister’s comments on that.

I also want to speak briefly to Amendments 194AB and 194AC in this group, which are in my name. They also cover the issue of ecosystems but relate to the condition of planning permissions in Clause 92. I think that “water” should also be included in the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and maybe “rivers” as well. That is something we should discuss.

A week or two ago, I came across an example that illustrates why this is quite important. I understood that the Port of London Authority had applied to extend the jurisdiction—that is, ownership of or responsibility for—of its water, as I suppose it is, by changing the definition from a limit of mean high water to mean high water springs. Many noble Lords may think, “Well, what does that matter?” In terms of the maritime definition, it is actually a height difference of about 50 centimetres. When you have a river wall, like we have out here, 50 centimetres is probably neither here nor there, but I am told that the extent of the River Thames—the tidal part of it—covers 190 miles of riverbank. On the bits that are pretty flat, as opposed to vertical walls, the extension would have allowed the PLA to extend its planning development potential quite dramatically. There was a big campaign against this at the last general meeting of the PLA; in the end, it withdrew it. Obviously, I welcome that, but it does indicate the difference between and the challenge of biodiversity and ecosystems and the planning condition.

I have one more example. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, talked about offshore wind farms and things like that. A similar debate, which occasionally I get involved in, goes on regarding the role of marine conservation zones and what the boating and yachting community think that it wants. One is environment and the other is leisure. I got quite involved in debates about whether it is possible to have a marine conservation zone in the south-west, or even around the Isles of Scilly, to prevent any ships going there unless somebody had changed the route. This was all resolved, but it is an example of the importance of keeping biodiversity and ecosystems in mind when it comes to planning issues.

I am sure that we will talk about that much more, but this has been a very useful little debate. I hope that, when he comes to respond, the Minister will add in some of these extra suggestions to what we have in paragraphs (a) to (c) at the moment. I also hope that, if he says that he cannot do so, he will tell us why.