Amendment 100

Part of Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Report (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 18 July 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 6:45, 18 July 2023

My Lords, Amendments 100 and 101 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would require that all regulations made under Part 6 specify environmental outcomes, whether or not they actually relate to the outcomes themselves. This would place a significant burden on subsequent regulations and would require outcomes across every process element, even where not relevant—for example, on regulations related to enforcement, exemptions and guidance.

We recognise that framing will be critical and recently carried out a consultation on how we can translate the Government’s ambitions into deliverable outcomes, which is surely the key consideration here. The Government have also legislated to ensure additional consultations on future outcomes, as well as adopting the affirmative procedure in Parliament on the associated regulations.

Regarding Amendment 101, the Government have been careful to ensure that the new system is capable of capturing all the current elements of the environmental assessment process. This allows the Secretary of State to consider health matters such as air pollution when setting outcomes. Impacts on human health are covered by “protection of people” in Clause 143(2)(b). When developing secondary legislation, we will consult with stakeholders to ensure that health-related commitments are sufficiently captured.

On Amendment 106, the drafting of Clause 147 mirrors the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement to ensure that, when bringing forward reforms, we live up to our commitment to non-regression. As well as departing from the existing drafting, Amendment 106 would create a rigid approach to non-regression. Removing “overall” from levels of environmental protection would remove the ability to look at the effect of reforms as a whole. When read alongside the commitment to international obligations and expansive duties to consult, we feel that the non-regression clause strikes the right balance to ensure EORs can be an effective tool in managing the environment.

Let me respond to all the noble Baronesses who have spoken by making it clear that, in creating a new system of environmental assessment, it is essential that the standards are kept high. The Government are committed to improving what exists and ensuring that we can deliver on the challenges we face in the 21st century. Focusing on environmental outcomes will allow the Government to set ambitions for plans and developments that build on the Environment Act and other environmental commitments. The legislation is clear that the Government cannot use these powers to reduce the level of environmental protection, and it includes a clause setting out this commitment to non-regression.

On Amendment 107, I have no reservation in saying that the UN sustainable development goals are crucial ambitions. The UK is committed to achieving them by 2030, as affirmed in the international development strategy and integrated review. The expansive nature of these goals is such that it is not possible for the planning and consenting frameworks within which EORs operate to support them all. To require the EOR regime to do so would significantly expand the scope of the assessment beyond the existing legal frameworks of the environmental impact assessments and strategic environmental assessments.

This amendment would exacerbate the biggest issue with the current process, which is a mandatory list of topics that are required to be considered for all assessments, whether relevant or not. Listing matters to be considered in this way has resulted in overly long, complex and inaccessible documents, full of unnecessary material in case an omission invites legal challenge. It would thwart our efforts to make the process more effective, meaningful and manageable.

Environmental assessment was established as a tool to ensure that the environmental impacts of a development were not overlooked in favour of the social and economic priorities that drive development activity. A requirement to support the delivery of all goals would divert attention away from the EOR’s core purpose of providing an additional level of scrutiny of the effects of the development activity on the environment.

I hope this provides the reassurances necessary for the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, to withdraw her Amendment 100 and for the other amendments not to be moved when they are reached.