Amendment 102

Part of Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Report (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 18 July 2023.

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Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 7:00, 18 July 2023

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness and others who have spoken. The noble Baroness should read our Plan for Water, which does exactly what she said. I refer noble Lords to my entry in the register.

I turn to Amendment 102, in the name of my noble friend Lord Trenchard. I defer to no one in the verbal arms race that usually takes place in these debates about who can be the greatest supporter of chalk streams. I am passionate about them, and I want to see our chalk streams, which are one of the most valuable ecosystems in these islands, restored to pristine health. I note the passion from across the House on the need to protect these habitats further.

The Government recognise that chalk streams in England are internationally important and unique, and in many cases in poor health. We are committed to restoring England’s chalk streams. We have recently reaffirmed this commitment in our Plan for Water, which I just referred to, which recognises chalk streams as having special natural heritage.

In last year’s implementation plan for the Chalk Stream Restoration Strategy 2021, we committed to review the National Planning Policy Framework to

“consider how to further reflect the value of chalk streams in planning”.

We agreed to develop and publish a chalk stream recovery plan by the end of the year. I am grateful to people such as the aforementioned Charles Rangeley-Wilson and others who have been involved in bringing forward the catchment-based approach, which is absolutely leading on this.

I turn to the substance of the amendment. Clause 143 draws on the relevant definitions in the Environment Act and includes protection of the natural environment from

“the effects of human activity”,

as well as

“maintenance, restoration or enhancement of the natural environment”.

The natural environment includes the habitats of plants, wild animals and other living organisms, and explicitly includes water. The Government’s initial view is that this provides sufficient scope to address issues affecting chalk streams.

However, having heard the views of this House on the importance of chalk streams, and especially the passionate arguments from my noble friend Lord Trenchard, I can confirm that the Government intend to support the principle of the amendment. However, there are some concerns with its exact drafting. We are concerned that, as drafted, it could cast doubt on the breadth of existing provisions that stem from the Environment Act and increase the risk of legal challenge to future EOR regulations—a situation we have worked really hard to avoid. However, I absolutely want to get to where my noble friend is and see the recognition of chalk streams in the Bill. I therefore undertake that the Government will bring forward an amendment at Third Reading to provide clarity and reassurance regarding chalk streams in the context of environmental outcomes reports.

I pay tribute to my noble friend for bringing this amendment forward. I hope he will continue to work with me to ensure it meets our shared intention of protecting England’s chalk streams.