Clause 35 - Environmental review

Part of Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 5th November 2020.

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Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Assistant Whip 3:30 pm, 5th November 2020

I thank the hon. Member for the amendments. The Government agree that it is important for the general public and interested parties to be able to challenge alleged breaches of environmental law, which is why we are ensuring that anybody can make a complaint to the OEP, free of charge, about a public authority’s alleged failure to comply with environmental law, which is in addition to existing rights to bring judicial review.

The environmental review is an innovative, bespoke litigation procedure and the final stage in the OEP’s enforcement process. The OEP will only bring environmental review in serious cases, having first conducted a number of thorough pre-litigation steps with the aim of resolving the breach. We do not consider it appropriate for another party to be able to take over at this point, as proposed in amendment 123. The OEP’s decision not to apply for an environmental review will be a considered one and could be taken for a number of reasons.

First, following the decision notice, the public authority may have acknowledged the breach and be taking remedial measures to rectify it, or the response to the decision notice could demonstrate to the OEP’s satisfaction that there is in fact no breach. Secondly, any decision not to bring legal action will be informed by the OEP’s specialist expertise and the information it has gathered in its investigation. Furthermore, the OEP’s enforcement framework has been designed in order to motivate public authorities to engage in constructive dialogue and problem solving. If there is a threat of legal action by a third party, regardless of actions taken to resolve issues during the investigation stage, that undermines much of the incentive for public authorities to work with the OEP.

On amendment 124, we recognise that people will have an interest in cases brought to environmental review by the OEP and may wish to intervene in such cases. However, we also recognise that that might not always be appropriate. There is a well-established procedure for determining who may intervene in legal proceedings. As such, it would be inappropriate to override that procedure by specifying such matters in the Bill. Nevertheless, I assure the hon. Member that we have already started to examine the existing procedural rules to see where changes may be necessary. I therefore ask him to withdraw amendments 123 and 124.