Responding to the publication of the Environment Bill, Hilary McGrady, Director General of the National Trust, said:
“I’d like to thank and congratulate the Defra team and the new Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers for bringing forward an Environment Bill. Like the Government, we want to see an ambitious and effective Bill that will leave the environment in a better condition for future generations. The new framework to set long-term targets for the environment is particularly welcome.
“But there is work left to do. The new watchdog – the Office for Environmental Protection – needs to be properly independent from Government. Without real independence, the new watchdog won’t be able to fully deter future governments from breaking environmental laws, or hold their feet to the fire if they do. At the moment, the Bill still allows for too much Ministerial influence over the appointment of senior staff and allows ministers to control the budget to affect the work it does. We trust the Government will look at this again as the Bill goes through Parliament.
“We’re also worried about the way environmental principles, like the precautionary principle, will be brought over from the EU into UK law. The Environment Bill should make these principles legally enforceable but instead it looks like their legal weight will be relegated to an accompanying policy statement.
“When the 25 Year Environment Plan was published in early 2018 we were pleased to see the historic environment put on a level playing field with the natural environment. The Bill risks undoing this by actively excluding the historic environment from the required scope of future versions of the Environment Plan.
“As the Bill progresses through Parliament it will need improving if it is to help the UK to be an environmental leader on the world stage in 2020 and to address the ongoing declines set out by the State of Nature reports less than two weeks ago. 70% of the country’s land is farmed, and so it is critical also that the Agriculture Bill makes a swift return to Parliament, alongside the Environment Bill, to create the right conditions for a more nature friendly way of farming.”