This week the landmark Environment Bill returned to Parliament. It is a vital piece of legislation, upholding and enhancing our environmental protections as we leave the European Union, while ensuring the Government delivers its mission to leave the environment in a better state than it inherited.
The Bill seeks to address the major threats of biodiversity loss, climate change, and air pollution, by setting legally-binding environmental improvement targets, and introducing bold new measures - such as requiring developers to enhance biodiversity, and making producers pay for the cost of managing products at the end of life. If implemented well, the Bill should make significant strides towards improving the health of our natural environment.
In order to replace the regulatory regime previously provided by the EU and to ensure the Government stays on track to achieve its environmental commitments, the Bill establishes an independent green watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP). This new regulator will advise on, scrutinise, and enforce environmental law.
I shall take a close interest in the OEP in my role as Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee. As well as initiating its own enforcement action when the Government does not meet its own commitments, the OEP will give the public the ability to trigger an investigation into a suspected environmental problem. I would like to see the OEP have even more clout than is currently proposed, and argued such in my speech on the Bill this week. But in any case, it is a major positive step forward.
It is also particularly timely to be setting up a new environmental watchdog in light of the awful recent flooding we have seen in Shropshire. I highlighted the need for more flood defences to the Prime Minister in Prime Minister’s Questions this week, and also to the new Defra Secretary of State during a statement on the floods. The government is committed to delivering £4 billion in new funding for flood defences, and it is clear from the number of properties affected in our county that Shropshire must be a priority.