Time for a new Environment Act?: Shaping our environment for the future

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  • Picture of Edward Lockhart-Mummery FRSA
    Edward Lockhart-Mummery FRSA
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Edward Lockhart-Mummery FRSA invites Fellows to help shape the new Environment Act to mainstream sustainability for the next decades

A new Environment Act presents the opportunity to hard wire sustainability into how society and the economy works for the next decades. The Act can introduce the frameworks that enable us to meet needs and aspirations for food, housing, energy, mobility, recreation and so on in a way that also meets society’s ambition for the environment. Given RSA and its Fellows’ reach into all aspects of British life that will shape the environment in the next decades, help us to make sure this opportunity is not missed. 

On July 18 the Prime Minister quietly announced in the House of Commons’ Liaison Committee - and a follow up tweet- that her government will introduce a new Environment Bill. 

Strategies on the environment come and go but a Bill with the ambition to leave the environment in a better state, against a background of environmental decline, and at the crossroads that Brexit creates, is no small news. 

For the last 45 years E.U. structures and institutions have driven the vast majority of environmental policy in the UK including 80% of our environmental laws. Back in January the government committed to pass on a better environment for future generations across all components of the environment: clean air, clean water, thriving wildlife, eliminating avoidable waste and so on.  

The Bill is the opportunity to give careful thought to the structures and mechanisms needed to enable all parts of society and the economy to build environmental objectives into their activities so that in total we achieve that ambition. Instead of waiting until issues like marine plastic pollution, poor air quality or soil degradation become critical and much more expensive to deal with, it means routinely dealing with environmental challenges upfront. This can be an environmental ‘Constitutional Bill’ that provides direction and clarity for all policymaking and activities rather than just picking off a few front of mind issues to resolve. 

The prize is not simply a better and more inspiring environment, a healthier nation and a less wasteful economy but also to give our innovating industries a competitive advantage in developing the solutions that all corners of the planet will increasingly need. 

cross-section of the main stakeholder interests drawn from the worlds of business, environmental groups, the professions, think tanks and academia, and some of the country’s leading experts, has already come together to develop thinking on what’s needed to take this chance, and to work with government to shape and implement proposals. ‘The Broadway Initiative’ – which is keen to work with all groups and organisations - is sharing an initial blueprint for an Environment Act to try to find the best possible solutions for UK society as a whole, and to stimulate others to identify improvements or better ideas.  

The initial blueprint considers some of the important starting points for the Act. For example, it needs to be long term and predictable so people can plan, invest and collaborate. It needs to be clear on who is responsible for what with credible, fair and robust enforcement. It needs to be responsive to changing circumstances and to the latest research and technology.  

In outline, the blueprint envisages clear long term objectives for the environment that flow through: 

All government activity – so that government as a whole is required to ensure the mechanisms are in place to keep society on track, including through defined interim targets, for meeting the objectives. 

Place-based planning  so that, wherever you are, it is clear what the priorities and responsibilities are to maintain and improve the environment.  

Organisations – so that those organisations best placed to achieve objectives are clear from the start on their responsibilities and can build them into their activities. This could include a duty to prevent or limit damage to the environment, responsibility for producers to meet the post-consumer environmental cost of their products (extended producer responsibility) and a net gain responsibility for developers to leave the environment in a better state.  

Oversight is also needed, through independent institutions, to advise and hold government to account for meeting objectives and all legal obligations for the environment. 

The blueprint has more detail on how these mechanisms could work in practice. 

We’d love your feedback and ideas [email protected] by 16 November. 

Edward Lockhart-Mummery bio: 
Edward is convenor of the Broadway Initiative. Edward worked for 14 years advising the UK department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs as an economist assessing environmental policies and as programme director for strategic reform programmes. He has also advised Environment Ministries for 12 other governments. Before that Edward worked in corporate finance, for an environmental NGO in India and in the European Commission. Edward also founded and chaired for 10 years a UK charity looking after street-working children in Afghanistan. 

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  • A new Environment Act? Some change is definitely needed. As a member of a local action group protesting against the industrialisation of a rural landscape in Worcestershire we (the local residents) spent 4 years opposing broiler chickens and intensive free range chicken planning applications. After 3 appeals we now face both types of industrial style chicken sheds, next door to each other on what was a completely greenfield site. A loophole in the law enables farms to be split and since there are no existing buildings, new ones can be added! A farm workers house is about to be added too. My observation is that local councils (who turned down each application and were overturned on two occasions at appeal) have no say in the matter. CPRE and the EA are toothless. Local wildlife trusts are inundated and each organisation seems to think the other is covering aspects of the application when in reality no one is protecting our environment. I have no faith in our planning system to oppose something that is truly of no benefit to the local economy or population and all the benefits go to the farmer.