The Environment Bill was submitted to Parliament in January, with the intention that it be enacted before the year is out; at the moment, it is somewhere in a post-lockdown legislative logjam while Parliament works out how to do its job safely in its famously loud and crowded chamber.
This bill is urgently needed now to provide us with the necessary tools to ensure that the economic response to the pandemic (build, build, build) is environmentally led.
In March, just before lockdown began, DEFRA published a policy paper, in which it summarised the Environment Bill. Of that summary, there are two headline points to be considered as developers prepare to resubmit (or submit, in the case of Newland Homes) their plans for the sites at Church Lane (WHSAP site H2.4), Upper Studley (H2.5) and Southwick Court (H2.6), all of which abut Lambrok Stream and its important corridor of habitat for rare and protected species.
Those two points are:
- The Environment Bill will mean local areas will need a plan to conserve nature, by protecting native wildlife and their habitats, driving the delivery of a National Nature Recovery Network.
- New ‘biodiversity net gain’ measures will mean that new developments, including new housing, will help wildlife to thrive by improving habitats and creating new green spaces close to where people live.
It adds, in what it calls a package of new duties, tools and support to drive improvement for nature, these requirements:
- a 10% biodiversity net gain requirement on new development
- a strengthened biodiversity duty on public authorities
The park’s decorated bridge over the Lambrok Tributary photographed by DKG.
We need to keep a close eye on this bill; it has the potential to turn around the slow degradation of wildlife habitat and species loss that has characterised the past half century. The passage through parliament will be rough as interested parties with investments to lose, and over-stretched local authorities with shrinking budgets, clamour for clemency.
Here is a link to Parliaments’ Bill Committee which will monitor the Environment Bill’s progress. At the moment the Bill Committee reports that: due to current circumstances the sittings of the Committee have been suspended until further notice. The Committee is now scheduled to report by Tuesday 29 September 2020.
There is this to watch, too: when this bill was submitted to parliament in January 2020, it was envisioned that it would be enacted in time for the new laws and appointments to be dated from January 1st 2021; the new date for a decision on planning application 18/10035/OUT for the site at Church Lane is 31st December 2020.
We intend over the next few weeks to examine the implications of the Environment Bill for Southwick Country Park, Lambrok Stream, the urban/rural edge of Trowbridge and Wiltshire’s wider environment.
Header picture: Bulrushes in the Lambrok by DKG
More about the developers’ plans for the Lambrok corridor:
There is an obvious potential conflict between developments and wildlife. Wildlife commonly thrives in untamed environments. Developers proposing leisure areas suggest tidying up spaces and making them easily accessible to people. This is not necessarily the best way of helping ecology.
And, if it is the best way, there is also the matter of maintenance. The paths in the Country Park are still open because of the efforts of us volunteers. Any environmental plan in a development application would have to include a detailed management plan for the long term future..
Hopefully, the WHSAP policy for each of these sites gives us a little tiny glimmer of hope. The developers are required to work together on matters pertaining to the Lambrok’s biodiversity and two of the sites have already met with FoSCP to work on ideas as to how and with whom this might be done.
If these resubmissions are given the go ahead on Dec 31st, before this Environmental Bill comes in in Jan 2021 does that mean they will be able to build their housing estates to the old rules rather than the new ones.
I don’t know, Ossie. I was actually in the process of writing to Planning Officers Ruaridh O’Donoghue and Elaine Medlin to ask that very thing as your comment pinged into my inbox. Watch this space.