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Jeremy's Blog 23rd July 2020: Environmental Policy

24 July 2020

Jeremy's Blog 23/07/2020

Environmental Policy

This article by Jeremy Moody first appeared in the CAAV e-Briefing of 23rd July 2020

George Eustice, DEFRA Secretary of State, has consistently argued that the opportunity of Brexit is to “do policy better”.  As developing post-Brexit policies and the emerging post-Covid policies blend, he has now set this argument out for environmental policy.  Those concerned with the management of rural land should see the scale of the ambition for such issues as biodiversity, water quality and air quality.

Seeing the policies inherited from the EU as focused on preservation and protection, even the management of decline, he offered a new emphasis:

“But there is no point leaving the EU to keep everything the same. The old model has not stopped the decline in our natural world. We must therefore challenge ourselves to think creatively, to innovate and to consciously avoid clinging to processes and procedures just because they are familiar. On environmental policy, we can do better or differently …”

Still within the same high-level international conventions as the EU, the UK could now develop policies directly tailored to domestic circumstances, not compromises haggled in the EU’s Council of Ministers.  It need no longer be cautious about the legal risks of new initiatives or approaches as when trammelled by supra-national legislation, Commission supervision, EU auditors and penalties.  No longer able to hide behind EU law, this freedom to act would bring new responsibilities.

The ambition is that:

“if we really want to realise the aspirations that the public have for nature then we need policies that will not only protect but that will build back – with more diverse habitats that lead to a greater abundance of those species currently in decline”

with this change lying at the heart of the new farming policy, biodiversity net gain in planning and other initiatives.

With the Prime Minister’s “build, build, build” speech criticising “newt counting delays”, George Eustice proposed at least for England:

  • establishing “an accurate, centralised body of data on species populations”
  • then setting out which habitats and species were “off limit” and
  • “front load” ecological considerations into the planning system in a changed approach to environmental assessment and mitigation in the planning system.

The Environment Bill, with the Office for Environmental Protection, also brings the opportunity to set our own definitions of such international standards as the precautionary principle.  Such decisions, challenging the status quo, will frame policies, opportunities and land management for a generation.  This is definitely a space to be watched.

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