How the Environment Bill is likely to impact the planning system

By Alia KhanConsultant

The Government first introduced the new Environment Bill in October 2019, with an updated version of the bill being introduced on 30 January after the first one was side-lined by the December 2019 general election. The bill comes at a time when there is heightened interest in the overall environmental agenda, and with more councils declaring climate emergencies, it will be interesting to see what changes it brings to the planning system in the UK.

The bill has set out four key changes in planning; first, a new duty for developers to deliver 10% net biodiversity gain in new schemes; second, there will be an availability of biodiversity credit for developers, should they fail to deliver the required on-site biodiversity improvement; third, councils will also have to produce a spatial “local nature recovery strategy” for better spatial planning for nature recovery; and finally the bill will also establish a new public body called the Office for Environment Protection (OEP), which will regulate the UK’s environment after the European Commission ceases to have jurisdiction.

The changes are likely to impact planning applications in the foreseeable future, as developers will have to submit ‘biodiversity gain plans’ alongside planning applications, meaning not only will developers have to adhere to additional application costs, it means that when applications do reach committee stage, they will face more objections and challenges from local politicians, if they feel that the overall application does not adhere to contributing to enhancing and improving the environment.

The 2019 local elections, however, saw a rise in the number of Green and Liberal Democrat councillors being elected, further demonstrating general environmental concern. This is a key reason why many councils have been promoting the environmental agenda and declaring climate emergencies. This is likely to result in a decrease in the number of planning applications going through, especially those which promote land and development on the greenbelt.

A huge example where the environment is impacting upon planning decisions is the third runway at Heathrow. It was ruled illegal by the court of appeal. The ruling laid out that ministers did not adequately take into account the government’s commitment to tackle the climate crisis. This is likely to encourage local councils and politicians to do the same and effectively scrap any planning applications which will be deemed as damaging to the environment, especially ones which will fail to deliver 10% biodiversity net gains.

This will all have impacts both at officer and member level going forward. The introduction of the Environment Bill and rising interest in the environmental agenda will affect decision making. Local politicians, planners and developers will all be facing challenges and objections from the public. It will not, however, be an impossible task; just issues which that planners and developers will need to be more aware of and consider when submitting applications

If you have concerns about how councillors’ concerns about climate change could impact your planning application, please give Chelgate Local a call on 020 7939 7939 or email