The Environment Bill Explained
Following the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday 15 October, the government introduced what it describes as a landmark Bill “to tackle the biggest environmental priorities of our time, signalling a historic step change in the way we protect and enhance our precious natural environment.”
The Bill will ensure that environmental principles will be enshrined in law and measures will be introduced to improve air and water quality, tackle plastic pollution and restore habitats so plants and wildlife can thrive.
Legislation will also create, legally-binding environmental improvement targets. A new independent Office for Environmental Protection will be established to scrutinise environmental policy and law, investigate complaints and take enforcement action against public authorities, if necessary, to uphold our environmental standards.
Both HETAS and Woodsure were very much involved in the Defra consultations and are already taking actions to deal with key areas of the proposed bill and the following update of the Clean Air Act.
The draft legislation aims to remove the option of buying wet wood except in larger volumes, and to limit the sale of appliances to those which burn most cleanly. The legislation is aimed at making enforcement of the law much simpler and more available to local authorities so that they can deal with offences of selling poor quality fuel and emitting smoke in controlled areas.
Part 4 of the Bill deals with air quality and amends the requirements and management of Local Air Quality Management Frameworks. It also provides local authorities with greater powers in smoke control areas, which is dealt with in Schedule 13 of the Bill, ‘Smoke Control in England and Wales’.
Changes of note
The Air Quality and Environmental Recall Part of the Environment Bill (Part 4) includes provisions to:
- amend Part IV of the Environment Act 1995 (which creates the Local Air Quality Management Framework) to strengthen the requirements in respect of the National Air Quality Strategy, including a requirement for it to be regularly reviewed;
- amend the Local Air Quality Management Framework to clarify duties and enable greater cooperation between different levels of local government, and other relevant public bodies, in the preparation of Local Air Quality Action Plans;
- amend Part III of the Clean Air Act 1993 to enable quicker, simpler and more proportionate enforcement of Smoke Control Areas, a key means by which local authorities can control pollution from domestic solid fuel burning;
Schedule 1A makes provision for financial penalties in relation to the emission of smoke in smoke control areas in England. Penalties can be up to a maximum of £300, an additional note states that the Secretary of State by regulation may amend this penalty to a different amount to that specified.
The amendments will also enable a local authority to extend the scope of a Smoke Control Area in England to cover moored vessels, subject to local consultation. This means that if a local authority amends its smoke control order to include vessels, smoke emissions from the chimney of such vessels could be liable to a financial penalty. A new subsection also clarifies that the acquisition of controlled solid fuel for use in the propulsion of a vessel or to provide electric power to the vessel will not form an offence.
Guidance in Section 26A identified the duty of local authorities to reimburse for adaptations of vessels in England. This can be 70% of the expenditure provided the criteria within this section is met.
Additional guidance is included providing devolved powers to the Welsh Government.
Acquisition and sale of controlled solid fuels in England
One new subsection listed in Section 19B sets out a new offence where a retailer must notify potential buyers that it is an offence to acquire controlled solid fuel for certain purposes (for example, if it will be burned in a fireplace not specified in the Secretary of State’s list of approved fireplaces, such as an open fireplace, in a smoke control area in England). This also applies to online retailers. Reasonable steps to notify potential purchasers could include, for example, putting an informative sign next to the fuels and at the cash register, or including a notification during online checkout.
What happens next?
There has been little progress since the general election on the 12 December was called. Now the results are in and a Conservative government is confirmed, we are hopeful that the Bill will be picked up and progressed as soon as possible.
A Bill is a proposal for a new law, or a proposal to change an existing law, presented for debate before Parliament. A Bill can start in the Commons or the Lords and must be approved in the same form by both houses before becoming an Act (law).
When a Bill has completed all its parliamentary stages in both Houses, it must have Royal Assent before it can become an Act of Parliament (law). Royal Assent is the Monarch’s agreement to make the Bill into an Act and is a formality. There is no set time period between the consideration of amendments to the Bill and Royal Assent. You can view a Guide on How a Bill Becomes a Law here.
We will of course keep Woodsure members up to speed with developments of the Environment Bill as it moves towards becoming law.
Clean Air Plan Wales
Further to the announcement of the draft Environment Bill, on the 10 December the Welsh Government announced its Clean Air Plan, of which wood burning forms a key part.
The Welsh Government are consulting on proposals which include:
- enhancing our air quality monitoring and assessment capabilities
- proposals for a fit for purpose legislative and regulatory air quality management framework for Wales
- increasing public awareness about air pollution and behavioural change communications to help everyone improve air quality and encourage others to do the same
- promoting the shift from the private motor vehicle to active travel and public transport
The 12 week consultation seeks views on existing commitments and proposed new actions in the plan and includes a focus on solid fuels, specifically stating:
- reviewing powers local authorities have to tackle emissions from the indoor burning of solid fuels such as wood and coal
Further the consultation will “assessing the contribution bonfires and fireworks make to levels of harmful emissions.”
Strategic tree and hedge planting and expanding woodland which support air quality improvements has also formed part of the consultation along with plans to improve air quality communications and education.
The consultation recognises the Woodsure Ready to Burn scheme as an industry led scheme which is intended to educate and in doing so facilitate behavioural change. Welsh Government supports such schemes but wants to do more to ensure consumers are aware of the issues and know what to do to support future improvements.
Woodsure along with HETAS will be submitting responses to the consultation and we urge our stakeholders in Wales, or those supplying to customers in Wales, to contribute to the consultation.
The consultation can be viewed on the gov.wales website.