The British Government announced in July 2018 that it would bring forward a new environmental Bill for the first time in 20 years. The new Environment Bill will set out a framework for the Governments promise to leave the environment in a better place over the next 25 years – however, there are no details available about what the Bill will contain – or how it will deal with the difference between the environment law and how it is currently enforced within different parts of the UK.
It promises a cleaner, greener UK after Brexit and it has been greeted with enthusiasm by some green groups who feared the Tory party’s promises regarding protecting the environment after Brexit would not be honoured.
Currently, the Environment Act 1995 is divided into five parts covering: ·
Part 1 the Environment Agency and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency,
Part II Contaminated Land and Abandoned Mines,
Part III National Parks,
Part IV Air Quality,
Part V Miscellaneous, General and Supplemental Provisions (e.g. waste, mineral planning permissions, hedgerows, drainage, fisheries etc.).
The new legal framework will provide both challenges and opportunities for business. The government has not been forthcoming about what the new Environment Bill will include, but Prime Minister, Theresa May told the Liaison Committee of Select Committee Chairs:
“There has not been an environment act since 1995, so we want to bring forward an environment bill that would incorporate a range of issues,” she said. “Clean air would be within that”.
Following the Definitive Guideline for sentencing Environment Offences there has been a rise in the size of fines. Using the Environment Agencies data In 2017, a Tesco petrol station was fined £8 million after a fuel leak where 23,500 litres of fuel escaped and polluted a river killing fish and forcing those living nearby to evacuate their homes and is second only to the £20m fine which Thames Water were ordered to pay following multiple environment offences.
However, the environment agency also uses enforcement undertakings to resolve environmental incidents or non-compliance. An enforcement undertaking enables businesses to purpose steps that they will take following an incident rather than waiting for the regulator to impose sanctions and they must:
Address the conduct casing the breach – for example putting in place a control mechanism to ensure future breaches do not re-occur.
Rectify the consequences of the breach – such as restoration works
Offer reparations to those impacted by the incident.
It would be good to see more of these sanctions in the proposed Environment Bill whereby the companies at fault make a direct change to the issues and how this has affected the environment.
However, environmental law is complex and any Bill addressing the law will need to be well thought out and take into account how to change the way business and people see the environment and not just be a mechanism whereby ever increasing fines are used.
Fisher Scoggins Waters are experts in construction, manufacturing and engineering law, based in London. We provide expert advice on environmental law matters and can act as your emergency response team if required. If you would like more information, please call Dr Louise Smail on 01614457872 for expert advice.