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Watchdog to consider Defra's 25-year strategy

The Environmental Audit Committee has launched a limited inquiry into Defra’s 25-year plan for the environment which was published on 11 January.

The committee, which acts as a watchdog on the Government’s environment record across all departments, says there is likely to be one oral evidence hearing followed by a hearing with ministers.

The intention is to examine the overall ambition and approach of the strategy and specific areas relating to its regular work programme. Representations are being sought by 5pm on 28 February on some or all of the points listed below.

Creagh eac

Creagh eac

Chair Mary Creagh (pictured) said: “My committee has been clear that environmental protections must not be weakened as a result of leaving the EU.

“My committee has previously called for a new Environmental Protection Act that enshrines targets on waste, water quality and air pollution in law. 

“We will look at how the Government intends to make the plan a reality, and whether the targets and timeframes are ambitious enough. It is crucial that current targets aren’t dropped or missed, that legal protections are not weakened and Government departments aren’t let off the hook.”

Terms of reference

Ambition and Reporting

  • To what extent does the plan set a sufficiently ambitious agenda across Government? How far do the objectives, targets and indicators set out in the plan reflect a higher level of ambition than existing targets (including European Union targets and the Sustainable Development Goals) and current performance? Are there any major gaps?
  • What would success or failure look like for the plan? To what extent will the Government’s proposals for reporting on the plan allow for proper scrutiny of its performance against its objectives? Are the commitments to legislative action in the plan sufficient to ensure it will endure beyond the current Parliament?

Implementation

  • The plan sets out a natural capital-led approach and a principle of “environmental net gain” when undertaking development. What are the risks and benefits of adopting these approaches? What steps need to be taken during development and implementation to ensure they lead to positive environmental outcomes, especially in respect of biodiversity?
  • To what extent does the plan set out effective delivery mechanisms to ensure Defra, other Government departments and public bodies have the resources and responsibilities to implement it? Where should the Government seek agreement with the devolved institutions to ensure a common approach across the UK?

Principles and Oversight

  • The Government has proposed an independent statutory body to “champion and uphold environmental standards as we leave the European Union”. What role, legal basis and powers will it need to ensure the Government fulfils its environmental obligations and responsibilities? How do these compare to the role of the European Institutions in the existing arrangements? What standard would it have to meet to be “world leading”?
  • The plan sets out a series of objectives and the Government says it will consult on a policy statement on environmental principles to underpin policy-making after leaving the European Union. What principles should the Government include as part of that consultation? What legislation might be needed?

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