Last reviewed 27 July 2020

The Environment Secretary plans to redraft England’s system of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and other measures, amid growing concern that environmental rules will be relaxed following the UK’s departure from the EU.

Environment Secretary, George Eustice, has announced a consultation to redraft England’s system of EIA, and will shortly be publishing a paper that sets out Defra’s approach to setting long-term targets on biodiversity, waste, water, and air quality through the new Environment Bill.

Speaking via webinar at a Green Alliance event, George Eustice said that the UK should recognise those EU regulations that have worked in the past but said others were not working and from a UK perspective the current system rules “has not stopped the decline in our natural world”.

The current EIA process stems from EU law and is used by planners to assess the environmental impact of major development projects. Leaving the EU means Britain is free to “consolidate and simplify” the assessment process.

“Later this autumn we will be launching a new consultation on changing our approach to environmental assessment and mitigation in the planning system. If we can front-load ecological considerations in the planning development process, we can protect more of what is precious,” Eustice told his audience.

The environment secretary also announced a £5m pilot scheme on establishing a new Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment, which Defra will use to improve the baseline understanding of habitats and species abundance across the country to better inform planning authorities.

“If we are to protect species and habitats and also deliver biodiversity net gain, we need to properly understand the science to inform these crucial decisions. And we should ask ourselves whether the current processes are as effective or efficient as they could be,” Eustice added.

But conservation and environmental organisations argue the Government has been too slow in bringing forward the much-awaited Environment Bill, and no sign of anything resembling urgent action to deal with the climate and nature emergency.

Commenting on the environment secretary’s plans, Debbie Tripley, Director of Environmental Policy and advocacy, WWF-UK said: “Quick action through strengthening the Environment Bill … should be at the top of the government’s list to turn the tide on nature’s loss at home”.

“Instead, the government has announced a review of the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and a £5 million pilot on establishing a new Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment,” Tripley added.

Defra plans to launch a new consultation on changing our approach to environmental assessment and mitigation in the planning system this autumn.