The Environment Bill: The Third Piece in the Jigsaw?

07 July 2015

Article by Nia Seaton, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Image of jigsaw puzzle pieces in the shape of a question mark

Horia Varlan Licensed under Creative Commons

The Environment Bill is third in the line of key strategic pieces of legislation brought forward by the Department of Natural Resources in the Welsh Government. The first was the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the second was the Planning (Wales) Act 2015. Speaking to the Environment and Sustainability Committee on 24 June 2015, the Minister for Natural Resources, Carl Sargeant, described the Environment Bill as the third piece in his department’s legislative jigsaw.

Cumulatively over the three Bills there will be approximately 26 new reports, plans or statements being produced by the Welsh Government and/or different public bodies in Wales over the next ten years. The legislation doesn’t specify how many strategic development plans could be brought forward under the Planning (Wales) Act 2015 or how many area statements there may be under the Environment Bill so this number could increase or decrease depending on these decisions. The Welsh Government has indicated that public bodies might be able to produce one report to cover a number of the different duties in the Environment Bill but this isn’t specified in the legislation as of yet.

Given the volume of new reports and duties, stakeholders, such as local authorities, have been calling for clear links to be made between the three pieces of legislation. There are some references in each of the Bills but the evidence provided to the Environment and Sustainability Committee suggests that stakeholders remain unclear about how this will work in practice.

The Links That Exist

The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 introduces a requirement for Local Development Plans to have regard to Local Well-being Plans.

Under the Planning (Wales) Act 2015, the National Development Framework, any Strategic Development Plans and Local Development Plans have to be delivered in accordance with the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 definition of Sustainable Development.

Under the Environment Bill local well-being plans published under the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 have to take account of any Area Statements produced under the Environment Bill and any Strategic Planning Panels established under the Planning (Wales) Act 2015 would be subject to the new biodiversity duty contained in the Environment Bill.

What are the Missing Links?

Stakeholders have highlighted a number of areas where they believe there are still missing links or puzzle pieces. Their evidence to the Environment and Sustainability Committee suggests that they would like to see these filled by the Environment Bill. They include:

  • The need to link the National Development Framework in the Planning Act to the National Natural Resources Policy in the Environment Bill;
  • The need to link the State of Natural Resources Report under the Environment Bill to a Future Trends report under the Well-being of Future Generations Act; and
  • The need to link any Strategic Development Plans and Local Development Plans to both the National Natural Resources Report and any Area Statements published under the Environment Bill.

In its evidence to the Environment and Sustainability Committee the UK Environmental Law Association urged the Assembly not to miss the opportunity provided by the Environment Bill to ensure a coherent narrative across the three pieces of legislation.

What will the final jigsaw look like?

The Environment and Sustainability Committee will continue its evidence gathering until September 2015 with Assembly Members being provided with opportunities to amend the Environment Bill during Stage 2 and Stage 3 of the legislation process. Therefore the make-up of the final jigsaw won’t be known until early next year.

In the meantime to help set out how these different reports, plans and statements might fit together over the next ten years the Research Service has produced an infographic to give an indicative guide to these new reporting requirements.

Environment Bill Plans and Reports (english)-02

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