1.In January 2015, the Natural Capital Committee recommended that the Government draw up a 25 Year Plan for the Environment. The Conservative Manifesto that year included a commitment to work with the Natural Capital Committee to develop a 25 Year Plan to restore biodiversity. In September 2015, the Government responded to the Natural Capital Committee’s report:
We agree with the aims of the Committee’s recommendation to develop a 25 year plan and government will be producing a 25 year plan for a healthy natural economy.
2.In January 2017, the Natural Capital Committee recommended that the 25 Year Plan should be placed on a statutory footing. Following a well-publicised series of delays, a framework document for the 25 Year Plan was expected in April 2017. However, the Government did not publish it before the General Election was announced. The Conservative Manifesto for the 2017 election included a commitment to:
produce a comprehensive 25 Year Plan for the Environment that will chart how we will improve our environment as we leave the European Union and take control of our environmental legislation again.
3.Following his appointment as Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP said that he had asked the Natural Capital Committee to provide advice on drawing up a Plan. That advice was published in September 2017. The Government published the A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment (The Plan) on 11 January 2018 with a speech by the Prime Minister at the London Wetlands Centre.
4.The Plan committed to consulting on “setting up a new independent body to hold government to account and a new set of environmental principles to underpin policy making”. The Government published the consultation Environmental Principles and Governance after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union (the Consultation) for this on 10 May 2018 - six months after the Secretary of State first indicated his intention to consult on this issue. However, there have been concerns raised by NGOs that the current plans are “toothless”.
5.The EU Withdrawal Act requires DEFRA to publish an Environmental Principles and Governance Bill by December 2018. The draft bill must include a set of environmental principles, a statement of policy relating to how these principles shall be applied and interpreted and the provisions to establish a public authority, with the ability to take proportionate enforcement action (including legal proceedings if necessary).
6.The Plan is 151 pages long and broad in scope. It would not be possible to examine all its proposals in a single inquiry. As set out in our inquiry’s terms of reference, this report will look at the ambition and architecture of the Plan. We will look at what the Plan means for individual policy areas as part of our ongoing programme of inquiries. As the Head of Government at the Wildlife and Wetland Trust, Dr Richard Benwell, told us:
What we need […] is not just a list of individual policies. We all have our own pet policies. It is the architecture of governance that is the real mark of ambition of a 25-year plan, one of the things that is going to make the systemic change to turn a list of different policies into something that can turn things round.
7.We received well over 100 submissions of written evidence to our inquiry into the 25 Year Plan. We held three hearings, the first with environmental organisations, the second with lawyers, academics and practitioners and the third with the Secretary of State. On publication of the Consultation in May 2018, we opened a new call for evidence and held a further three evidence sessions. The first was with environmental organisations, business leaders and leading academics in governance and law, the second with the Chairs of the Committee on Climate Change, its Adaptation Sub-Committee and the Comptroller and Auditor General of the National Audit Office, and the third with the Secretary of State. This report covers both inquiries. We are grateful to all those who took the time to contribute to our inquiries. The evidence we received - even where it is not directly referenced in this report - will continue to inform our future inquiries.
1 The Natural Capital Committee (NCC) is an independent advisory committee that provides advice to the government on the sustainable use of natural assets. The second term of the Committee runs from 2016 to 2020.
2 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs The government’s response to the Natural Capital Committee’s third State of Natural Capital report, September 2015
4 The Conservatives. Forward Together: Our Plan for a Stronger Britain and a Prosperous Future. The Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto 2017
6 HM Government, A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment, January 2018
7 DEFRA, Environmental Governance and Principles after the United Kingdom Leaves the European Union, May 2018 (henceforth Governance and Principles Consultation)
8 See for example: Financial Times, Anger that new environment watchdog lacks power to prosecute government
9 The EU Withdrawal Act 2018 received Royal Assent on 26 June 2018
Published: 24 July 2018