The Queen‘s Speech can often feel a bit peripheral to those of us working in the environment sector; we only have a direct piece of major legislation once every five to ten years, such as the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act of 2006 or the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (still the defining piece of legislation for much of our site and species protection). Many of the changes that we do see are brought about by policy statements – as with the Forestry Policy Statement in January last year – or unheralded changes announced on the floor of the House during a Parliamentary session – as with the preceding proposal to sell off the Public Forest Estate.
That doesn’t mean that any new Queen’s Speech is not of interest. We wanted a Forestry Bill to take forward the Independent Forestry Panel’s recommendations and protect the Public Forest Estate, we feared a poorly crafted and hasty piece of legislation to bring in biodiversity offsetting; we got a proposal to allow a measure of direct election to the bodies that oversee National Parks!
But as with all these things, it is the environmental implications buried within other proposals that may have the greatest impact.
The Infrastructure Bill could be politely described as a “portmanteau” piece of legislation, combining a number of elements that affect the country’s energy and transport processes. The more cynical would describe it more like that last box that you always have when you are moving, the one into which you put all the odds and ends you failed to get into the oh-so-beautifully organised boxes you had at the start of the process. Thus within this Bill we find proposals to speed up the delivery process for new roads by forming strategic Highways companies, the introduction of Species Control Orders to control invasive, non-native species and various provisions in relation to housing under Town and Country Planning.
All of these elements of the Bill have the potential to have impacts on the environment – some positive, such as Species Control Orders – but also many negative elements. For example, would a privatised Highways company have to abide by the biodiversity duty that is currently a responsibility for all public bodies?
Despite (or because of?) this being a complex and bitty Bill, no time was wasted getting the legislative process started. The Infrastructure Bill was introduced on June 5th with a first reading in the House of Lords, the second reading scheduled for June 18th. We will be briefing Peers ahead of the second reading debate.
Given the complexity of the Bill we anticipate spending a fair amount of time working our way through the various provisions in the Bill, as well as the various amendments and alterations that arise during the increased scrutiny of the Committee stages.
Over the coming weeks we will let you know our view on the individual sections and where we think the greatest risks and benefits could be to woodland conservation – keep up to date through our short blog series.
Frances Winder, Conservation Policy Lead