Charities warn levelling up bill could undermine environmental protections in devolved nations

18 Aug 2022

Four environmental organisations representing charities across the UK have warned that the Levelling Up Bill could weaken protections for nature by handing the UK Government the power to amend the law in devolved areas.

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will grant UK Ministers the power to scrap and rewrite, by secondary legislation, environmental protections set out in primary legislation.

This use of so-called “Henry VIII powers” will allow Ministers to replace the current system of environmental impact assessments with a new system of Environmental Outcome Reports – including in areas of devolved competence, without the consent of the devolved administrations.

The UK Government has said this will “introduce a clearer and simpler process where relevant plans and projects are assessed against tangible environmental outcomes set by government, rather than in Brussels”.

In a joint letter to Ministers, environmentalists have called on the UK Government to reconsider these proposals.

The four coalition groups – Wildlife and Countryside LINK, Scottish Environment LINK, Wales Environment LINK, and Northern Ireland Environment LINK – represent environmental NGOs operating across the four nations of the UK.

The letter states:

“These proposals are of serious concern to our members because they have the potential to weaken the protection of the environment.

“Our organisations and members have no specific constitutional position; however, we note that under the current arrangements, within the UK, the environment is considered a devolved matter.

“The Scottish Government, Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Executive have developed and legislated for distinctive environmental policies in their jurisdictions. In some cases, we applaud these policies, in others we have argued for different approaches – however, in all cases, they should be scrutinised, agreed and approved by their respective Parliament or Assembly with engagement of civil society at various stages.

“Yet, as it stands, Part 5 of the above Bill extends to the whole of the UK and any proposed EOR regulations containing provisions within the devolved competences must be subject only to consultation with the relevant devolved administration.

“This approach is at odds with the “Sewel Convention”, as expressed, for example, in s.28(8) of the Scotland Act 1998, as amended, that ‘the Parliament of the United Kingdom will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.’

“Given the distinctive policies and legislation for the environment, in the devolved jurisdictions, we consider that either matters of devolved competence should be excluded from this power or the approach of consent – rather than simply consult – must apply to EOR regulations.”

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