Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown tables amendments to the Environment Bill

26th January 2021
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown introduces an amendment to the Environment Bill which would constrain the Bill's precautionary principle, which states that preventive action should be taken to avert environmental damage, so that is only applies to risks that are more than hypothetical in nature and serious and irreversible.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con) [V]
 
I will speak to my amendment 4. The precautionary principle is a whole new way for the Government to legislate on environmental matters which can be applied to a huge range of environmental principles. It could be used in the extreme—for example, to introduce policies such as stopping people from driving motor cars on the basis that they damage the environment. In an increasingly legislative field, my amendment is so important in ensuring that the Government can clearly define the purposes for use of the precautionary principle, beyond those in the mere principles statements outlined in clauses 16 to 18.
 
The Minister said in a letter to me this morning: “I can confirm that Ministers of the Crown are only required to have due regard to the policy statement when making policy by virtue of clause 18(1). The environmental principles duty is not designed to apply to individual decisions or other public bodies.” In other words, the statement of principles is pretty nearly toothless.
 
My amendment would clearly constrain when and where the precautionary principle can be used. I ask the Minister, when she sums up, to go further than just going into the principles; I ask her to include some of my amendment in the Bill. A particularly important part is subsection (3C), which says:
 
“The precautionary principle should only apply in response to risks that are…more than hypothetical in nature; and…serious and irreversible.”
 
I cannot see any reason at all why that should not be in the Bill. If the Minister is not inclined to include it, I hope that their lordships will pick it up when the Bill goes to the House of Lords.
 
The precautionary principle is not consistently applied to different activity; it is frequently used to constrain certain activities where any impacts are deemed to be unacceptable. For example, Natural England is currently seeking to restrict game shooting around European protected sites. Due to evidence of damage in only five—a mere 1.5% of all sites—it wants to introduce a licensing system.
 
In summing up, can the Minister please bear in mind all the constraints that are in my amendments? Otherwise, this principle could well become oppressive to people’s freedom in the future, and we may well rue the day that we put the provision in the Bill. I am looking to the Minister to tell me why some or all of my constraints cannot be included in the Bill, because that is where they should be. The statement of principles, as written in the Bill, is pretty nearly toothless, and the precautionary principle gives the Minister, or any future Minister, a huge overwhelming power, which we may well live to regret.
 

PUBLIC MEETING

THE COTSWOLDS
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Planning White Papers

I have submitted my responses to the two planning consultations: “Changes to the current planning system’ and “Planning for the future’.

These planning changes are one of the most significant events to affect the Cotswolds since WWII. I think that both papers contain positive proposals, in our case commitments to protect the AONB. The proposal to abolition Section 106 and the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) should speed up the planning process and it is important that the money is retained locally so that the infrastructure can be built at the same time as the development. 

Too often we see a development being built long before the supporting infrastructure, which I know can cause significant issues for existing residents. The proposals to simplify and speed up local plan-making and retaining neighbourhood plans where possible are welcome, in that design codes can be specified so it should be possible to protect our unique Cotswolds vernacular.   

I spoke in the planning backbench business debate on the 8 October and called for a change to the algorithm the Government uses in its planning White Paper which fails to take account of local variations and concentrates all new house building in the south-east and central south of England. 

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