Government's environment plan should have statutory status says Natural Capital Committee

The Natural Capital Committee has called for statutory status for the Government's 25-year Environment Plan - and confirmed it will produce a how-to guide to calculating natural capital this year.

Recommendation: National Parks' powers should be extended. Image: North York Moors National Park
Recommendation: National Parks' powers should be extended. Image: North York Moors National Park

In its first report since it was resurrected by the Government last year to advise on the development of the 25 Year Environment Plan and report on progress, the Natural Capital Committee (NCC) said actions for this year included the ‘How To Do It’ guide, with periodic updates, publishing advice on how to approach valuing natural capital in different contexts and on how to determine long-term outcomes and objectives for the 25 Year Environment Plan.

It also reported that "currently many aspects of the natural environment are still deteriorating" and "development of the Plan has been considerably slower than both expected and desired, in part due to the referendum and Brexit".

The committee made 16 recommendations, including calling for statutory status for the 25 Year Environment Plan to "enable greater traction across government and its agencies" and a lead institution to ensure governance and accountability. It also said the Government should produce a White Paper in 2017 setting out the 25-year plan and laying the groundwork for necessary legislation.

Other recommendations include:

  • The new National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) should incorporate natural capital, including its maintenance, restoration and recovery, into long term infrastructure plans
  • Local authorities and major infrastructure providers should ensure that natural capital is protected and improved, consistent with the overall objective of the 25 Year Environment Plan.
  • The powers of England’s National Parks should be extended to support the objectives of the 25 Year Environment Plan and "where practical" each National Park should quantify and value the main natural capital assets in its area.
  • The 25 Year Environment Plan should consider the creation and enhancement of new wildlife areas and corridors, including in collaboration with National Parks, landowners, local authorities, developers and infrastructure provider
  • The Office for National Statistics should further develop national natural capital accounts and, in particular, extend their coverage to cover more renewable natural assets. This would include estimates of the capital maintenance and restoration costs as well as the valuations of renewable natural assets.

Chairman Professor Dieter Helm wrote in the report that there was "a great prize on offer" and said the Government was bold in its objective of being the first to improve the natural environment over the course of a generation in the face of considerable challenges, including the expected increase in population, the major house-building programme and other major infrastructure developments.

"Critical natural capital assets are at risk and the overall picture reported by the Office for National Statistics points to a declining path," he said.

But he added: "The Government’s overall environmental objective is nevertheless achievable and Brexit provides a great opportunity to embed the objective into British law, to provide a statutory basis for the 25 Year Environment Plan."

The NCC was established by Government in 2011 as an independent advisory committee. Its main advice to government was to develop a long-term (25 year) plan to meet its goal of improving the environment within a generation. The NCC was re-instated in January 2016, with a remit through to 2020. The other committee members are Professor Ian Bateman; Professor Diane Coyle; Professor Paul Leinster; Professor Georgina Mace; Professor Colin Mayer; and Professor Kathy Willis. The Committee is supported by a secretariat based at Defra.

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