Peter Aldous speaks in the debate on the Second Reading of the Environment Bill calling for the Office for Environmental Protection to have real powers and independence, more ambitious targets on air pollution and measures to empower local communities.
I welcome the Bill and will briefly home in on three issues. The first is the Office for Environmental Protection, which in some respects is equivalent to the Committee on Climate Change. It is a good idea, but for the OEP to be as effective as the CCC, it must have teeth and independence. I ask the Minister to consider two improvements in order to achieve this. First, will she consider introducing a duty to achieve five-yearly interim targets similar to the carbon budgets set out in the Climate Change Act 2008? Secondly, will she commit to a principle of non-regression in environmental standards?
My second point relates to air pollution, a problem that is creating significant health challenges in Lowestoft. The Bill provides a framework for removing this blight by setting a legally binding target to reduce fine particulate matter. Consideration should be given to being more ambitious and making a commitment to achieve the World Health Organisation’s current limit values, as well as to giving further powers to local authorities to tackle local sources of air pollution.
My third point relates to the need to empower local communities, and it is important that the Bill does this. In and around Lowestoft, there are some environmentally rich and diverse areas that are bringing, and could bring, much benefit to nearby residents and local people. These include Bonds Meadow, an historic landscape in a now urban area run by local a community group, and Carlton Marshes, an exciting and ambitious project promoted by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust to recreate a unique Suffolk—not Norfolk—broads landscape right on the edge of the town. There are provisions in the Bill that will promote and help such initiatives, including the strengthened duty on public authorities to take account of biodiversity in their decision making, and the requirement for local authorities to produce local nature recovery strategies. These measures are to be welcomed.
In conclusion, this is a good Bill with plenty of good proposals. We have heard them described as groundbreaking; I will call them innovative. Let us get on and give the Bill a Second Reading, then work together to make it even better: a great Act that stands the test of time.