Skip to main content
Legal changes

Environment Act 2021 sets out the UK's environmental regulatory road map which lacked direction after Brexit

The long awaited Environment Bill has finally received Royal assent becoming the Environment Act 2021.

The Bill was over two years in the making and was necessary due to the gap left in the UK’s environmental regulatory framework as a result of Brexit.

The Act will form the cornerstone of environmental law for decades to come and as a result will have a significant impact on the way in which businesses operate.

The headlines of the new Act that businesses need to be aware of are:

Part one

Environmental principles, targets and improvement plans

This part;

  • ensures that a number of well-known environmental principles (e.g. polluter pays) are central to governmental policy development. The principles are accompanied by a policy statement that was subject to a (now closed) consultation in summer 2021. The outcome of the consultation is awaited
  • provides for legally binding targets in areas such as particulate matter. There is a policy paper that sets out how the Government will go about setting targets. Discussions are ongoing in relation to the targets that need to be finalised by October 2022
  • gives the Government the power to create and introduce environmental Improvement plans (EIP). The first EIP was published in January 2018 dealing with issues such as clean air, water and wildlife. EIPs have to be for a minimum of 15-years.

Part two

The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP)

Once outside the EU the UK was no longer subject to the oversight and governance of the European Commission, the CJEU and the European Environment Agency. A new body was required to oversee the observance of and compliance with environmental law by the Government and other public authorities. The OEP has been created to fulfil that function and can now consider complaints and undertake investigations in relation to alleged non-compliance with environmental law by public authorities. The OEP also has a scrutiny and advice function relating to the other aspects of the Act and environmental law more generally. The OEP is yet to publish its enforcement policy.

Part three

Waste and resource efficiency introducing concepts such as extended producer responsibility and deposit return schemes.

Part four

Air quality providing for a stronger local management framework in relation to air quality and additional enforcement powers for local authorities.

Part five

Water providing for new powers for regulators such as Ofwat and additional duties on water and sewerage companies.

Part six

Nature and biodiversity putting concepts such as biodiversity net gain on a legal footing.

What happens next?

It’s important to remember that the Act is largely an enabling piece of legislation providing the basis on which secondary legislation or guidance can now be introduced. There has been a lot of hard work to get the Environment Act 2021 onto the statute book, but the real hard work starts now in bringing forward the different aspects of the Act and ‘making it happen’.

For guidance or support on international, EU and UK based environmental law, contact our environmental lawyers.