25 year plan to improve the environment published
Published: 12 Jan 2018

Theresa May has announced the Conservative Government's 25 year plan to improve the environment.

Mrs May writes in the foreword of the document that the "25 Year Environmental Plan sets out our comprehensive and long-term approach to protecting and enhancing [the environment] in England for the next generation."

So, what is in the plan?

Well, first it is important to note that the policy only relates directly to England. This is due to the devolved nature of environmental policy and so far, other parts of the UK have pushed ahead of England.

Michael Gove also refers to a sister document to the Plan, named the "Clean Growth Strategy".

Onto the contents of the Plan, where the goals are set out as follows:

  • clean air;
  • clean and plentiful water;
  • thriving plants and wildlife;
  • reduced risk of harm from environmental hazards such as flooding and drought;
  • using resources from nature more¬†sustainably and efficiently;
  • enhancing beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment.

Furthermore, the Government pledge to manage pressures on the environment by:

  • mitigating and adapting to climate change;
  • minimising waste;
  • managing exposure to chemicals; and
  • enhancing biosecurity.

The Plan also goes on to explain how they will achieve their goals and targets.

Clean air

For clean air, the Government will meet legally binding targets to reduce emissions of five damaging air pollutants. The Plan states that by doing this, the effects of air pollution should halve by 2030.

By 2040, the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans will be banned.

The continuous improvement of industrial emissions through existing good practice and regulatory framework.

Clean and plentiful water

This ambition will be achieved by reducing the damaging abstraction of water from rivers and groundwater.

The Government also plan to give support to the Office for Water (OFWAT) ambition's on leakage, with a goal of a 15% reduction in leakages by 2025.

It is also hoped that harmful bacteria in bathing waters will be minimised, though the target is not given at that point.

Plants and wildlife

To support and protect our wildlife, the Plan states the Government will "reverse" the loss of marine biodiversity, and "where practicable, [restore] it." The proportion of protected seas and protected sites is also expected to increase.

The Government state they will restore 750,000 hectares of terrestrial and freshwater protected sites to favourable condition, as well as create an additional 500,000 hectares of "wildlife-rich habitat" outside the protected network.

A pledge to take action to protect iconic, threatened or economically important wildlife, plants and fungi is also given, with the aim to restore the wildlife additionally.

Finally, plans to increase woodland in England to an ambition of 12% coverage by 2060 will be helped along with the planting of 180,000 hectares by 2042. An example of this is the proposed "Northern Forest", which is under review currently.

Reduce risk of harm from environmental hazards

The aim is to make information on the risks and hazards as accessible as possible and a mention of boosting the "long-term resilience of our homes, businesses and infrastructure" is also there. What the boosts will be remains to be explained, although it is a hopeful sentiment.

Using resources from nature more sustainably and efficiently

The target for this is given as "doubling resource productivity by 2050."

Increasing timber supplies and ensuring fish stocks are recovered and maintained are also stipulated, though again, no mention of any actions to be taken to achieve this.

Enhancing beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment

Finally, the Government wish to safeguard and enhance natural scenery, again without saying how this will be achieved, and make sure there are accessible natural spaces close to where people live and work, with particular mention given to urban areas.

Plastics, PCBs and Town Planning

A mention of phasing out PCBs by 2025 is one to make note of, as mentioned in the Plan, this will keep the UK in line with commitments under the Stockholm Convention.

Plastic waste is a very current topic of discussion and the Government have set out targets to:

  • eliminate avoidable plastic waste by 2042, with "avoidable" given the definition of "Technically, Environmentally and Economically Practicable"; and
  • significantly reduce and, where possible, prevent all kinds of marine plastic pollution.

The Government also wish to manage and incentivise land management itself, in order to deliver "a new environmental land management system".

"Enhancement" of the Green Belt, "whilst delivering the homes this country needs" is a line some may groan at, some may celebrate. The use of the Green Belt in planning for housing has long been one of heated debate, so the Government's admittance they will continue to view the Green Belt as an option for housing development will be just as polarising. In addition to this, housing will be "built in a way that reduces" demands on resources.

It wasn't too long ago that the Government abandoned zero carbon housing, but perhaps such housing could be within sight should this Plan be implemented successfully.

The Plan itself is a long read but it is interesting. Farming, soil health and many more topics are discussed.

The reaction to the Plan has so far been poor, with critics saying it is too vague and at times highly repetitive. However, policies such as creating more natural sites, extending protection to sites and the extension of the 5p single-use carrier bag charge to previously out-of-scope retailers shows some positive pledges.

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