LI Policy Manager Ben Brown shares his thoughts on the principles underpinning Defra’s latest proposals

    Photo by Rob Bye on Unsplash

    In May 2018, the UK found itself in court. That’s because, along with France, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Romania, we had failed to meet the air quality targets we had agreed to under EU law. Our air is illegally bad.

    The UK has consistently failed to meet its air quality targets (and its water quality targets, waste targets, etc.). Following the ECJ summons, however, the government risks a multimillion pound fine if it continues to fail. That’s quite the incentive to improve – hence our recent investment in air quality.

    When (or if) the UK leaves the European Union, one of the things that we will lose access to is this enforcement mechanism. The government can keep failing on air quality (for instance), and the EU courts can’t hold them to account.

    That’s why Defra have announced plans to design a new UK environmental watchdog.  Similar to the National Audit Office, or an Ombudsman, and underpinned in law by some fundamental environmental principles.

    Shortly after, a list of environmental principles were written into the EU Withdrawal Act, and the creation of a watchdog was made mandatory. That means that by this time next year, these principles must be law. They are:

    1. the precautionary principle (so far as relating to the environment)
    2. the principle of preventative action to avert environmental damage
    3. the principle that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source
    4. the polluter pays principle
    5. the principle of sustainable development
    6. the principle that environmental protection requirements must be integrated into the definition and implementation of policies and activities
    7. public access to environmental information
    8. public participation in environmental decision-making
    9. access to justice in relation to environmental matters

    So the questions for the landscape profession are: Are these the right environmental principles? And what should the body that enforces them look like?

    The government consultation closes on Thursday 2 August. The LI is in the process of drafting our response – you can read our early thoughts here.

    Comments from members are also welcome.  If you would like to feed in to the consultation, you can do so at


    1. Design is a significant influence on relationships between people and the environment. So I suggest including the first point in the response to Q1 to read: ‘The principle of making use of the best available scientific, technical and design expertise’


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