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Environmental Improvement Plan 2023: Roadmap to a cleaner and greener country

Environmental Improvement Plan: a roadmap which will affect both the planning and environmental regime as Josh Kitson and Katie Le Boutillier explain.

An image of a windfarm on a mountain range with a dusky sky behind. A visual metaphor for the topic of this article, the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023.


The government recently published its Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 (EIP). This plan builds on a vision that was set out 5 years ago. The EIP contains new powers and duties from the Environment Act, Agriculture Act and Fisheries Act and seeks to provide a comprehensive delivery plan for the government’s goal of halting and then reversing the decline in nature.

The Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 aims to restore nature and improve the environmental quality of the air, our waters and our land. The plans are distilled into ten broad goals which were agreed at the UN Nature Summit COP15 in December 2022.

Environmental Improvement Plan 2023: Key Announcements

The headline announcements from the government include the following:

  • Boost green growth and create new jobs: the government aims to raise at least £500m per year of private finance to fund nature’s recovery by 2027, and more than £1bn by 2023. It also estimates that the policies underpinning the net zero strategy could support up to 480,000 green jobs by 2030.
  • By the end of 2042, create or restore at least 500,000 hectares of new wildlife habitats, starting with 70 new wildlife projects including 25 new or expanded National Nature Reserves and 19 further Nature Recovery Projects. All SSSIs will also have an up-to-date condition assessment by 31 January 2028.
  • The public will also benefit from a new “commitment” to provide everyone with access to green or blue space within a 15-minute walk from their home (such as woodlands, wetlands, parks and rivers).
  • Through the support of government schemes, 65% to 80% of landowners and farmers will adopt nature friendly farming practices on at least 10% to 15% of their land by 2030. Landowners will also be supported to create or restore 30,000 miles of hedgerows a year by 2037 and 45,000 miles of hedgerows a year by 2050.
  • Deliver a clean and plentiful supply of water for people and nature into the future, by tackling leaks, publishing a roadmap to boost household water efficiency, and enabling greater sources of supply. This includes a target to restore 75% of water bodies to a good ecological status and for water companies to have eliminated all adverse ecological impacts from sewage discharges at all sensitive sites by 2035. The government is committed to reforming the current regulatory framework to rationalise the number of regulatory plans and create a more efficient system which better enables joined up working to achieve catchment-level outcomes.
  • Legal targets will be introduced to reduce population exposure to PM2.5. There will also be emission reduction targets for nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, PM2.5, ammonia, and non-methane volatile organic compounds. Councils will also be challenged to improve air quality more quickly and tackle key pollution hotspots. The government will continue to support the move away from petrol and diesel cars and expand environmental permitting conditions to dairy and intensive beef farms.
  • Targets for the reduction of avoidable waste (including a specific target for eliminating avoidable plastic waste by 2042) and residual waste. To achieve these targets, the government will implement packaging extended producer responsibility from 2024, to move the cost of dealing with household packaging waste to the packaging producer and introduce a deposit return scheme for plastic and metal drinks from October 2025.

On publishing the Environmental Improvement Plan, Rishi Sunak and Therese Coffey stated that it would act as a blueprint in the government’s commitment to leaving the environment in a better state than we found it. The government has set some broad targets; however, the detail will need when additional legislation, policy, and guidance is published. For example:

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG)

We will shortly be seeing more information in relation to BNG. The government has stated that it will: “…commence the Biodiversity Net Gain condition for planning permissions from November 2023 to support nature recovery and the Nature Recovery Network.” We are expecting secondary legislation and further guidance to be issued during the summer. This will make for interesting reading, and we will keep this under review and report on further developments.

Environmental Outcomes Reports (EORs)

The government is currently consulting on its new system of EORs. These reports will form a new system of environmental assessment and it is stated that they will replace SEA and EIA. It is intended that these reports will seek to ensure that decision makers know whether a plan or project contributes to the government’s environmental targets, and it is intended to be a more streamlined process.

The consultation seeks views on the government’s proposal to introduce “outcomes” via secondary legislation, which a plan or project will have to report against. The government will provide, via guidance, a set of “indicators” which will inform whether an outcome is met. The report would need to consider how the plan or project contributed to the delivery of an outcome and, more specifically, how it met the terms of the specific indicators.

These outcomes and indicators will no doubt draw upon the detail set out in the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023. This consultation closed on 9 June 2023, and is well worth considering further as the proposed approach will have a significant bearing on future development projects.

How we can help

Within the Environmental Improvement Plan, the government has set out some, at times, far-reaching proposals. However, they are short on detail. How they will be delivered remains unclear.

The slow progress made with BNG and EORs is indicative of the problems faced by the government in delivering its agenda. It will be interesting to see how these issues develop in the coming months. In the meantime, we will report further as the government’s net-zero target continues to be pursued.

These issues are likely to feed into changes to both the planning and environmental regimes. We are likely to see changes to issues including permitting; producer responsibility; disposal of waste; increased emphasis on air quality; and a push from the government for these issues to be given more weight in the planning system.

Our Environment Team are experienced in all aspects of environmental law and we’re always making sure we’re up to date on the latest developments at a national level, as well as advising on the complexity of European law in the context of Brexit. This helps us to anticipate what you may need in the future, so that we can help you prepare and adapt your business to comply with new legislation. Please call Josh or Katie and they will be happy to help.