Thursday 30 March
Department for Environment, Food And Rural Affairs (National)
ROYAL ASSENT FOR NATURAL ENVIRONMENT AND RURAL COMMUNITIES BILL
The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill, which creates
two new organisations charged with conserving and enhancing
's valuable natural environment and giving a stronger voice to rural
communities, received Royal Assent today.
Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs, said:
"The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act will help
achieve our vision of thriving rural communities, fair access to
services and a rich and diverse natural environment. At its heart is
the principle of sustainable development: meeting the needs of people
today while laying the foundations for future generations to enjoy and
benefit from a healthy natural environment and sustainable
"The Act sets up Natural England as a powerful champion for
the natural environment, bringing together the strengths of English
Nature, parts of the Countryside Agency, and most of the Rural
Development Service to conserve and enhance our landscapes and
biodiversity and importantly to help people enjoy them.
"It also establishes the Commission for Rural Communities,
which will be a strong national rural adviser, advocate and watchdog,
charged with ensuring Government policies are making a real difference
on the ground in tackling rural disadvantage."
Jim Knight, Minister for Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity,
"We can now look forward with confidence to Natural England
and the Commission for Rural Communities taking up their full
functions in October. People throughout the country will benefit from
the more integrated approach offered by Natural England, while the
Commission for Rural Communities will be a powerful new rural advocate
unhampered by delivery functions.
"Through this Act, we have delivered our commitment to curtail
the inappropriate use of byways by motor vehicles by putting an end to
claims for motor vehicle access on the basis of historical use by
horse-drawn vehicles. Some of the worst damage is happening in our
national parks, which is why we have given National Park Authorities
the power to make traffic regulation orders.
"We have also created a duty for public and statutory bodies
to integrate biodiversity into their decision-making, further
protected Sites of Special Scientific Interest from damage, clarified
national parks legislation, and strengthened the enforcement powers of
those fighting wildlife crime."
The Act also gives the Secretary of State greater flexibility in
allocating funding and delegating responsibility to delivery bodies
working under Defra's remit. This will help make access to grants and
services simpler and easier for customers, and enable delivery to be
better tailored to regional needs.
Before the provisions of the Act become "active law",
they must be commenced. The majority of the Act's remaining provisions
will be commenced on 1 October 2006.
and the Commission for Rural Communities will also be formally
established on 1 October 2006. English Nature and the Countryside
Agency will be wound up on the same date.
Some of the Act's provisions will be commenced before 1 October,
which will allow Natural England to set up the organisation ahead of
receiving its full powers when taking over from English Nature and the
Countryside Agency; and to make three urgent amendments to existing
legislation around National Park designation procedures, Sites of
Special Scientific Interest, and Rights of Way. (See below for further
Notes to editors
1. The Government published its Rural Strategy 2004 in July 2004 in
response to Lord Haskins' Rural Delivery Review of October 2003, which
was commissioned by Secretary of State Margaret Beckett. Further
information on the Rural Strategy is available at http://www.defra.gov.uk/rural/strategy
2. The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill and
associated explanatory notes, together with the regulatory impact
assessment, are available at http://www.defra.gov.uk/rural/ruraldelivery/bill
Notes on Commencement
3. The Bill directly commences the following sections two months
after Royal Assent (30 May 2006):
* Section 59 (Criteria for designating National Parks)
* Section 99 (Natural Beauty in the Countryside)
These sections reinstate the legal basis for designating national
parks to what it was prior to the November High Court judgment of
Meyrick Estate Management Ltd v Secretary of State for Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs  EWHC 2618 (Admin).
4. The remaining sections are commenced by Order made either by
solely by the Secretary of State or in consultation with Scottish,
ministers where provisions effect the relevant devolved
5. In April the Department will commence certain provisions in the
Act to allow Natural England to be established as a "skeleton
body" Precise details will be provided in due course.
will be given an identity in law and will be able to employ staff and
enter into contracts. This will give Natural England's Board and Chief
Executive the powers they need to set up Natural England ready to take
on its full executive functions on 1 October.
7. As a smaller and simpler organisation, the Commission for Rural
Communities is already operating as a quasi-independent division of
the Countryside Agency and does not need to be set up as a skeleton
body in the same way.
8. At the same time as establishing a skeleton body, Defra will
commence section 98 (Financial Assistance by the Secretary of State.)
This will enable the Secretary of State to provide financial
assistance in respect of expenditure incurred or to be incurred in any
matter related to or connected with a Defra function. These
grant-giving powers are couched broadly and flexibly in order to
enable the Secretary of State to fund any function within Defra's
remit. This will, for example, enable the Secretary of State to fund
directly matters such as social and economic regeneration of deprived
rural areas. At present she can do this only through the Countryside
Agency or another delivery agency. This section extends to
9. Section 57 adds further protection for Sites of Special
Scientific Interest (SSSIs) where the relevant conservation body (for
the time being in England, English Nature, but in future Natural
England; in Wales, the Countryside Council for Wales) has failed to
serve a notice on every owner or occupier of SSSI land, despite having
taken all reasonable steps to do so. Section 56 makes a technical
change to the power to denotify SSSIs. Both sections are likely to be
commenced before 1st October, but further details will be made
available in due course.
10. The rights of way provisions (clauses 67 to 71) will be
as soon as possible after Royal Assent. The Act fundamentally builds
on the new category of highway, the "restricted byway"
originally introduced by sections 47-51 of the Countryside and Rights
of Way Act 2000, which have not yet been commenced. There is a need to
co-ordinate the commencement and give adequate publicity to the two
sets of legislation, and Regulations made under the 2000 Act. We are
committed to commencing clauses 67 to 71 within as short a time frame
as possible. Clause 72, giving traffic regulation order making powers
to National Park Authorities, will be commenced on 1 October 2006 .
11. Clause 67 does not apply to claims for BOATS made before the
Government made clear its intention to legislate on 20 January 2005
(19 May 2005 in
). BOAT claims in
made before this date will be processed under existing legislation and
the rights they seek will not be extinguished should the claim be
successful. Any BOAT claims made after this date will be dealt with
under the new legislation with two exceptions:
(a) Claims where the local authority has already reached the stage of
determining the claim and has either made a definitive map
modification order or declined to do so.
(b) Claims made by property owners seeking to establish a public right
to their property because for one reason or another they have failed
to establish a private right.
12. The Department aims to commence the bulk of the remaining
sections on the first suitable common commencement date after Royal
Assent (i.e. 1 October 2006).
13. Certain Sections (e.g. Part 7, which reformulates the Inland
Waterways Advisory Council as a separate body) will be commenced
later, when is it appropriate.
History of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill's
passage through Parliament:
House of Commons
First reading: May 19 2005 (HC Bill 3)
Second reading: June 6 2005
Standing Committee A:
June 21 2005 (am) , June 21 2005 (pm) , June 23 2005 (am), June 23
2005 (pm) , June 28 2005 (am) , June 28 2005 (pm) , June 30 2005 (am)
, June 30 2005 (pm) , July 5 2005 (am) .
The Bill as amended (HC Bill 38)
Remaining stages: October 11 2005
House of Lords
First reading: October 12 2005 (HL Bill 23)
Second reading: November 7 2005
January 24 2006 , January 30 2006 , February 1 2006 , February 8 2006
, February 27 2006 , February 28 2006
1st day: March 15 2006 ; 2nd day: March 20 2006
Third reading: March 27 2006
Commons Considerations of Lords Amendments: March 29 2006
Royal Assent: March 30 2006
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Defra's aim is sustainable development