Two new organisations tasked with conserving, enhancing and managing England's valuable natural environment and giving a stronger voice to rural communities would be created under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill, which is published today.
The Bill would:
- Create a new agency, Natural England, by bringing together the world-class strengths of English Nature, parts of the Countryside Agency and most of the Rural Development Service. It would be responsible for our landscapes and biodiversity and helping people to enjoy them.
- Formally establish a Commission for Rural Communities to give a strong voice to people in country areas, especially those suffering disadvantage.
- Give the Secretary of State greater flexibility in allocating funding and delegating responsibility to delivery bodies working under Defra's remit. This would help to make access simpler and easier for customers and tailor delivery to regional needs.
- Introduce a number of measures designed to help streamline delivery and modernise wildlife and national park legislation.
Welcoming the Bill's publication Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Margaret Beckett, said:
"Economically thriving rural communities and businesses, fair access to services and a rich and diverse natural environment are the aims of the legislation we are publishing today.
"The organisations that will form Natural England are already working closely together. Over the coming months they will increasingly act as a single voice and address environmental issues in a more integrated way, providing an authoritative body to conserve and enhance our landscapes.
"The Commission for Rural Communities will be a strong new national rural adviser, advocate and watchdog. It will be charged with ensuring that Government policies are making a real difference on the ground in tackling disadvantage in rural areas.
"We have already made significant progress in supporting rural communities, helping village shops to stay open, legislating for the presumption against the closure of village schools and promoting flexible options for the sustainability of Post Office branches. We have also made a commitment to exploring measures to improve access to affordable housing for rural residents and their families.
"This Bill enables us to build on the work we have already done in supporting rural communities and will enable an exciting new organisation to be formed, which should help everyone enjoy our rich and diverse landscapes."
Jim Knight, Minister for Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity, said:
"This is the legal cornerstone of implementing last year's Rural Strategy, which set out an exciting vision of a better quality of life for all, with sustainable development at its heart.
"I am confident that it will make our delivery structure fit for purpose so that we can make a real difference in meeting the needs of rural people and businesses and ensure, more integrated management and protection of Englandīs rich and diverse natural environment."
Natural England will be established by January 2007, subject to Parliamentary agreement. Until then the existing bodies will work together in a confederation with shared goals and vision.
The Bill received a broad welcome from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee and organisations working in areas affected when it was published in draft form.