Sustainable development


This page outlines our role in relation to environment and sustainable development.

We regulate in both the rail and road industries in the UK. We have different roles to play and different statutory duties in these areas. The same is true of our role in relation to environmental and sustainable development issues in the respective industries. 

Governments' requirements such as those set through net zero legislation will impact how we regulate in this area.

In terms of our own impact, we include sustainability issues, including our own emission data, in our annual report and accounts to Parliament every year.

We are currently conducting a consultation on developing ORR's approach to environment and sustainable development to update ORR’s sustainable development policy statement that applies to all our activities and our guidance on environmental arrangements for railway licence holders. 

If you have any questions in relation to environmental issues or sustainable development, please contact us.

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We have two statutory duties under the Railways Act 1993 which specifically relate to sustainable development and the environment. These are:

  • to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development; and
  • to have regard to the effect on the environment of activities connected with the provision of railway services.

There is a broad range of environmental legislation and this can also introduce other requirements that we must have regard to, for example in relation to biodiversity.

What do we do?

We already hold Network Rail to account for its development and delivery of its sustainable development commitments and its Weather Resilience and Climate Change Adaptation plans. 

We produce annual statistics covering electricity and diesel consumption of mainline passenger and freight operators in Great Britain and estimates of their associated CO2e emissions

All rail operators must produce an environmental policy within six months of their licence or statement of national regulatory provisions coming into effect as a condition of their licence. Our environmental guidance must be taken into account when preparing this policy.

Given the importance of environmental issues, such as achieving net zero, and managing extreme weather impacts on the rail network, we are currently reviewing our approach in this area. 

We are updating our sustainable development and environmental policies. As noted above we are currently conducting a consultation on developing ORR’s approach to environment and sustainable development. In doing this we are considering how we see our role developing in future to achieve progress on environment and sustainable development in rail, for example, in the context of PR23 and rail reform.

What do we not do?

We do not have the power to enforce environmental legislation - for instance to ask a railway body to remedy instances of environmental nuisance such as noise or vibration. This is the responsibility of local authorities or affected individuals.

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How we exercise our monitoring and enforcement functions is governed by general statutory duties which we must take into account when making decisions. 

As well as a focus on the performance and efficiency of National Highways, these duties include having regard to:

  • The environmental impact of the way in which National Highways achieves its objectives

We deliver this through our monitoring of the specific environmental commitments that National Highways has made under outcome 4 of the Roads Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2). 

We report on this through our Highways Monitor role: annual assessment of National Highways' performance