‘Blowing hot and cold’: Campaigners say growth plan is a step backwards for green goals

On Friday morning, chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced a sweeping set of measures to tackle energy costs and bring down inflation, however experts and campaigners have warned that the new plans could come at the expense of the country’s environment and green goals.

In the fiscal statement, which was presented to the House of Commons, the chancellor announced plans to “liberalise planning rules” within 38 new “investment zones”, which will have eased planning restrictions and lower taxes.

However, concerns have been raised that environmental rules – such as habitats regulations and nutrient neutrality requirements – could be overridden in the new zones, described in the 2022 Growth plan published alongside the statement. Philippa Spence, managing director of architecture, engineering and consultancy company Ramboll UK, described the Growth Plan Report as a “blueprint for ripping up important environmental safeguards”. 

Spence said: “The commitment to reform the planning process risks unwinding key environmental protections unless these are retained. The planning system does need reform, but not at the cost of our environment, already one of the most biodiversity depleted in Europe. The government must seek to achieve efficiency and environmental enhancement simultaneously.”

READ MORE: Fiscal statement: New planning bill will minimise ‘burden’ of environmental assessment, says chancellor

Kwarteng said to the House of Commons that his vision for economic growth in the UK is on the side of “reforming the supply side of the economy, maintaining a responsible approach to public finance and cutting taxes to boost growth”.

Sam Alvis, head of economy at Green Alliance, has said that the tax cuts and spending announced today should instead be targeted at investing in green technology and clean energy, which he describes as having the greatest potential.

He said: “Adjustments to stamp duty, new investment zones and unlocking new infrastructure will only bring down inflation, boost productivity and ultimately lower consumer costs if they support the solutions that will cut the need for expensive gas and support innovative technologies like heat pumps, rather than the outdated status quo”.

READ MORE: Kwarteng to ‘liberalise planning rules’ with 38 new investment zones

The Growth Plan also sets out a proposal for a new Planning and Infrastructure Bill to accelerate priority major infrastructure projects across England. 

According to the report, the aim is to “[minimise] the burden of environmental assessments; [make] consultation requirements more proportionate; [reform] habitats and species regulation; and [increase] flexibility to make changes to a development consent order once it has been submitted”.

Kate Norgrove, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF, highlighted that almost two-thirds of the infrastructure priorities announced today are road schemes, along with five North Sea oil and gas developments.

She said: “If the government is serious about boosting the UK economy it needs to stop blowing hot and cold on tackling the climate and nature emergency. The only route to a growing and resilient economy is to invest in net zero by scaling up renewables, insulating our homes and supercharging the shift to nature-friendly farming. Anything less would be a betrayal of people and the planet."

The government has said it will set out “further detail on the liberalised planning offer for Investment Zones in due course”.

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Jackie Copley, planning director at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “I am very dismayed with the unbridled Growth Plans of Kwasi Kwarteng as they will lead to widespread countryside harm, including to our green belts that provide the essential purpose of keeping land around our urban conurbations open and green.

“We are losing our farmland, rural jobs, and the ability to feed our people in the future at an alarming rate already. Our best and most versatile land is being bulldozed and it is irreplaceable. Mature woodland and other important habitats will be increasingly threatened, especially as the enabling legislation for the Environment Act 2021 has not materialised combined with the scrappage of European legislation.

“Regulation stops poor practice without it poor practice will return.

“I am supportive of growth, but it should be considered, and focused in the right places, for the right reasons. Developers must contribute to delivery of community facilities, affordable housing and green infrastructure in order for new development to be sustainable.”

DEFRA has responded to ENDS: “Claims we intend to go back on our commitment to the environment are simply not right."

“A strong environment and a strong economy go hand-in-hand. We have legislated through the Environment Act and will continue to improve our regulations and wildlife laws in line with our ambitious vision.

"We want every corner of our country to prosper too. Bureaucratic processes in the planning system do not necessarily protect the environment so, by making sure we have the right regulations for our nation, we can make this happen.”

An ENDS Report film coming soon. SEVERN: The poisoning of Britain's Amazon. Watch the trailer here.