Council rejects investment zone scheme saying it is ‘incompatible’ with the county’s green goals

Oxfordshire County Council has rejected the government’s invite to join its investment zones initiative, where planning controls will be reduced, on the grounds that deregulation within the zone is “incompatible” with the council’s green goals.

In a letter written by council leader Liz Leffman to Simon Clarke, the secretary of state for levelling up, Leffman  said membership to the zone “does not fit with our ambitions” which included net zero and enhancing biodiversity.

In a fiscal statement last month, chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced plans for 38 prospective “investment zones” which would see eased planning restrictions and lower taxes in a bid to boost the government’s “pro growth” agenda. Reports suggested that environmental rules - such as habitats regulations and nutrient neutrality requirements -  could be overridden in the new zones.

READ MORE: MAPPED: Liz Truss's ‘attack on nature’ – where investment zones and protected sites collide

Leffman wrote: “Oxfordshire already has a successful and growing local economy built on the strengths of its world leading universities, science and technology base and locational advantages.

“We do not believe that an investment zone is needed to enhance this.”

She claimed that investment zones would be better suited to large urban areas and former industrial areas, which are seeking investment, and said she was supportive of the government’s levelling up goals. However, she reiterated the council’s call for the government to provide more support for infrastructure to help housebuilding, and said promoting public transport, high environmental standards and active travel is key to this.

Leffman told ENDS: “Everything that we have heard from the government is that the whole point about investment zones is that they would be a relaxation of environmental standards. It simply won’t work for us. We have got a lot of growth in the county already.”

She said a key concern about relaxing planning rules for businesses is that they may take up sites that are currently needed for housing, leading to people being forced to build on greenfield sites.

On whether others should follow their lead in rejecting the zones, Leffman said: “It is absolutely up to other councils on what they should do. I think the idea of boosting economic growth across the country is really important.”

Oxfordshire is home to Britain's first zero emission zone (ZEZ),which is currently in the pilot stage in Oxford, and the county is home to the first community-owned solar and hydro schemes in the UK.