‘The chancellor has listened’: Green groups welcome plans to scrap investment zones

Controversial plans to introduce a series of investment zones that would benefit from broad deregulation have been axed and will instead be replaced with a “limited number” of “knowledge-intensive growth clusters” in “left behind areas”, chancellor Jeremy Hunt has announced.

In Liz Truss’s short reign as Prime Minister, she announced plans for a series of investment zones where businesses would benefit from lower taxes, eased planning rules and broad deregulation.

The plans were hugely controversial amongst green groups who accused the government of launching an “unprecedented attack on nature”. 

Speaking to the House of Commons while delivering yesterday’s Autumn Budget, Hunt said: "I'll ... change our approach to investment zones, which will now focus on leveraging our research strengths by being centred on universities in left behind areas to help build clusters for our new growth industries.”

READ MORE: Autumn Statement: What you need to know

The Autumn Statement document added that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities "will work closely with mayors, devolved administrations, local authorities, businesses and other local partners to consider how best to identify and support these clusters, driving growth while maintaining high environmental standards, with the first clusters to be announced in the coming months".

The document also says that "the existing expressions of interest will therefore not be taken forward. The government is grateful to local authorities for their work to develop proposals". 

Green groups have welcomed this news, with the RSPB's head of policy in England, Alice Hardiman saying: “From today’s Budget Statement it is clear that the chancellor has listened to the public’s fears and concerns about proposed investment zones across England, and has now promised that these will uphold existing environmental protections and standards. 

“To have continued with them in their original form would have trashed planning rules – meaning housing and commercial developments could have been incentivised to damage nature with little or no restriction.

“The UK’s natural resources underpin our entire economy and are worth an estimated £1.2 trillion. This is why we urgently need to lay the foundations for a nature-positive economy - one that restores nature rather than depletes it - in order to deliver long term stability; something that the public desperately wants to see."

Exact details of what the new plans will look like remain vague, but the Financial Times has previously reported that Whitehall insiders said housing secretary Micheal Gove is in favour of an “interventionist approach” - whereby Homes England would be given a “more activist” status by purchasing and clearing land for development. Gove is also reportedly pushing for plans for a series of “transformational” housing-led urban regeneration projects across the country.