Growth Plan: Tories set to weaken environmental requirements for developers
The UK Government has confirmed plans to publish a ‘Growth Plan’ on Friday (23 September), detailing measures for lower taxes and cuts to regulation. It has stated that environmental assessment requirements will be dialled back for property and infrastructure developers.
The Growth Plan will be unveiled by new Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, who is expected to deliver it alongside the so-called Mini Budget, an emergency budget, in the early afternoon.
At this stage, the Treasury has confirmed that the Plan will establish 38 new ‘Investment Zones’ across England, spearheaded by local councils. Similarly to Freeports, Investment Zones will be able to offer local incentives designed to encourage businesses to set up there, or to expand if they are already there.
In Investment Zones, businesses will be able to pay lower rates of tax for a limited time. The Government will also relax planning rules in these areas – including, the Treasury has confirmed, environmental requirements for developers.
The Treasury has stated that local leaders in all 38 selected local areas in England are supporting the Investment Zone initiative. It has confirmed plans to work with devolved administrations to establish similar Zones in other parts of the UK.
Outside of Investment Zones, the Treasury will detail plans to speed up the planning process for nationally significant infrastructure projects such as roads, railways and energy generation projects. Environmental assessments, once more, are due to be trimmed down, including regulation on biodiversity.
The Treasury has emphasised how these changes could help speed up the development of offshore wind farms and nuclear energy projects, but it is doubtful that the package will be well-received by the green economy due to its potential impact on biodiversity and water quality. The Telegraph has been told that the Government is set to relax rules on nutrient neutrality, which mean that planning permission should be denied for developments that could result in increased phosphate and nitrate levels in water.
Green Alliance’s executive director Shaun Spiers tweeted: “The Government should think again before ripping up planning rules that protect nature. Quite apart from the damage it will cause, it’s highly unlikely to result in more homes overall – just more homes in the wrong places.”
Friends of the Earth’s head of policy Mike Childs called the proposals “deeply worrying”. Childs said: “The Chancellor is treating economic growth and environmental protection as mutually exclusive, but they’re not. It’s this tired thinking that is driving the energy, climate and ecological crises we’re facing. We really needed this budget to ease the cost of living emergency, restore nature and cut the emissions that cause climate change, but it totally fails on all counts.”
Green economy representatives have also voiced concerns about a new Bill tabled by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, which will pave the way for some of the EU regulation transcribed into UK law to be removed by the end of 2023. Other laws will be removed through to 2026.
Greener UK’s Ruth Chambers tweeted that the Bill could “derail” environmental priorities across a “wide scope” of issues. She expressed concern about the lack of public consultation on the Government’s approach to deregulation post-Brexit.