Updated Oct 4, 2022

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Investment zones heavily criticised

A new scheme by the government creates investment zones where councils can make applications with "simplified planning rules".

The government are "encouraging councils to take full advantage of its offer of lower taxes and streamlined planning rules for specific sites to boost investment and development – both commercial and residential". 38 councils have been encouraged to take part in the scheme.

Worryingly, councils can apply for zones in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, (AONBs) sites of special scientific interest, (SSSIs) and green belt land. The investment zones have been strongly criticised by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust.

When applying for the zones, councils are asked which of the following land their proposed development would be on:

  • a national park;
  • an area of outstanding natural beauty;
  • a site of special scientific interest, or equivalent designation;
  • the buffer zone of a world heritage site;
  • designated green belt.

Although the government site claims "maintaining high environmental outcomes and keeping national Green Belt protections in place" is a priority, there is little detail on how this will be done.

At the end of the expression of interest form, councils are only asked "in principle, do you agree to require mitigation, either on or off site, of any environmental impacts of the proposed Investment Zone development?", which must then be answered with a simple yes, or no.

The RSPB tweeted: "Make no mistake, we are angry. This Government has today launched an attack on nature. As of today, from Cornwall to Cumbria, Norfolk to Nottingham wildlife is facing one of the greatest threats it's faced in decades."

RSPB chief executive Beccy Speight also felt that the Government may not plan to keep many EU laws which protect wildlife, rivers, clean air and food standards after unveiling its Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022.

The Wildlife Trusts supported the RSPB on twitter and said: "Make no mistake - we are also incredibly angry. We stand with @RSPBEngland in calling out the unprecedented attack on nature launched by UK Government over the last few days. We'll be challenging this together and asking for our supporters to stand with us."

The National Trust also joined with them, adding: "We'll be working with other nature charities and supporters to defend important protections for nature long into the future."

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) defended the new investment zones and claimed:

"It is not true to claim we are attacking nature nor going back on our commitments. We have legislated through the Environment Act and will continue to improve our regulations and wildlife laws in line with our ambitious vision."

Currently the investment zones are only in England, but the government website states "the UK government wants the offer of Investment Zones to be extended across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and is working with the devolved administrations on the best way to do this".

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