Conservationists’ mounting concern with the Government’s new growth agenda shows no sign of abating despite reassurances that its proposed liberalisation of planning and regulatory regimes will not affect areas protected for nature.


Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget in late September prompted the RSPB to issue statements warning that wildlife in England, and in time the rest of the UK, was facing the greatest threats it has had to cope with in decades.

“What the Government has proposed potentially tears up the most fundamental legal protections our wildlife has,” the RSPB tweeted. “If they carry out their plans, nowhere will be safe.”

Its alarm was largely prompted by Kwarteng’s plans for special areas – dubbed Investment Zones (IZs) – where developments would be subject to less strenuous processes in order to obtain permission to proceed.

A map produced by the RSPB showed that those local authorities already selected to trial the scheme also contained some of Britain’s most highly protected sites – Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs).

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Government documentation for local authorities who want to set up IZs suggested that they could consider locating these zones in SACs, SPAs, national parks and other protected areas, though the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has repeatedly denied this.

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“The expression of interest form asks about whether a site is in a national park or other protected area precisely to prevent IZs being designated in these areas,” it said.

But Richard Benwell, chief executive of Wildlife & Countryside Link (WCL), a coalition of wildlife conservation groups, said it was not clear what the rules would be for protected sites.

And he added that the Government had set out its intention for reform of protection for SACs and SPAs – now called the national site network – to put them on the same level as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

“Developments on or nearby the national site network that would cause significant adverse affect may not go ahead, except for imperative reasons of over-riding public interest,” Benwell said. “In contrast, there is discretion for local authorities to say that developments on a SSSI can go ahead.”

On 12th October, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that "We are going to deliver economic growth in an environmentally friendly way." However, conservationists are still waiting for details of how this will abate their fears.


Main image: protesters at the 2022 Conservative Party Conference. © Mike Kemp/Getty


James FairWildlife journalist