UK countryside, somewhere in the Midlands

Economic growth must not come at cost to environment, National Trust says

Image credit: Magda V | Unsplash

The National Trust has expressed concern that government proposals to grow the economy by removing various environmental protections will come at ‘wholesale’ cost to the environment.

In the mini-budget announced in September, the government announced the creation of investment zones -  areas identified in England where planning rules will be loosened in order to release more land for commercial and housing developments.

Other plans include a review of farming subsidies designed to encouraged better environmental practices from the sector.

The National Trust said that many of the new proposals would get rid of “critical” nature protections that are “too easily dismissed as ‘red tape’”.

It added that long-term economic growth should be rooted in green jobs, sustainable food production, clean energy and protected nature, heritage, and outdoor space.

It said that while simplifying regulations was welcome, there is a difference between ‘red tape’ and crucial protections that safeguard the wildlife, landscapes and buildings.

The charity has set out a series of ‘red lines’ that it says cannot afford to be lost in upcoming policy announcements.

This includes a prioritisation of green growth – including the 440,000 green jobs promised in the government's Net Zero Strategy – and that new farm payments will maintain the same level of commitment to reward farmers for public benefits such as cleaner rivers, healthier soils and protecting the UK’s cultural heritage.

It said that any changes brought about must not adversely affect environmental commitments made in the Conservative party's 2019 general election manifesto, such as protecting 30 per cent of the UK’s land for nature by 2030. It also criticised Prime Minister Liz Truss’s decision to lift the ban on fracking in the UK despite the numerous and unpredictable adverse effects it can have on the local environment.

Harry Bowell, director of land and nature at the National Trust, said: “It is a myth that we can’t grow the economy and the environment together. Far from it. Healthy soils and clean water underpin sustainable food production, keeping food on our plates and providing for our next generations.

“These natural assets are also fundamental tools in making places more resilient to the shocks of climate change and in locking away carbon. And better, more plentiful green space boosts people’s health and wellbeing and lessens the burden on our already stretched NHS.

“Not forgetting the significant amounts of money generated by the tourism industry because visitors come to see our amazing heritage, nature and landscapes.”

“What we cannot have is growth at any cost. If we tarmac over green space, if we allow a planning free-for-all in our towns and cities, if we don’t invest in nature - then we put economies, livelihoods and wellbeing in danger. People need green space, they need local heritage and character, and they need a say in shaping the places where they live. We need to pursue growth with deeper roots.”

At the end of September, the Right Reverend Graham Usher, Bishop of Norwich and the Church of England’s lead bishop on the environment, said the mini-budget displayed a “recklessness with nature” and described it as “a travesty”.

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