Boris Johnson’s moves to deregulate parts of the planning system will lower environmental standards and afford the British countryside and its wildlife even less protection, leading environmental groups have warned.
The prime minister last week set out his plans to rejuvenate the British economy with a “build, build, build” strategy, including the acceleration of £5bn worth of infrastructure projects.
In his speech on job creation, in which the prime minister compared himself to US president Franklin D Roosevelt who presided over a huge building boom following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Mr Johnson said he wanted to put jobs and infrastructure at the centre of the plans for rebuilding the economy.
In April, the UK economy shrunk by a record 20.4 per cent due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown.
But Mr Johnson alarmed environmental groups by claiming environmental assessments are responsible for holding up housebuilding, and he has promised the “most radical changes” to the planning system since the Second World War.
“Newt-counting delays are a massive drag on the prosperity of this country,” the prime minister said.
Now, organisations, including the National Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Wildlife Trusts have warned that wide-scale deregulation in planning which leads to lower environmental standards would be a betrayal of the government’s promise to deliver a “green Brexit”.
In a letter to The Observer, the organisations said: “The government has repeatedly pledged to maintain high environmental standards. It appears, however, that important laws to protect the environment are now at risk.”
“There are rumours of deregulatory measures, including those that weaken laws to protect habitats and wildlife.”
The letter also points out that changes to planning permissions could anger the government’s core voter base.
They added: “Countless reviews, including those commissioned by the government, have shown that environmental laws guide good development when implemented well. There is no public appetite for deregulation, with 93 per cent of Conservative voters wanting to maintain or strengthen protections for habitats and wildlife.”
After David Cameron campaigned for office on a green platform in 2010, but then later said he wanted to ditch the “green crap”, and tried to overhaul planning regulations, he faced outrage among Conservatives – particularly those in rural areas – with even the Telegraph launching its “Hands off our Land” campaign against the reforms.
The letter urges Mr Johnson to “bolster environmental protection by dispelling rumours of deregulation” and to bring forward the delayed environment bill so environmental laws can be enforced in the aftermath of Brexit.
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