Government documents show zones with ‘liberalised’ planning laws could get the go-ahead even in the most environmentally protected areas.
Details of the government’s new zones to increase housebuilding and commercial development councils can apply for zones in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) and on green belt land.
The documents say the investment zones, which are being organised by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, will benefit from the following:
“planning liberalisation”, remove “planning matters impeding delivery”, and will be “streamlining the planning system”.
Investment zones with “liberalised” planning laws to accelerate development could be designated within national parks, and in the most environmentally protected areas of the UK, including those in Waverley, government documents reveal.
However, it better be quick if ‘Your Waverley’ wants to fill in the request form. The deadline for councils to apply to host an investment zone is 14 October. The government says the zones “will benefit from tax incentives, planning liberalisation and wider support for the local economy” and will be granted after a “rapid” selection process.
The WW believes this could be described as bribery in the best of circles or a bung in others!
Councils applying for the zones are asked: “For each proposed investment zone, please provide details about whether the proposed development would be on land which is in:
- 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.
The document states:
“Key planning policies to ensure developments are well designed, maintain national policy on the green belt, protect our heritage and address flood risk, highway and other public safety matters along with building regulations will continue to apply.”
Councils will also have to answer one question, with a yes or no, on whether they agree to mitigate the environmental impacts of the investment zone and have to agree to accept…
“a streamlined overarching planning system within the zones.”
There is no mention of environmental constraints on building in protected habitats under the habitat regulations, which provide protections for some of the most vulnerable habitats and wildlife in a network across England. This includes the Special Protection Area (SPA) around Farnham.
The Thames Basin Heaths SPA covers an area of 8,275 ha across Hampshire (the former county of) Berkshire and Surrey. It is part of a complex of heathlands in Southern England that support important populations of breeding birds, including the Dartford Warbler, Nightjar and Woodlark. More general information on SPAs is available from Natural England.
Only a small part of the SPA (about 80 ha) lies within Waverley, north of Farnham. There is, however, a “Zone of Influence” around the SPA within which measures are required to avoid adverse impacts on its conservation interests. This ‘buffer zone extends from 400 metres to 5 km from the perimeter of the SPA and covers most of the built-up area of Farnham.
The regulations also aim to prevent water pollution from excessive nitrates and phosphates, for example, from sewage discharges and ensure that new developments do not lead to over-abstraction of water from rivers.
Richard Benwell, the chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said the documents showed environmental protections being removed and downgraded. He said that they also went against the government’s proposals to make every new development provide a “net gain” for nature.
“There are countless examples of where mitigation is simply inappropriate or ineffective. You can’t mitigate for the loss of ancient woodland or wetland. In many cases, supposed mitigation simply fails. Sometimes, you simply have to say nowhere precious nature is at risk. The false philosophy that everything can be traded or replaced would be seriously damaging for nature,” he said.
“If large swathes of the country were made investment zones where environmental planning rules were weakened, all the government’s hopes of reversing the decline of nature could be dashed.”