The radical deregulation agenda being pursued (at least this week) by the Truss administration has come under intense fire from a coalition of environmental groups and charities concerned that the obsession with cutting 'red tape' and the promotion of growth at all costs will seriously undermine England's environmental and landscape protection. There's also a risk, say campaigners, that promised improvements to public access in the countryside will be scrapped.
🚨😡 As of last week, the UK Government has launched an attack on nature. We are angry and we are mobilising against these proposed plans. Please read this thread 1/7 👇 pic.twitter.com/AqgtLTVduE— RSPB (@Natures_Voice) September 26, 2022
Criticisms continue to mount over proposals to rip up nature protections, remove planning regulations in so-called "investment zones" and review the environmental farming subsidies that were supposed to be a Brexit dividend.
We cannot have a thriving economy without a thriving natural world
Within the liberalised zones planning controls will be eased, to allow for increased housebuilding and commercial development. Councils can apply to establish them even in National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, (SSSIs) or on the Green Belt.
"We believe the UK Government has launched a full-scale attack on nature – leaving wildlife unprotected by tearing up some of the most fundamental laws we've got" said environmental charity the Wildlife Trusts.
Weaker planning laws, announced late September, represent a "free-for-all" on nature, say the Trusts, risk undermining designated conservation sites, and potentially allow pollution such as sewage in rivers to continue unabated.
Joan Edwards, the director of policy for the Wildlife Trusts, said: "Pursuing unsustainable development on some of our most important sites for nature is a disgrace. We cannot have a thriving economy without a thriving natural world. This government has committed to protecting 30% of land and sea by 2030 – the minimum required to give nature a chance to recover. How can we achieve that if developers are given the green light to build all over our last strongholds for wildlife?"
There might, eventually, be a bigger pie, but who'll be taking the lion's share, and which public goods will be trashed in the process? Far from everyone gaining from the growth that this month's Prime Minister seems to be almost alone in believing will result from deregulation, conservation charity the National Trust argues that long-term benefit, economic growth and shared prosperity cannot come at 'wholesale' cost to the environment. Instead, the Trust says, it should be rooted in green jobs, sustainable food production, clean energy and protected nature, heritage, and outdoor space.
There is a difference, they insist, between 'red tape' and crucial protections that safeguard wildlife and landscapes.
"It is a myth that we can't grow the economy and the environment together" said Harry Bowell, Director of Land and Nature at the National Trust.
"Healthy soils and clean water underpin sustainable food production... 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."
The head of the National Trust, Hilary McGrady, has pledged to mobilise her 5.7 million members - many of them (until recently perhaps) Tory sympathisers in the leafy Home Counties - in a mass campaign to resist the Truss administration's agenda.
Coming hot on the heels of the bonfire of environmental protections are reports that the Government may be considering scaling back its plans for a new system of funding for farmers in England, known as Environmental Land Management (ELM). Promoted by the Conservative party as a replacement for much-maligned EU farm subsidies, and underpinned by the principle of 'public payments for public goods', ELM would pay farmers and land managers to protect and restore wildlife habitats, plant trees, improve soil health, and boost public access.
Rowing back on this 2019 manifesto commitment could spell "the end of one of the few prospects on the horizon to help more people get outdoors and connect with nature" according to the Ramblers.
"Any hint of a change in direction is a huge concern" they go on, "particularly given previous government promises that public access would be one of the public goods supported by the ELM regime."
If the so-called anti-growth environmental coalition includes such hotbeds of radicalism as the National Trust, the RSPB, and WWF, the question is if there's anyone the Government cannot alienate.