On Friday 23rd September, Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng delivered a mini-budget which suggests that the pursuit of economic growth is only possible at the expense of our natural and cultural heritage. The priorities focus on streamlining ‘a whole host of assessments, appraisals, consultations, endless duplications, and regulations’ seen as ‘planning restrictions and EU-derived laws that constrain our growth’
Key proposals outlined in the ‘Growth Plan’ https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-growth-plan-2022-documents/the-growth-plan-2022-html#growth include further restricting the planning process for national infrastructure projects by ‘reducing the burden of environmental assessments’. This is yet another outright attack on the system of checks and balances in place that has long recognised the fundamental importance of natural and cultural heritage. This section also specifically threatens the Judicial Review process in relation to major road infrastructure, which would for example have reduced examination of the Stonehenge Tunnel proposal.
Within the Agriculture section of the Plan, it states: ‘The government will rapidly review frameworks for regulation, innovation, and investment that impact farmers and land managers in England’. While details are unknown, it is likely that the previous Cabinet’s commitment to reforming agricultural grants to make them more dependent on environmental outcomes is to be scrapped in favour of grants for productivity – a recipe for environmental disaster in the countryside.
Other specific proposals around deregulating planning are the ‘Investment Zones’, which appear as yet another extension for specific areas to be given deregulated status for development. So far some 38 local authorities have expressed interest in this concept; these areas are in addition to the already proposed Freeports.
All areas mentioned above will include parts of our historic environment (e.g. archaeology, buildings and landscapes). Removing proper systems of assessment will lead to damage and destruction of both the natural and the historic environment, and greatly increase the risks for unexpected discoveries and potential disruption during development.
On Monday 26th September, the Government issued a follow-up statement issued, stating: ‘Cabinet Ministers will announce further supply side growth measures in October and early November, including changes to the planning system, business regulations, childcare, immigration, agricultural productivity, and digital infrastructure’. RESCUE will continue to scrutinise all relevant announcements and respond robustly.
Sustainability is dependent on protecting natural and cultural heritage, understanding the past via archaeology, and realising their crucial role for priority concerns such as food and water security, biodiversity, wellbeing, and health. Government proposals have shown an utter disregard for long-term transformative solutions to support nature, culture and communities. It is yet another reckless and myopic step, and we will continue to raise our voice in opposition, alongside our nature colleagues (RSPB, National Trust, Wildlife Trust) with whom we stand in support and solidarity.