Investment zones will create ‘slums of the future’, planning experts say

The Government’s proposed investment zones will deliver the “slums of the future” and do little to boost growth, planning experts have warned.

Richard Vaughan inews.co.uk 

Liz Truss has championed the creation of the “full fat freeports” in 38 different parts of the country as part of her “supply side reforms” to fuel growth in the economy.

But deep concerns over the plans have begun to emerge after the bidding process was opened earlier this week, which risks creating 38 different sets of planning regimes across the country.

According to the Government’s own guidance, authorities that are successful at the expression of interest stage will then work with officials on their plans, “including agreeing the specific tax incentives, planning liberalisation, and wider support for the local economy”.

But Hugh Ellis, policy director at the Town and Country Planning Association, said the plans will create “total chaos”.

“There will be real world consequences to scrapping planning regulations in these areas. It will mean developers scrapping affordable housing and flood protections. It will mean ditching habitat and other environmental protections,” he said.

“But above all, it just wont work. They’ve tried this before and it made no difference to growth. All it will do is create slums of the future because if you leave planning to the developers, it just leads to slums.”

The Government’s investment zones policy bears a striking resemblance to the 38 enterprise zones, which were introduced by the Thatcher government between 1981 and 1996.

In an Office for Budget Responsibility’s (OBR) fiscal forecast report published in October 2021, the watchdog said the economic effects of enterprise zones and freeports would “probably be difficult to discern even in retrospect”.

The OBR report also stated: “More broadly, experience of enterprise zones around the world points to little difference in performance between cities with zones and those without, with stronger determinants of performance being existing infrastructure and transportation links.”

i understands there is still disagreement within the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) as to the size of the new zones, meaning it is unclear whether they will be on the scale of industrial estates or entire sub-regions.

There are also concerns that the new proposals could allow development on environmentally protected sites, sites of special scientific interest and even national parks, although Levelling Up Secretary Simon Clarke attempted to placate fears of development on the latter this week at the Tory conference.

The CPRE, the countryside charity, warned the proposals looked similar to the planning reforms introduced by Boris Johnson that sought to strip out local consent and sparked a backbench rebellion and the loss of Chesham and Amersham to the Liberal Democrats.

Paul Miner, acting director of campaigns and policy at the CPRE, said the investment zones may succeed if they took into account local plans if the plans have gone through local consent. But, he warned: “If these areas are foisted on communities as a fait accomplis, then people will have real concerns.”

A DLUHC spokeswoman said: “Investment zones will drive growth by incentivising businesses to start, grow, and innovate by cutting taxes and restrictive red tape that hinders development.

“They will not be imposed by Government and will only be in areas where there is demand and need. This will bring much needed investment, quality jobs, higher wages and housing that local communities want and need.”

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