Large greenfield sites part of 35 low-tax investment zone bids in England

Large greenfield sites in England have been identified in 35 councils’ applications to be part of deregulated low-tax investment zones.

Sandra Laville www.theguardian.com 

Seventy-seven areas have been identified for development in the zones, where key environmental protections and planning regulations will be relaxed to encourage fast growth, according to data gathered by an environmental campaigner.

Two councils, Stroud district council and Oxfordshire county council, have refused to take part. The Oxfordshire council leader, Liz Leffman, said the deregulation was incompatible with its net zero aspirations and commitment to protect and enhance biodiversity.

But across the country many other councils have submitted applications for the zones. There are several applications covering ports as well as commercial units and large housing developments on greenfield sites.

The government has not released any details of how many councils had expressed interest in creating low-tax zones by the deadline of 14 October.

Guy Shrubsole, an environmental campaigner, has used responses to freedom of information requests, council announcements and other data to identify 77 areas where zones could be agreed. These include 20 in Kent, four large housing sites in Gloucestershire, three areas of Dorset, three in Cornwall, and parts of Hampshire, Lancashire, Peterborough, West Midlands, Suffolk, Bedford and Plymouth. The applications include several ports.

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In Derbyshire, the areas include 300 acres of land for a major tourist resort on the outskirts of the Peak District. In Gloucestershire, one application includes plans for 10,000 homes on a greenfield site at Tewkesbury.

Kent Wildlife Trust said 17 protected wildlife sites in the county could lose environmental protections if the zones allow developers to bypass environmental regulations.

Evan Bowen-Jones, the chief executive of Kent Wildlife Trust, said: “Nature isn’t an optional extra, it’s a must if people are going to thrive. Restoring nature and producing our food with less chemicals will help combat climate change, help our economy, and give our children a healthier future. We must not let this government take us backwards at this critical point in time, when we still have a chance to prevent irreversible damage to society.”

In Hampshire, the New Forest national park authority has said it will not accept investment zones in the area.

“In our role as the sole statutory planning authority for the New Forest national park area, the authority does not support the principle of investment zone designation for sites within the national park due to the incompatibility of a liberalised planning approach with the high level of protection afforded to the national park,” the authority said this month.

There is no ban on creating an investment zone in a national park, site of special scientific interest or areas of outstanding natural beauty. Government guidelines only ask councils to identify if their zones overlap these areas.

There is no limit to the number of investment zones councils can apply for. There are also reports of concern within the Treasury at the reduction in tax receipts from the zones, which contain projects that were going ahead anyway.

Councils have only received meagre details of how the investment zones will work. Cllr Tony Ferrari, of Dorset council, said: “We have received only limited detail so far from government about how investment zones will work. Our expressions of interest do not represent a commitment by government or by Dorset council. We await further detail from government so we can assess the potential pros and cons of an investment zone before making any formal commitment following council processes.”

Analysis by the Woodland Trust found the zones could put ancient woodlands at risk.

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said further details on the zones would be released in due course.

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