join donate discuss

Association of Green Councillors statement on Investment Zones fully supported by D&D Greens.

We desperately need investment in our local communities to insulate our homes and workplaces, to provide local jobs for local people, to provide clean and cheap renewable energy and to recover our depleted nature and weakening food systems. Our areas have crumbling services, from social care to local public transport.

Locally agreed investment priorities, with the right incentives, could begin a green transformation of our country and support the foundational economy in our areas, without extracting wealth to corporations based in tax havens. As many nature charities say, environmental recovery, environmental monitoring and investment in natural infrastructure should be key tenets in local investment.

Instead the government has brought forward plans that could see predatory developers and landowners riding rough-shod over agreed local priorities, further damaging our already degraded environments, and reducing commitments to affordable homes and to community facilities. These plans, rather than boosting local economies, could be a threat to existing sustainable businesses.

What are Investment Zones?

‘Investment Zones’ are a core element in the Tory ‘Growth Plan’, heralded by the now unravelling mini-budget. According to the Government “Investment Zones will accelerate the housing and infrastructure the UK needs to drive economic growth.”

Below we unpick this dangerous attack on the environment, on local democracy and on sustainable local economies, by looking at what the government has announced, and what this will mean.

Attack on Nature

The guidance states that the aim is to “remove burdensome EU requirements”. These include Habitats Regulations and the requirement to provide an Environmental Impact Assessment, key tools in protecting nature during the planning process. Even worse, the guidance seems to allow for Investment Zones in National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and other protected environments (3.4 in Expressions of Interest Guidance). The stated expectation to  'mitigate environmental impacts' fails to meet the government's own - already weak - 'biodiversity net gain' requirement outside investment zones.

No wonder the major environmental protection organisations have called into question the Government's commitment to its own legal target to halt the decline of wildlife by 2030.

Ignoring the climate emergency

The legal requirement to achieve Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050 through a series of carbon targets has been completely ignored. The guidance states that “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” will apply, but it is silent on climate change commitments. The stated intention is to “accelerate” development. To do so without explicit carbon commitments is reckless in the extreme.

Attack on local decision making

“The planning system will not stand in the way of investment and development”. Investment Zones “will benefit from a liberalised planning process”. This clearly means that local communities will lose their rights to resist unsustainable development. Instead, developers will get to by-pass local objections entirely. These objections are often on environmental grounds.

Councils spend years developing a ‘Local Plan’ that identifies where development can, and cannot, take place. The government wants to allow Investment Zones in places councils have rejected.

By scattering Investment Zones across the country, they will have a chilling effect on planning everywhere. Developers will insist they can’t compete against IZs without looser regulation outside the zones too.

Less cash for communities, less affordable housing

“We will… focus developer contributions on essential infrastructure requirements”

Current rules ensure developers contribute funds for local facilities, helping Councils to provide school places, recreation, sustainable travel options and other community needs. In their place, the government ”will consider” providing grants, but it is clear these too will have to be shown to support ‘growth’.

House builders will avoid locally agreed requirements for affordable housing, meaning many local families, key workers and those facing homelessness will continue to be left behind. Government “will consider” financing councils to “regenerate derelict and empty housing”.

In both cases this could see a transfer of power away from District Councils.

A threat to local businesses

“Sites… could benefit from a range of time-limited tax incentives over 10 years.”

Tax breaks to developers will reduce funds for public services while undercutting local firms, poaching valuable staff, and threatening the viability of the local economy.   

What can be done?

‘Expressions of Interest’ documents are being invited from Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCA) and Upper Tier Local Authorities (UTLA) - County and Unitary Councils. The deadline for these is 14th October. They are expected to have ‘in principle’ agreement from the Local Planning Authority – often the District Council. This can simply be in the form of a statement by the council leader.

The Expressions of Interest document asks: “Do you agree in principle to ensure outstanding planning matters impeding early delivery are brought to resolution to an accelerated timetable (enabling additional delivery within the next two years)?” It later asks for confirmation that “you will agree in principle to using a new streamlined overarching planning system”. In both cases there is no room for discussion; to quote; ‘this is a Yes/No answer”!

Green councillors can’t possibly support a Yes answer to these questions. As Green Councillor Bridget Petty in North Somerset puts it; “This Government is a train wreck. We don’t have to go along with their train-wrecking schemes’.

We call on council leaders to:

  • Make plain their commitment to local control of planning.
  • Make plain that they will continue to insist on existing environmental protections and nature recovery rules – as a minimum.

Where council leaders insist on submitting ‘Expressions of Interest’ forms, we call on them to declare that they will:

  •  Not accept a reduction in affordable housing as a percentage of overall development in their area.
  • Refuse to provide a simple ‘Yes’ to the question “Do you agree in principle to ensure outstanding planning matters impeding early delivery are brought to resolution to an accelerated timetable (enabling additional delivery within the next two years)?”
  • Refuse to provide a simple ‘Yes’ to the request to “confirm whether you will agree in principle to using a new streamlined overarching planning system”.