The National Trust has raised concerns over Government proposals it claims will “rip up critical nature protections, remove planning regulations in so-called ‘investment zones’ and review environmental farming subsidies”.
The conservation charity has urged Prime Minister Liz Truss to commit to “green” plans for growing the economy and has set out seven “red lines” it does not want Government policies to breach.
It comes after the charity’s director-general Hilary McGrady expressed concern about the Government lifting the fracking ban imposed in 2019 and possibly relaxing planning rules in new “investment zones”, The Sunday Times reported.
She is also reportedly concerned for the future of hundreds of environmental regulations, after Ms Truss’s Conservative Party conference declaration that “by the end of the year, all EU-inspired red tape will be history” raised fears.
However, a Government spokesperson said: “Claims we intend to go back on our commitment to the environment are simply not right.”
The charity said the Government must prioritise green growth, citing the “440,000 green jobs promised in the net zero strategy”, also saying that changes to existing laws must not dilute protections for the environment and heritage.
It also warns that “investment zones” must not “create grey zones devoid of nature or historic character in which people have no say about the development that impacts them” and says environmental farming should continue to be incentivised.
It has urged the Government to stick to its net zero climate and green manifesto commitments.
The National Trust claims fracking, which involves drilling into the earth to recover gas and oil from shale rock, paused in 2019 over earthquake fears, “is not the answer”.
Ms Truss appeared to suggest that environmental groups such as Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion were part of an “anti-growth coalition” during her Conservative Party conference speech on Wednesday.
Ms McGrady told The Sunday Times: “To try to demonise us as being anti-growth is just unfair and untrue. It’s a nonsense.
“We’re a reasonable organisation. We want to work with governments but it is notable that we have largely been sidelined.
“I am calling for reassurance in detail as to what they really mean they’re going to do.”
She told the paper the National Trust has “5.7 million members, many of whom are loyal Conservative voters” who are “very willing to get in behind and support a bigger campaign” to safeguard the environment.
Harry Bowell, director of land and nature at the National Trust, said: “It is a myth that we can’t grow the economy and the environment together. Far from it.
“Too often the protections that keep our magnificent ancient trees standing, our seas and rivers clean, and our wildlife from dying out completely are dismissed as red tape.
“But once these natural assets are gone, we cannot get them back.
“Instead, we should see these laws as safeguards that protect the things people care about – and that means there’s more for our children, and our children’s children, to enjoy.”
A Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to halting the decline of nature by 2030 and will not undermine our obligations to the environment in pursuit of growth.
“A strong environment and a strong economy go hand-in-hand.
“We have legislated through the Environment Act and will continue to improve our regulations and wildlife laws in line with our ambitious vision.
“We want every corner of our country to prosper too.
“Bureaucratic processes in the planning system do not necessarily protect the environment so, by making sure we have the right regulations for our nation, we can make this happen.”
They argue that “investment zones” are not being imposed by the Government, suggesting they will not be designated in national parks or protected areas but will be bound by national green belt policy, and that successful areas must agree to mitigate any environmental impacts.