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Kwasi Kwarteng denies plans to relax environmental rules in push for growth | Environment

Kwasi Kwarteng has tried to allay concerns that ministers are planning to tear up a set of environmental regulations in their pursuit of growth, following an outcry from wildlife and greenery groups.

“We are not going to relax environmental rules,” the British chancellor told BBC One’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg show, arguing that the sole aim was to cut red tape.

“What the Prime Minister and I are focused on is the process. Too often the process in this country just takes too long. It doesn’t mean changing the standards, but the process of paperwork and actually getting permissions takes too long. And that, as you will understand, is a hindrance to growth.”

It remains to be seen whether Kwarteng’s pledges will reassure campaign groups that have reacted with anger at the apparent intention – revealed Friday in Friday’s unofficial budget – to relax environmental regulations in 38 proposed “low regulation investment zones”.

Some have also expressed concern about the apparent plan, revealed by the observerto scrap a post-Brexit plan by former environment secretary Michael Gove that would have paid farmers and landowners to improve nature.

The environmental management scheme could be replaced by a plan to simply pay landowners a fixed annual fee for every acre of land they own.

In a forcefully worded statement posted to Twitter on Friday, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in England said plans for changed rules in investment zones “may wipe out the most basic legal protections of our remaining wildlife”.

It read: “Make no mistake, we are angry. This government has launched an attack on nature today. As of today, from Cornwall to Cumbria, Norfolk to Nottingham, wildlife faces one of the greatest threats it has faced in decades.”

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In a statement on sundaythe head of the National Trust, Hilary McGrady, said it was “a pivotal moment for our natural environment”.

She wrote: “Nature is in decline and we need bold action against climate change. These concerns are shared by the public. Poll after poll shows that further ambition on net zero and nature is widely supported.

“However, instead of taking measures to support our environment, this government seems to be going in the opposite direction. Environmental protection is dismissed as a ‘burden’, while investment and growth are set against nature and climate action.

“The new investment zones represent a free-for-all for nature and heritage, but we know that green spaces and beauty are essential to attract investment and a good quality of life.

Likewise, a highly publicized return to EU-style land subsidies will squander one of nature’s biggest Brexit opportunities, fatally undermining improvements to the wildlife, soil and water on which sustainable food production depends.

“The trust will always defend the protection of nature and heritage, and we will respond fully to any proposals. The UK has been at the forefront of environmental action in recent years – from agricultural subsidy reform to Cop26. It must not give up this for the sake of our future.”

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