The National Trust’s boss has accused Liz Truss of launching a "free-for-all" on nature by ripping up green planning laws.
Hilary McGrady, the director general of the charity, launched a scathing attack on the Government’s plans, saying it is “heading in the opposite direction” with its environmental policies.
Ms McGrady also said ministers will “squander one of the biggest Brexit opportunities for nature” if they go ahead with a rumoured return to “EU-style land subsidies” for farmers.
The head of the Trust singled out for criticism the new “investment zones” announced by Kwasi Kwarteng in the mini-budget on Friday.
Relaxing planning rules
In an attempt to encourage more building in the zones, which will be created across the country, planning laws including strict environmental protections will be relaxed.
Ms McGrady said in a statement: “The new Investment Zones represent a free-for-all for nature and heritage, yet we know that green spaces and beauty are vital to attract investment and for a good quality of life.”
However, Kwasi Kwarteng on Sunday hit back at the comments of Ms McGrady and other wildlife groups, insisting: “We’re not going to relax environmental rules”.
He told BBC One’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg: “What the Prime Minister and I are focused on is the process. Too often in this country the process just takes too long. It doesn’t mean that you change the standards, but the process of the paperwork and actually getting consents is taking too long. And that, as you’ll appreciate, is an obstacle to growth.”
In the plan for the new investment zones, the Government says it will “remove burdensome EU requirements which create paperwork and stall development but do not necessarily protect the environment”.
It is understood that this will include the relaxation of EU directives that protect newts, toads and bats from developers.
'Crucial moment' for the environment
Ms McGrady said that the changes were coming “at a crucial moment for our natural environment”.
She said that the public shared the charity’s concerns that “nature is in decline and we need bold action on climate change”, and polls show that they want the Government to go further on net zero.
“Rather than ramp up action to support our environment, this Government appears however to be heading in the opposite direction,” Ms McGrady wrote. “Environmental protections are dismissed as 'burdens', whilst investment and growth are pitted against nature and climate action. “
Ms McGrady also said that there were rumours that the new cabinet led by Liz Truss is planning to introduce EU-style subsidies.
Under the previous post-Brexit transition plans, ministers said that they would scrap the subsidies, which were paid out by the EU and made up a large proportion of farmers’ incomes.
Instead, the environment secretary announced earlier this year, farmers would be paid to restore natural habitats and rewild the countryside.
The National Trust has long been linked to the practice of rewilding and says combating climate change is one of its key ambitions.
Ms McGrady said: “A rumoured return to EU-style land subsidies will squander one of the biggest Brexit opportunities for nature, fatally undermining improvements to the nature, soil and water upon which sustainable food production depends.”
She said that in recent years the UK has “led the way” on environmental action and “it mustn't abandon this for our future's sakes”.
A Government spokesperson said: “Claims we intend to go back on our commitment to the environment are simply not right.
“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.”