Very much focusing on immediate and short-term issues, last week’s fiscal statement by Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng provided little in the way of reassurance for the environmental sector on medium to long-term policy aims.
In his immediate response, EIC CEO Stephen Marcos Jones said: "Business needed Government to deliver a structured plan to tackle the increasingly worrying macro-economic situation we’re facing. It has done this with a raft of measures aimed at delivering short-term growth and cutting taxes. What it has not offered is a view on how medium to longer-term investments can also support our economy back to prosperity while delivering ambitions around productivity, Net Zero and Levelling Up.”
The Chancellor’s announcements do raise some valid concerns, notably around the broader direction of travel which strongly hints at deregulation. Some members will remember that EIC helped to shape previous rules around fracking, and fears over the protection of groundwater will no doubt re-emerge in the light of its re-introduction. We hope to be able to scrutinise some of the details in due course.
Announcements around a desire to streamline the planning process for road, rail, nuclear, wind energy, hydrogen, CCS, and oil and gas projects were also shared, as were 38 investment zones across England – building on the freeport concept – where different planning rules are likely to apply. Broadly, ambitions to invest and build infrastructure quicker are to be welcome, but we await further information on how this will work in practice and how the government will balance important policies on biodiversity net gain.
Plans to shorten planning consent procedures are also outlined in the Levelling Up Bill, with the introduction of Environmental Outcome Reports (EOR) earmarked to replace both Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEA). Initial concerns have been raised about the future of EIAs, particularly as they underpin many other environmental protections. The current descriptions in the draft legislation are rudimentary and we hope to see more detail when the revision to the NPPF is announced in late October and how the political ambitions shared in last week’s statement may impact this.
Philippa Spence, MD of Ramboll UK, and EIC Advisory Board member, was cautious in her response to the fiscal statement: “The commitment to reform the planning process risks unwinding key environmental protections unless these are retained. The planning system does need reform, but not at the cost of our environment, already one of the most biodiversity depleted in Europe. The government must seek to achieve efficiency and environmental enhancement simultaneously.”
“Kwasi Kwarteng promised to ‘unleash the power of the private sector’ and enable growth through a number of measures including tax cuts. To truly unleash the potential of industries supporting the green energy transition will also require clear policy signals that this is a long-term commitment, such as enabling onshore wind rather than resurrecting fracking. We have one of the best green energy opportunities globally and there is no doubt that with the right support, it will generate significant growth.”
EIC members were sent an exclusive member briefing via email last Friday (23 September). Please get in touch with the membership team if you missed out and would like a copy.