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Press release

‘Green, not grey’: National Trust calls on Government to put environment at root of growth plans

View down to autumn coloured trees and fields spread out beyond at the Clent Hills near Birmingham
The Clent Hills, near Birmingham, in autumn | © Rob Ledbury

The National Trust has today called on the Government to commit to a “green, not grey” growth agenda, as concerns continue to rise over proposals to rip up critical nature protections, remove planning regulations in so-called “investment zones” and review environmental farming subsidies.

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister set out her plans for growing the economy, and said that, despite changes to come, “everyone will benefit from the result”.

But the conservation charity is warning that for true, long-term benefit, economic growth and shared prosperity must not come at ‘wholesale’ cost to the environment. Instead, the Trust says, it should be rooted in green jobs, sustainable food production, clean energy and protected nature, heritage, and outdoor space.

The Trust also said that while simplifying regulations was welcome, there was a difference between ‘red tape’ and crucial protections that safeguard the wildlife, landscapes and buildings that matter to people.

It has set out a series of seven ‘red lines’ that it says cannot afford to be lost in upcoming Government policies:

1. The government should prioritise green growth (including the 440,000 green jobs promised in the Net Zero Strategy)

2. Any changes to existing laws must not water down critical protections for the environment and heritage

3. New 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

4. New farm payments must keep the same level of commitment to reward farmers for public goods, from cleaner rivers to healthier soils and protecting our cultural heritage

5. Government should listen and collaborate with the public, as well as conservation charities, farming groups, businesses and others who can inform decision making on what they propose

6. Any changes to Government and its agencies must not adversely affect their ability to deliver on manifesto commitments, such as protecting 30% of the UK’s land for nature by 2030

7. The Government must stay true to its net zero legal obligation and strategy - but fracking is not the answer

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. Healthy soils and clean water underpin sustainable food production, keeping food on our plates and providing for our next generations. These natural assets are also fundamental tools in making places more resilient to the shocks of climate change and in locking away carbon. And better, more plentiful green space boosts people’s health and wellbeing and lessens the burden on our already stretched NHS.

“Not forgetting the significant amounts of money generated by the tourism industry because visitors come to see our amazing heritage, nature and landscapes.”

“What we cannot have is growth at any cost. If we tarmac over green space, if we allow a planning free-for-all in our towns and cities, if we don’t invest in nature - then we put economies, livelihoods and wellbeing in danger. People need green space, they need local heritage and character, and they need a say in shaping the places where they live. We need to pursue growth with deeper roots.”

A view of the inner walls of The Roundhouse across the interior courtyard on a sunny day
The courtyard at The Roundhouse | © National Trust Images/Paul Harris

The Trust cited its recent investment in The Roundhouse in Birmingham as an example of why nature and historical character is good for growth, not in opposition. Working jointly with the Canal and River Trust, the charity has revamped the historic Roundhouse building, making the most of its historic character and access to nature via the canal. Its rental units have proved attractive to local businesses, who want quality of life, not just grey development.

Likewise, just outside, the Trust is working with the National Lottery Heritage Fund to support Birmingham’s parks and green spaces as part of its Future Parks programme. Research carried out as part of this work shows that for every pound spent on green spaces, the local economy benefits many times over, as the area becomes healthier and more attractive for investment.

The charity also said vital protections were too easily dismissed as ‘red tape’.

Harry said: “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 need 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.”