The Habitats Regulations, which were brought in by a Conservative Government in 1994 in order to implement the European Habitats Directive, ensure major developments do not destroy our most important wildlife sites.
In his autumn budget statement the chancellor bemoaned the burden of 'endless social and environmental goals' on industry and described the Habitats Regulations as a 'ridiculous cost on British business', claiming that they amounted to 'gold plating' on European legislation. Defra is now set to carry out a review of the regulations.
He also failed to rule out the development of an airport in the Thames Estuary saying the Government would look at all options for a new airport hub, except a third runway at Heathrow.
The chancellor's attack on vital environmental regulation is below the belt and shows how short-sighted his policy for growth is.
These regulations have been in place for 17 years and they have not been a brake on development. Many large scale projects have gone ahead in that time and this legislation has ensured that they have not trashed some of the most important wildlife sites in Europe.
The Davidson report carried out in 2006 looked at the claim that the Government had goldplated European legislation, and found there was no case to answer.
Clearly the chancellor believes that he can bring about a quick fix of the economy by allowing unrestrained growth to trample over our precious natural environment.
Does his failure to rule out a new airport in the Thames Estuary signal a U-turn in the policy not to support such a development? This would be an act of environmental vandalism and would further undermine the Government's commitment to a low carbon future.
The Treasury's plan is a simple one - let's build our way out of recession. This marks the biggest backward step in environmental and planning policy for a generation and would simply serve as a short-term economic sticking plaster on a problem which requires a long-term plan for effective, sustainable growth.
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