Liz Truss's investment zones 'under review' as Michael Gove draws red line on environment

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has told Sky News that he is reviewing Liz Truss's investment zones, saying anything which might undermine the environment is "out".

In last month's mini-budget, the-then chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng laid out plans to heavily reduce taxes on businesses and relax planning rules in at least 38 local authorities, dubbed "investment zones".

The announcement sparked widespread concern from environmental charities and groups that crucial protections which safeguard wildlife, landscapes, and buildings, could be ripped up.

Asked by Sky's Sophie Ridge on Sunday if the zones - a key part of Ms Truss's plan for growth - are going ahead, Mr Gove said: "I'm reviewing them."

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Mr Gove added: "We need to make sure that any change that we make is one which of course helps to support economic growth and good jobs for people, but also one of the concerns raised about investment zones was the impact on the environment.

"I've been very clear and the prime minister has been very clear that under no circumstances will we weaken environmental protections."

Ms Truss had said her investment zones would help level up the country by spurring investment in regions outside London.

Mr Gove said he will be looking closely at her proposals alongside the chancellor Jeremy Hunt, prime minister Rishi Sunak and environment secretary Therese Coffey but insisted: "Anything that might in any way undermine environmental protections is out."

Gove 'sorry' for Liz Truss premiership

Mr Gove also told Sophy Ridge that he was sorry about the Conservatives installing Liz Truss as their leader.

Asked whether he would like to apologise for the damage caused by her policies, he said he would.

"I think we made a mistake, we took the wrong turn."

He said the mini-budget had "contained a number of false steps" and that it was "wrong to proceed with tax cuts without saying how they are going to be paid for".

And, referring to Rishi Sunak's comments during his leadership campaign against Liz Truss - in which he described her policies as a "fairytale" - Mr Gove says the current prime minister has been "vindicated".

On Friday, Ms Coffey said she did not feel as though she owed the public an apology for the economic turmoil caused by Ms Truss's disastrous mini-budget.

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Levelling Up: Areas with high levels of deprivation suffered the most from austerity

With the government now looking to plug a multi-billion pound black hole in the UK's finances, there are questions on what this means for levelling up.

The leader of Bradford Council has said it was "heart-breaking" to hear Mr Sunak talk about diverting funding from "deprived urban areas" towards other towns.

Raising the comments made by Mr Sunak during the August Tory leadership race in an interview with Sophy Ridge, Labour councillor Susan Hinchcliffe said: "That was heart-breaking to hear that actually, because I do think the government should be really honest about the levelling up agenda and mean it."

She said her council has a plan and wants to create a new train station to improve transport links and create thousands of jobs, but it needs a government that "believes in investing alongside us".

She said she hoped the reappointment of Mr Gove, an experienced cabinet minister, could "open doors" for places like Bradford - one of the most deprived areas of the country.

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Mr Gove returned as levelling up secretary under new PM Mr Sunak last week, only four months after being sacked by Boris Johnson.

During the interview, he admitted the Tories have not done enough to level up the country, despite this being a flagship pledge in their 2019 manifesto.

The admission came after he was pointed to a Bloomberg report in June which found most areas identified as needing levelling going up are in fact going backwards.

Mr Gove said this is "all powerful evidence of why it's more important than ever that we level up", although he acknowledged this has become "more difficult" due to COVID and inflation.

Asked if the government has not managed to meet its 2019 manifesto promise of levelling up, Mr Gove said: "We have made progress but it's not enough, you are absolutely right."

The cabinet minister said he wants there to be more investment in regions that have been less productive - the North, Midlands, and South West - and said local leaders should be given the "power to make a difference".