A senior councillor has played down fears that the creation of one of the government’s flagship ‘investment zones’ in Norfolk will damage the county’s precious natural environments.

Paul Claussen, Tory deputy leader on Breckland Council, told the authority's Labour opposition leader Terry Jermy that there was little reason to fear the zone's impact on Norfolk's habitats.

The zones - which were a key policy pledge made by Liz Truss during her bid to become prime minister - are set to be placed in up to 38 places across the country, and will be designed to spur economic growth.

Businesses at the heart of each zone will enjoy lower taxes and lighter regulation, with planning laws also set to be relaxed on the outer edge of the zones, to encourage house-building.

It was revealed last month that Norfolk is among the places invited to create one, and there has been speculation that the chosen location could be a swathe of land in the so-called Cambridge-Norwich Tech Corridor, encompassing towns like Wymondham, Attleborough and Thetford.

But fears have mounted in recent weeks from environmental organisations concerned about whether protections to local habitats will be watered down in the areas chosen.

The RSPB, which has a million members, has labelled the idea an "unprecedented attack on nature" that could "silence the dawn chorus".

And at a Breckland Council meeting on Thursday, October 6, those fears were mentioned by Mr Jermy.

“One of the proposals is to ‘minimise the burden of environmental assessments’,” he said, referring to separate government plans to speed up the delivery of infrastructure.

He asked Mr Claussen: “Could you confirm which assessments the government deems unnecessary and are the likes of the BTO [British Trust for Ornithology, based in Thetford] and RSPB right to be concerned about the government’s approach to the environment?”

Mr Claussen said the specifics of how the zones will work had not yet been released, but that from his time at the Tory party conference, he could give his assurance that protecting the environment was “absolutely in the front and centre” of his party’s policies in government.

He said: “The number of stands that were dedicated to the environment, and going forward from different fuels, different ways of doing things, it was quite amazing.

“Certainly the amount of fringe events that were dedicated to environmental issues, I don’t think you’ve got [any reason to have] fears.”

The Brecks - A unique landscape

If Norfolk's investment zone is planned for the A11 corridor, as has been rumoured, then there is a possibility that part of the zone could cover - or come close to - the Brecks.

A unique landscape home to a range of special protection areas (SPAs) and special areas of conservation (SACs), the Brecks covers an area of land around Thetford and Brandon.

Wymondham & Attleborough Mercury: The Brecks are a unique landscape, located in the area surrounding Thetford and BrandonThe Brecks are a unique landscape, located in the area surrounding Thetford and Brandon (Image: Archant)

In a recent report, the Guardian claimed to have found documents showing that some of the investment zones could go in protected landscapes, including national parks, but the government said this was “completely inaccurate”.

In recent months there have been calls for the Brecks to receive greater recognition, with Norfolk County Council, Suffolk County Council, and Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman all calling for it to be recognised as a ‘national landscape’ - on a par with the Norfolk Coast AONB and the Broads National Park.