Shoestring manifesto (5): Practical environmentalism
In the fifth (and, for the moment, final) part of ConservativeHome's 'Shoestring manifesto' we look at ways of improving the natural environment. In the first four parts we examined action on patriotism and history, improving our democracy, fairness in media and social justice.
The environment has been a signature issue for David Cameron’s leadership of the Conservative Party. But how will his blue-green message translate into an agenda for government? Even if you leave the issue of climate change to one side, there are strong security and competitiveness grounds for renewing Britain’s ageing energy infrastructure. Obviously, this comes with a big price tag and, just as obviously, Labour didn’t mend this particular roof when the sun was shining. Unless we’re OK with the lights going out, failing to secure the necessary investment is not an option. Constructing a policy framework capable of minimising the cost to the consumer is an enormous task and somewhat beyond the scope of this shoestring manifesto, but that still leaves a number of areas where a Conservative could make an immediate cost-free impact on the environmental agenda.
Radical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy: We must press for immediate and radical reform of those twin environmental disaster zones – the CAP and the CFP. In fact, British control over both these areas should be repatriated and, where necessary, appropriate cross-border agreements negotiated on a regional basis. My fear is that this would be over Ken Clarke's dead body. When he joined Cameron's frontbench he signed up to existing European policy and no further scepticism.
Energy efficiency: The number one priority for energy policy should be energy efficiency improvements, which not only have the potential to pay for themselves and actually save money – but also address social priorities like job creation and tackling fuel poverty. The Party has already announced a widely acclaimed nationwide loan scheme for household efficiency improvements that would be paid back through energy bills from the energy savings thus made.*
Ending Whitehall's green hypocrisy: Ministers should practice what they preach on energy efficiency by sorting out their ministerial headquarters. It is little short of disgraceful that the Government estate is so energy inefficient and that the building that houses the Department of Energy and Climate Change has the lowest possible efficiency rating! If a Conservative Government wants to stop wasting taxpayers’ money, it should stop wasting energy for a start.*
Convert the green quangocracy into a traffic technology fund: Both DECC and Defra could save even more taxpayers’ money by cutting back on the plethora of quangos, agencies and advisory bodies that frequently duplicate each other’s functions and in most cases don’t actually run anything. These savings could fund a technological know how fund for using innovation to deliver better management of transport flows.
Renewed protection of the greenbelt: There needs to be a distinction made between necessary development and over-development driven by asset bubbles. A Conservative Government should make a clean break with the John Prescott bulldozer years and renew its longstanding commitment to the protection of the greenbelt and the countryside in general.
Localisation of planning decisions: A Conservative Government should return control over major planning decisions – like house building targets – to local communities. Abolishing the undemocratic IPC is a start, but a policy based on trusting people to make the responsible decisions needs to go further.(*)
An end to garden grabbing: One particular planning issue that could make an immediate difference is to stop classifying private gardens as ‘brownfield’ land. Central government would no longer have the power to impose ‘garden grab’ housing developments on unwilling communities.*
Honest food labelling: The high safety, welfare and environmental standards practised by British farmers should be protected through clear and honest country of origin labelling. Nick Herbert recently launched a campaign in this area.*
* = existing policy
(*) = existing policy up to a point.