Europe is the ‘elephant in the room’ in our energy debate

Luke Major

Energy has dominated politics for the last few months and the Prime Minister hopes to counter Ed Miliband’s price freeze pledge by rolling back the green levies that contribute to rising bills. Both offers have very little credibility, in my opinion, for a reason that few of our politicians want to talk about. The bottom line is that when it comes to energy prices, both Party leaders’ hands are tried – somewhat willingly – by our links to the European Union.

Although energy policy remains under Member States’ control, the EU’s commitment to becoming the world’s leader in economic decarbonisation exerts pressure on Britain. For example, Mr. Miliband’s 2008 Climate Change Act commits our government to reducing the country’s carbon emissions to at least 80% lower than 1990s-levels by 2050 and can be seen as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the EU’s decarbonisation mission. These legally binding targets are being pursued at an astronomical cost to British taxpayer, cutting off our access to cheap energy by closing down coal-fired power stations and focusing on using heavily subsidised renewable energy instead. Such radical changes were never going to come cheap.

These legally binding targets, which all the major parties agreed with at the time, have caused energy prices to soar for homeowners and businesses alike – pushing more and more people into ‘fuel poverty’. Depressingly, it has been estimated that electricity prices have increased by 17% in the last four years and could rise another 41% by 2040 as further measures within the Climate Change Act come into effect. This reflects well neither on Labour nor the Tories – both of which, despite the posturing, do not seem to be able to do much about it. A cynical person might think that Mr. Miliband has sought to lay the blame at energy companies (whose profits per year average at a quite normal 5-6%) to deflect attention away from his own role in inflating prices. He may also think Mr. Cameron is seeking to distinguish himself from the green-friendly Liberal Democrats to make himself a more viable option to UKIP voters who share Nigel Farage’s scepticism about man-made climate change.

However pressing you might think it is that we continue with decarbonisation, the needs of those who are already struggling with fuel bills will not be met with cheap gimmicks, especially if energy bills do indeed continue to rise. There is a reasonable political and moral case on top of the economic one, for the Prime Minister to include a more ‘laissez-faire’ attitude towards energy policy in any future re-structuring of our relationship with Europe. As already stated, although energy is under Member States’ control, our international reputation depends on us being on song with the EU’s carbon reduction plan – otherwise we could simply ignore all these targets as the enforcement mechanisms barely hold up to scrutiny.

With regards to specifics, the European Commission has stated that it wants to see the shale gas market regulated to the point where it doesn’t pose any significant environmental risk. This is another way of saying that fracking should be made less economically viable and, thus, more expensive when it reaches the consumer. The ‘better off out’ contingent of the Tories would no doubt be wondering why any potential damage to UK landscape should be the concern of the EU (evidence suggests potential damage has been grossly exaggerated), especially when shale gas development could potentially benefit an EU gas market that is being undermined by the shale gas boom in the USA that is flooding our own continent with unwanted cheap coal.

There is also the more complex issue of nuclear power. The EU has state aid rules in place that constrict the degree to which the British government can guarantee financial security to the private companies taking on the risk of building nuclear plants. Once again, the already lengthy and costly process of diversifying and spreading the burden of our energy needs hits those paying the bills in the end.

David Cameron will most definitely be aware of the EU’s impact on our ability to control energy prices, but I fear he has chosen to ignore this up until now because of his previous backing of the Climate Change Act, his husky hugging, and his pledge to lead “the greenest government ever”. He will now face accusations of fraudulent behaviour and political opportunism from his opponents, but if businesses and ordinary people have more money in their pockets as a result of a slowing down of economic de-carbonisation, then it will be worth it.

Follow Luke on Twitter.

The Government must not trample over the first shoots of the Green Investment Bank

Alexander Pannett 10.25am

Last Thursday, Vince Cable announced that the Green Investment Bank would be headquartered in Edinburgh after a long running selection campaign involving 19 British cities.

The decision has been criticised as being led by political concerns to tie Scotland to the rest of the UK in advance of the proposed Scottish independence referendum in 2014.

However, this overlooks the extremely strong bid by Edinburgh for hosting the Green Investment Bank. Edinburgh is the largest financial services centre in the UK outside London, it has a huge potential for green energy production, has existing expertise in green energy and oil and gas technology, has world class higher education and R&D facilities nearby and the Scottish Parliament means that it can enjoy more political support than other politically under-represented cities in the UK. 

Which is why British cities need elected mayors to help attract more business to their regions.

This is not to say that there is not a political angle behind the decision and the government should receive credit for concentrating on the needs of the Scottish people and highlighting the huge mutual benefits that the Union brings to all people in the UK.  A unified UK green energy market brings the benefits of large economies of scale to Scotland that further advances the Unionist cause and provides a level of funding that would not be possible under an independent Scotland.

But what will the Green Investment Bank do?

The bank will have an initial capitalisation of £3 billion.

It will be a key component of changing the UK towards a green economy, working with other green policies to help accelerate additional capital into green infrastructure and will be an important tool in addressing market failures that effect green infrastructure projects.

The Green Investment Bank will build the necessary deep expertise in financial markets and green investments, working towards both achieving significant green impact and making financial returns.

However, the government has received criticism from green groups for not allowing the bank to have borrowing powers from the start of its launch.

The leading climate change economist, Lord Stern, has claimed that the bank will be stronger if it is allowed to build up its portfolio, which is necessary if every green technology is to be given a chance to pitch for finance.  Lord Stern insists that the Green Investment Bank’s borrowing powers are needed to tackle the extensive market failures that have not accounted for the global environmental damage that industrialisation has wrought.

The government has declared that the bank will be allowed to borrow money subject to the targets for reduction in the national debt being met and further state aid approval being granted. But George Osborne has already pushed back the date for ending the structural deficit until 2017.  This would mean that the bank may only be allowed to start borrowing in five years time.

The Confederation of British Industry has long called for the bank to be made effective, and have criticised the way the Green Deal and ECO are being set up, saying the Green Deal will not meet its targets as it is currently designed.

If the date by which the Treasury is to permit the bank to have borrowing powers is put off even further, this will severely curtail its already reduced effectiveness.

The issue is that any borrowing that the bank does engage in will be listed as a liability on the government books, worsening the deficit further.  When such severe cuts are being implemented to other departments, it is un-conscionable for the government to be taking on more debt to finance un-proven green initiatives whose failure could lead to further bad debt for the UK taxpayer and even threaten the nation’s vital triple A credit rating.

It therefore seems a pragmatic policy for the government to use the initial 3 billion in funding to evaluate which green projects will be economically feasible and then to allow borrowing powers when the nation’s finances can afford the loans.

Despite the necessity of fiscal caution, it is utterly vital that the government allows the bank to access the markets as soon as it can.  It is estimated by Ernst and Young that the transformation to a low carbon economy will need £450 billion of investment by 2025 and this Keynesian stimulation will create jobs, helping the recovery.

Considering the pressing concerns of climate change and the economy’s need for growth, the government must not wait too long to set the Green Investment Bank free or miss a golden opportunity to make Britain a world leader in a burgeoning, vital and global green industry.

Follow Alex on Twitter @alpannett

Solar industry in Parliament protest at Feed-In Tariff cuts

Nik Darlington 7.35am

This afternoon there will be a mass rally at Parliament organised by the solar power industry to protest against a 50 per cent cut to Feed-In Tariffs (FITs), which have encouraged tens of thousands of British households to turn to solar.

Last month, the Government confirmed that the solar power subsidies would be reduced by half because ministers want to avoid the industry falling victim to “boom and bust”.

Climate change minister, Greg Barker, said the cut was to safeguard the long-term sustainability of solar power as an industry:

The plummeting costs of solar mean we’ve got no option but to act so that we stay within budget and not threaten the whole viability of the scheme.

It means that the payback period for participants to the scheme will almost double from ten to eighteen years.

Celebrity investors Deborah Meaden and Theo Paphitis, made famous by the BBC’s Dragon’s Den television show, have lately signed a deal to invest in Yorkshire-based Ploughcroft Solar, one of the UK’s leading solar PV panel installers.

Deborah Meaden believes that the Government is right to review the important Feed-In Tariff (FIT) but criticises the manner in which decisions have been taken. Even in light of this, she says the future remains bright for solar power.

"In our lifetime, a switch towards renewable energy is not an option - it has to happen. Consumers need help to make the right choices as there are many conflicting messages being issued to the public.

A review of the FIT is the right thing to do, although the scope, timing and conflicting messages have not been helpful.

Although the Government’s proposals to reduce the FIT from 43p/KWh to 21p/KWh are drastic, we believe that even if this new tariff is introduced solar is still an attractive option to homeowners.

As energy bills continue to rise consumers will be looking for ways of lowering their energy costs and going green. With the 21p/KWh FIT solar photovoltaic (PV) panel homeowners will get a sensible return on their investment, as well as seeing lower electricity bills and helping the environment.”

Chris Hopkins, the founder and managing director of Ploughcroft Solar, is also a member of the newly formed Green Construction Board for Vince Cable’s Business Department. Contrary to media write-ups of doom for solar following the Government cut, Mr Hopkins has actually seen orders rise by 50 per cent compared with the previous month.

"We have already secured sales on systems that we will be installing in January and February 2012 on the new tariff. This indicates that homeowners remain keen to reduce their electricity bills whilst doing their bit to help the environment."

Who should moderate Tories back for US President in 2012?

Michael Economou 7.45am

It has always been difficult for British Conservatives to know who they should be rooting for in American elections. In 2008, global Obamania dazzled many Conservatives into going against their instincts. Even Daniel Hannan, who is turning into a hero for British libertarians, was sucked in and threw his support behind a man of the left.

This time it is different. Obama’s halo appears to have fallen off and his popularity has fallen nationally and internationally. His liberal base is disappointed in what it sees as a betrayal of his radical promise. ‘Yes we can’ has become 'Yes we can but' as his agenda is whittled down by a partisan Congress. With abysmal polling and a deflated base, there is room for a Republican candidate to seize some momentum and win the hearts and minds of the American people. But who (if anyone) should moderate British Conservatives cross their fingers for?

Jon Huntsman is too moderate amid the ferocious mood of Republican voters (which is unfortunate, as he seems to be the only candidate unwilling to pander to the more extreme fringes of his own party on issues like evolution and climate change).

Michelle Bachmann has lost her early strength and seems to be fading out of contention. Herman Cain can whip up a crowd, but he’s unlikely to win much more than the odd straw poll. Ron Paul? Forget about it. He has a strong cult following, but that will never win him the primary, let alone the presidency (besides, his radical agenda would be even harder to get through Congress than Obama’s) . Newt Gingrich is stumbling from humiliation to humiliation, including his entire senior campaign team resigning en masse earlier this year.

The race for the Republican nomination looks like it is boiling down to two men: Rick Perry and Mitt RomneyConventional wisdom says that Perry is the favourite of the Republican right, whereas Romney is the moderate, establishment candidate. Perry is unpredictable and fiery, with a history of strange remarks ranging from seemingly advocating the secession of Texas to calling social security a “Ponzi scheme”. He has become accepted as the most credible champion for the Tea Party movement, and is very much a product of the mood in the Republican grassroots.

Romney is calmer and has a greater control. He also has a much more moderate record as a Governor on issues like gay marriage and healthcare (which has led to the Perry team dubbing him ‘Obama lite’). He is a much better performer in debates than Perry (who has been embarrassingly bad in the past), but he lacks some of his rival’s rugged charisma.

It would be wrong, however, to divide them too sharply. Their actions as Governors are not an entirely fair prediction of how they would behave in power: it’s not surprising that someone who fought elections in Texas would have a different record to someone who fought elections in Massachusetts.

Perry isn’t quite the pure red-blooded conservative he wants people to think he is: his policy on giving benefits to the children of illegal immigrants (which was politically necessary in his state) has left some of the Tea Partiers disillusioned, as has his history as a Gore-supporting Democrat.

Romney, on the other hand, seems to be doing his hardest to shake off most of his earlier moderation, including his recent denial of man-made climate change.

The truth is that, despite their earlier records, there are not that many practical differences between Romney and Perry. It is almost reminiscent of the clash between the Miliband brothers for the Labour leadership last year: David was the favourite of the parliamentary party, Ed was backed by the unions, but they were basically singing from the same hymn sheet.

Where does that leave moderate Tories looking for someone to support in 2012? Pretty much nowhere. President Obama is a safe pair of hands, but he has proven himself to have certain values at odds with the Right. Neither of the likely Republican nominees are that impressive either: they both hold views on issues like gay rights and climate change which run counter to those of most moderate Tories. Sadly, although the American people seem to align themselves with the liberal centre-right, it does not look like they will get such a Presidential nominee from either party any time soon.

The end of the universal Enlightenment?

Alexander Pannett 6.45am

The rising in Libya is reaching its conclusion.  The rebels have all but taken Tripoli and Gaddafi has seemingly fled to ignominy.  The Arab Spring has claimed another triumph against an autocratic regime.  However, it is not Western liberal values that the people on the street are calling for.  A desire for some form of democracy is evident but it will be a democracy that reflects the customs and values of Middle Eastern culture.  Far from being the sign of a teleological march of Western liberal democracy towards a universal civilisation based on Western liberal values, the Arab Spring has shown that the world is becoming increasingly divergent in how its many cultures seek to express themselves both politically and morally.

The Arab Spring has not been an uprising in support of Western values but instead a rejection of the West.  The autocratic regimes that controlled the Middle East were stooges of the West.  Their leaders were propped up with Western money, their children were educated in Western schools and their governments were modelled along Western secular concepts of the state.  Far from being a demonstration of Western influence and power, the risings in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt have exposed the fallacy of Western moral, political and cultural ascendancy.

Events in Libya are concomitant with the increasingly bloody suppression of protests in Syria.  The West has been powerless to prevent such acts of repression by a moderately powerful state.  The West is too war weary and economically humbled to countenance yet another armed conflict.  NATO could barely muster enough military resources to topple Gaddafi, a deeply unpopular leader in a nation of only six million.  Far from being the end of history, as Francis Fukuyama once famously decreed, the post-Cold War world has seen an increasingly divergent multiplicity of political structures and cultures.  The Syrian regime’s hubris looks much more like Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931, at a time of fracturing world politics, than the thwarting of Serbia’s designs in Kosovo in the more uni-polar world of the 1990s.  

If democracy does come to the Middle East it will be an Islamic interpretation and it will be malleable to the prejudices and hopes of Middle Eastern culture.  These are not the same prejudices and hopes that dominate Western political thought. In the West, secular reason dominates above all else and its origins lie in the utopian ideals of the Age of Enlightenment.  The Enlightenment assumed that its values were universal.  However, the Enlightenment values of equality and freedom have not been accepted by emerging powers such as China, India and Russia.  The Arab Street has not called for Western freedoms but for freedom from a tyranny draped in secular Western ideals.  The world is not moving to one, universal civilisation based on Western values.  It is evolving along separate value systems.

The end of the Western project to “civilise” the world along Enlightenment lines should not be presaged with foreboding.  The imposition of Western moral and political values on cultures whose traditions were incompatible with such values has caused untold suffering and destruction.  From colonialism through to Marxism, Western ideas have deracinated traditional cultures across the world, all in the name of modernity.  It could be argued that the Enlightenment apotheosis of man above nature has led to severe environmental consequences.  With climate change and ecological disaster remaining an ever present danger, it would benefit the West to learn from cultures around the world whose value systems have allowed them to live in more environmentally sustainable ways.

Far from being a travesty, the relative decline of Western power will allow for new opportunities and ideas to emerge on how to tackle the world’s pressing ecological and political issues.  Now that divergent value systems are once again emerging, it will be far more likely that humans will communicate to each other in the context of understanding rather than from a procrustean view of the world.  With the global population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, this new development could not have come sooner.

Share this article on Twitter 

It’s a bit Dr Moreau, but Isle of Wight’s ‘Eco Island’ dream is a good advert for localism

Nik Darlington 6.00am

The Isle of Wight has always had an independent streak and pioneering spirit. It was not a part of England until the 15th century. In more recent years, it became the home to the world’s first hovercraft and the development site for British space exploration. Dame Ellen MacArthur lives there and, when he is not staying in 5-star Arctic hotels, it is home to celebrity explorer Bear Grylls.

Now England’s largest island (and most populous parliamentary constituency) is striving to become a designated 'Eco Island'.

Whilst the rest of the Cabinet seem to be on holiday, on Tuesday the Energy & Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne, visited the getaway island of choice for Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens. Rather than hitting any of the island’s top beaches, Mr Huhne was there to discuss how the Eco Island initiative is being put into practice. Local authorities used the opportunity to update him on the progress being made on various renewable energy projects.

During a visit to the turbine firm Vesta, Mr Huhne examined the opportunities that exist in linking the development of offshore blades to the proposed wind farm west of the famous Needles.

Cllr David Pugh, leader of the Conservative controlled council, said: “It is clear that there is a huge amount of common ground between the opportunities we have here on the island and what Mr Huhne is looking to achieve. We are also heartened to hear his view that tidal energy has an important role to play in reducing carbon emissions.”

Mr Huhne is the MP for the neighbouring constituency of Eastleigh, just a short boat journey across the Solent. He praised the islanders for the ‘big society’ ethos that underpins the Eco Island scheme: “The island has the great advantage of being relatively small with lots of people able to talk to each other and therefore being able to make more progress more quickly.” A similar sentiment has been expressed on these pages by Rory Stewart, in relation to broadband initiaitves in Cumbria.

The Eco Island concept is gimmicky, with more than a whiff of the Dr Moreau about it. Forgetting the regrettable branding, it is a genuinely good attempt to create a discrete, sustainable community. Of course, Mr Huhne pinpointed the reasons why the Isle of Wight has an advantage over other parts of the country. Nonetheless, similar environmental schemes are being trialled by small communities such as Appleby in Cumbria.

Not only was this short visit a visible reminder of Chris Huhne the effective and respected Secretary of State (rather than under-fire speeding points dodger), it was a reminder of the power of proper localism at a time when its ethos is under threat from a grossly dangerous National Planning Policy Framework.

We should all observe developments this historic island with interest. It may have been the last part of England to convert to Christianity (in 686 AD), but it appears to be leading the pack in converting to sustainability.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

Share this article on Twitter

Carbon Tax: rethinking our approach to climate change

David Cowan 6.06am

Extremist views on either side of the climate change debate put policymakers in a difficult position. How do we balance the needs of the planet and our children’s futures with a competitive economy and individual liberty today?

Labour had an interventionist solution - the Climate Change Act 2008 - which pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. The relentless focus on outcomes instead of means, and the belief that merely passing laws will solve problems, have hindered climate change policy.

David Cameron promised this coalition Government would be the ‘greenest government ever’ with proposals for the Green Deal, a £3 billion Green Investment Bank, and a carbon floor price of £30 per tonne by 2020 (see also Nik’s article in May). In addition are the plethora of ‘green taxes’ like the Climate Change Levy and Fuel Duty - it is questionable to what extent these tackle the central problem of carbon emissions.

It can be argued that these measures have exacerbated the energy price increases caused by the global commodities bubble and ‘oil shock’ in the Middle East - according to some reports, as much as £200 has been added to the average family’s energy bill.

What other solutions are there? Cap-and-trade programmes may appear to be satisfactory free market answers. However, a centralised bureaucracy would have to administer the auction of carbon permits, which would only increase the already hefty compliance costs for British businesses, so potentially deterring enterprise, investment and job creation.

Many, such as Lord Heseltine, would argue that we should liberate the market so that ‘green’ entrepreneurs and ‘green’ businesses can produce ‘green’ products and reduce carbon emissions, be cost effective, and high quality. This is certainly the best option but the state can still act to help move Britain towards a low-carbon economy by reforming ‘green’ taxation.

The least economically damaging form of carbon pricing is to replace all the numerous ‘green taxes’ and emission controls with a ‘single tax’ on the burning of fossil fuels in proportion to their carbon content. This Carbon Tax would help to tackle the negative externalities of carbon dioxide emissions as well as avoid increased bureaucracy and greater compliance costs for businesses. We could also experiment with charges for pollution and congestion.

Climate change has to be dealt with but governments must resist just saying ‘something must be done’. A Carbon Tax is the most effective and simplest measure to replace harmful environmental regulations whilst actively discouraging unsustainable levels of emissions. Nevertheless, it will be the market, not the state, that will provide the most viable solutions. 

Share this article on Twitter

Winnie the Pooh can teach the Government a thing or two about environmental planning

Nik Darlington 6.00am

In the first Winnie the Pooh storybook, Piglet becomes stranded in a flood of biblical proportions. Holed up in his home, the water rising higher and higher, he fears the worst. Piglets cannot swim. Christopher Robin and Pooh Bear could climb trees; Kanga can jump very high; Rabbit could burrow; Owl can fly away; and Eeyore can make very loud noises to attract attention. Piglets are little helpless animals in comparison. So in desperation, Piglet scrambles for an old glass bottle into which he places a scrawled call for help. Off this bottle bobs and there Piglet waits, hoping that someone will come to his aid.

Elsewhere, Pooh Bear has been having a nap. He awakes to the drumbeat of heavy rainfall and water flowing into his house. On looking out of his window at the rising water levels, he knows he is in a ‘Serious Situation’. Pooh Bear escapes by climbing on to a branch, not forgetting, of course, to take provisions of ten honey jars with him. Four days later, the water has not subsided and Pooh Bear is still sitting there, honey supplies finished. A bottle floats past and Pooh Bear, thinking it to be another pot of honey, grabs it in his paws. It is Piglet’s note! Pooh Bear resolves to help but he cannot swim. So he uses his biggest empty honey pot as a boat and sets sail.

Pooh Bear soon comes across Christopher Robin’s home, which is situated on higher dry ground. Christopher Robin is so happy to see Pooh Bear and when he hears about Piglet’s plight, resolves to set out to rescue him straightaway. However, Pooh Bear’s honey jar is not nearly big enough to support him and Christopher Robin, let alone a Piglet too. What to do? Could Owl carry them on his back? No, says Owl, he couldn’t support them both. Then Pooh Bear has a rare brainwave: use Christopher Robin’s upturned umbrella as a vessel! It wobbles but it floats and off they set to save Piglet, who is naturally delighted to see them, and so ends this little Pooh Bear adventure.

This is a tale of friendship, courage and ingenuity under pressure. It also tells us a bit about environmental planning. The flood represents the onset of grave climatic change - or just bad flooding, like that experienced in places like Worcester or Cumbria in recent years, or on much greater scales in Pakistan and Australia. It is a lesson about man’s (or Piglet’s) helplessness in the face of Mother Nature’s full fury.

And like the relative weakness of Piglet compared to his friends, different peoples have different capacities to cope with damaging climatic change. For instance, the flooding in Queensland was horrifying but the humanitarian fallout cannot compare with catastrophic flooding in less developed regions of the world. Likewise, an earthquake in Pakistan is more devastating than in New Zealand or Japan, or even China.

Sometimes, this is a clear-cut development issue. Other times, how you cope with environmental disaster - or any environmental change, fast or slow - relies a great deal on how well you plan for it. Christopher Robin and Pooh Bear can both climb trees to escape the rising water but the former was in a superior position because he had the foresight to live on higher ground.

The point is that in this country, we face major environmental challenges in the years to come, such as rising population and climate change on a very small land mass with limited (and finite) natural resources. And in the UK, we are the Christopher Robins. The Pooh Bears of this world - and heaven help the Piglets - face even greater challenges.

The Government’s tentative responses to these environmental challenges have been presented in recent weeks, in the form of the National Ecosystem Assessment (which I reported on last month) and the Natural Environment White Paper. The former is an innovative quantitative analysis of the UK’s ecosystem services; the latter is essentially a push for greater localism in environmental planning and preservation.

The concern of some people, such as the Planning Officers Society, is that the localist approach, whilst well-intentioned, cannot produce the integrated action necessary to plan land use for the future. Instead of a cohesive approach, the drive for voluntary cooperation between existing local authorities and new bodies like Local Nature Partnerships, Nature Improvement Areas, and designated Green Areas, will produce a fragmented, inefficient response. The Localism Bill abolished Regional Spatial Strategies and whilst a new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is being established, it is not clear yet how it will work alongside the myriad local bodies tasked with managing ecosystem services and natural resources. Moreover, as interesting as is the National Ecosystem Assessment, and however potentially useful it is for environmental policymaking and planning decisions, there is a danger inherent in planning that is driven purely by economics. As George Monbiot has written, the true value of nature does not have a pound sign in front of it, and cost-benefit analyses are invariably rigged in favour of business. Smart accountants will always make development add up.

However ideologically unpalatable it is to some people on the political right, the natural environment increasingly requires centralised planning solutions, especially when considering infrastructure such as housing, transport and urban land use. I turn again to George Monbiot, who recently insisted on ‘strict urban planning to keep cities from collapse’. For too long, governments in the developed world have carelessly allowed conurbations to sprawl inefficiently outwards, instead of capitalising on the environmental efficiencies inherent in urban living by planning for high density cities.

Central governments will not always make the right decisions on strategic infrastructure and land use. That much is made clear by the misguided tunnel vision of the HS2 rail project, for which local objections should defeat central insistence. However, as competing demands for land increase in years to come, exacerbated by the effects of climate change and a rising population, central government cannot afford to leave important environmental decisions to (often grossly underfunded) local bodies.

The Scottish Government published in March its groundbreaking Land Use Strategy, a strategic national framework that recognises the complexity of land use and ecosystem management. There is no such joined up approach being offered by Westminster, where land use is covered piecemeal by the likes of Defra, DCLG, DECC, DoT and HM Treasury.

The author of Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne, once said that ‘organising is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up’. This coalition government has demonstrated a boldly pragmatic and non-ideological mindset since taking office. In several respects, not least in the localism agenda, it is proving to be one of the most radical and reforming of governments in many years. Nevertheless, there is a danger that on planning, the Government is ideologically dismissing an integrated approach in favour of extending responsibility to communities. Localism is great for running a local park. It might even stem construction on flood plains. Yet it cannot provide integrated national solutions to big strategic challenges.

Instead of the necessary umbrella solution that Pooh Bear deployed to save Piglet, if you will, we are presented with lots of smaller honey pots and shuttling around on Owl’s back. If Pooh Bear hadn’t had the ingenuity to use Christopher Robin’s umbrella, and instead had to come up with a fragmented, slower plan using different methods - ‘all mixed up’ - then tragically it could have been too late to save Piglet. So much for a happy ending.

Share this article on Twitter