What do the manifestos have to say about building, energy and climate policy?
By guest blogger, Mike Hannis.
Welcome to this series of posts on the 2017 General Election manifestos, and thanks to Andy Simmonds for inviting me to write them. The aim is to separate out the parties’ concrete commitments from their plentiful rhetoric, focussing primarily on areas of interest to AECB members. In particular this will mean decoding what they have to say about building, energy and climate policy.
I won’t be speculating on the parties’ chances of success, offering any advice on how to vote, or digressing too far into other policy areas except where relevant to the core concerns mentioned above. I’ll try not to editorialise too much as this is not intended as a platform for my own views, many of which you can find online elsewhere. In my day job, I’m a Lecturer in Environmental Humanities at Bath Spa University. I’m also an editor and feature writer at The Land magazine, and have in the past worked in planning consultancy and outdoor event management. I’m not professionally involved in construction, though I do live off-grid in a dwelling I built myself.
Liberal Democrats: Remain with Us?
The Liberal Democrats go into this election making a strong pitch for the votes of ‘remainers’. Their manifesto explicitly promises to put the final Brexit deal to a referendum, with the option of staying in the EU on the ballot paper. The party states a clear view that ‘there is no deal as good for the UK outside the EU as the one it already has as a member’, so it seems fair to assume that in any such referendum they would campaign to reject the proposed deal and stay in.
If we do leave though, they promise to ensure that ‘everything is done to maintain’ EU environmental standards in UK law, ‘including the closest possible co-operation on climate and energy policy’. In fact they promise to pass five ‘green laws’: a Green Transport Act, a Zero-Carbon Britain Act, a Nature Act, a Green Buildings Act, and a Zero-Waste Act, to ‘incorporate existing EU environmental protections, maintain product standards such as for energy efficiency, and establish a framework for continual improvement’.
Climate and Energy
On climate, the Liberal Democrats promise to ‘support the Paris agreement by ensuring the UK meets its own climate commitments and plays a leadership role in international efforts to combat climate change’. As part of this, a Zero-Carbon Britain Act would ‘set new legally binding targets to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2040 and to zero by 2050’. The party would also legislate to ‘place a responsibility on every government agency to account for its contribution towards meeting climate targets in everything it does’.
The Liberal Democrats would ‘aim to generate 60% of electricity from renewables by 2030’, in part by ‘restoring government support for solar PV and onshore wind’. They also promise better support for energy storage, smart grid technology, hydrogen technologies, offshore wind, and tidal power (including the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon). Vaguer commitments include ‘expanding community energy schemes’ and ‘encouraging councils to develop community energy-saving projects and local electricity generation’.
The party is clearly opposed to fracking ‘because of its adverse impact on climate change, the energy mix, and the local environment’, but ‘accepts that new nuclear power stations can play a role in electricity supply provided concerns about safety, disposal of waste and cost are adequately addressed, new technology is incorporated, and there is no public subsidy for new build’.
There is a manifesto commitment to building ‘300,000 homes a year by 2022, including half a million affordable and energy-efficient homes, with direct government commissioning where the market fails to deliver’.
It’s unclear exactly what form ‘direct government commissioning’ would take, but some of this building would presumably be done by local authorities, given the promise to ‘lift the borrowing cap on local authorities, and increase the borrowing capacity of housing associations, so that they can build council and social housing’.
Local authorities would also be empowered to end Right to Buy in their area, double council tax on second homes and ‘buy to leave empty’ investments, enforce housebuilding on ‘unwanted’ public sector land, and ‘penalise excessive land-banking when builders with planning permission have failed to build after three years’. Tenants (public or private) would be given first refusal to buy their home if their landlord decides to sell.
The party promises to enshrine energy-efficiency targets in a new Green Buildings Act, including ‘a long-term ambition for every home in England to reach at least an energy rating of Band C by 2035’. While this target might not seem that ambitious to those working in this area, nonetheless the drafting of primary legislation explicitly addressing building performance would no doubt present many welcome opportunities to raise the profile of such issues.
More immediately ‘at least four million homes’ would be brought up to Band C by 2022, with ‘priority given to fuel-poor households’, though here is no detail on how these improvements would be financed or incentivised. There is also a commitment to ‘restore the zero-carbon standard for new homes, increasing the standard steadily and extending it to non-domestic buildings by 2022’. Again though, there is no detail on exactly what version of ‘zero-carbon’ the party favours.
Environment and transport
A new Nature Act would ‘put the Natural Capital Committee (NCC) on a statutory footing, set legally binding natural capital targets, including on biodiversity, clean air and water, and empower the NCC to recommend actions to meet these targets’. This will sound good to many, although there are significant problems with the Natural Capital approach. The use of neonicotinoid pesticides will be ‘suspended until it is proven that their use in agriculture does not harm bees or other pollinators’.
A Green Transport Act and an Air Quality Plan are promised, to include policies such as a diesel scrappage scheme, ‘the extension of ultra-low-emission zones to 10 more towns and cities’, and more tax support for electric vehicles. Public sector bodies and ‘mutual groups involving staff and passengers’ will be permitted to bid for rail franchises. HS2 will go ahead and be extended to Scotland.
Local authorities will get ‘the power to run, commission and regulate the bus network in their area’. The party opposes ‘expansion of Heathrow Gatwick or Stansted’ and promises to ‘focus instead on improving existing regional airports’, while ensuring ‘no net increase in runways across the UK’.
Finally, there is an intriguing promise that a Zero-Waste Act would introduce ‘legally binding targets for reducing net consumption of key natural resources’. This could be a great step forward, but whether it is would of course depend on just what those targets were.
The party claims to reconcile its interest in ecological sustainability with its continued pursuit of economic growth, declaring that it will ‘work to support growth now and put in place a sustainable economy that will create growth for the future – an economy that works for the long term: prosperous, green, open and fair’.
Clearly then, it would never adopt resource consumption targets stringent enough to affect economic growth. Having your cake and eating it has been rightly mocked as a Brexit strategy, not least by the LibDems. It seems reasonable to point out that it is equally implausible as a basis for environmental policy.
Read blog number 1 here – Labour manifesto
Read blog number 2 here – Conservative manifesto
Read blog number 3 here – Green Party manifesto
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