Thursday, 22 March 2012

Money Worries

With the dust from yesterday's budget settling there's quite a lot of talk about how it matches up to the claims of "greenest government ever" from Mr Cameron several years ago. The chancellor said that " Environmentally sustainable must always be fiscally sustainable" which sounds quite reasonable but has he tried his best to green his budget and our economy or forgotten about the environment completely?

Renewable, clean energy will be given the same priority as roads and broadband with a push for investment into green energy. On the other hand no new funds were offered by the government for this and the government want to encourage gas investment too.

Planning reforms are still a hot topic with Mr Osborne failing to define "sustainable development" in the new NPPF. He champions cutting red tape in the planning system, apparently assuming that any regulation is bad even if it protects habitats, species, people or anything else that we might want to keep. Another very worrying development is the apparent U-turn on airport development policy. Despite pledging in 2010 to cancel the third runway at Heathrow and refusing permission for expansion at Gatwick and Stansted Mr Osborne now says "we must confront the lack of airport capacity in south-east England".

I really don't think we do. I would much rather money was spent on other transport links please, such as making rail travel more sustainable both financially and environmentally or improving local bus routes so that the vulnerable car-less public can get to essential services.

On the plus side transport-wise the increase in the environmental tax on flights did go ahead, rising 8% this year and staying on track to have risen 50% by 2016. There are also some very positive investment into rail travel, including to the Manchester Preston line. It's nice to hear about local investment but I think that route works quite well already!

There were a few green finance points too with a reminder that the first green investment bank has been created and there will be a carbon floor price form April 2013 but the chancellor seems to be backing away from taxing companies for their energy use, another sign of attempting to boost economic growth at any cost. Apparently taxing companies for their carbon use (an attempt to reduce the countries carbon emissions to meet global legal commitments) is "cumbersome, beurocratic and imposes an unnecessary cost on business". Well if that's how you feel about stopping climate change then I guess you gotta do what you gotta do.

The reaction from environmental groups cannot be described as furious, more like resigned disappointment and frustration as after several years of our "greenest government ever" hopes were not high before the budget was released for any surprise green policies. If this is greenest government ever I worry what the next one will be like! Interestingly a poll earlier in the week revealed that only 2% of people believe the government are living up to their green claims. I wonder if the government ministers are in that 2% at the moment? End of year report: Could Try Harder.

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