Greenman's Occasional Organ

Ecosocialist. Syndicalist. Critical Techno-Progressive.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Planning Steamroller Set To Roll

You can often tell how important to New Labour it is to pass a (usually dubious) piece of legislation from the amount of spin and media manipulation accompanying its launch. Judging from the media manipulation surrounding the forthcoming Planning White Paper, (expected last week but now due for release this week alongside the energy proposals) this neo-liberal legislation is seen as crucial by New Labour apparatchiks. It is being accompanied by more spin than Walford Launderette!

The proposed legislation is being trailed in the compliant media as "helping you get loft conversions and conservatories approved easier and cheaper". This is magnifying the "sweetener" of the documents to overshadow the main drift of the legislation. And even the "sweetener" element has problems from a conservationist point of view, as indicated by the CPRE response. As Friends of the Earth have commented, the legislation is more about sucking up to big business and smoothing the way for massive expansion of airports, the new wave of incinerators, and the projected nuclear "renewal".

Greenpeace are also on the case. The planning proposals will result in big business and compliant local and regional authorities riding roughshod over the objections of local communities. The current planning system often leaves you negotiating over the colour of the fence of the chemical plant, rather than whether it should be sited there at all - the new proposals in "speeding up" and "simplifying" planning are likely to remove even the semblance of public involvement and consultation.

It is no coincidence that the planning proposals come out in the same week as the Energy proposals - the two are co-dependent. The government know that they would be in for a rough ride through the current planning system if they tried to bring in their nuclear programme without planning changes. Of course, they would most likely still get it through, but it would take longer and the falsehoods and manipulation behind their case would stand more chance of being publicly revealed. The longer it took, also, the more effective and financially attractive the renewable alternatives would be.

The energy proposals are also surrounded by acres of spin and falsehood. For example the claim at the end of this mildly critical, but still government-friendly Observer story that if the nuclear programme did not go ahead we would be dependent for "90%" of our energy requirement from "environmentally unfriendly gas-fired power stations and imports from unstable regions such as the Middle East and Russia". This is a complete distortion and manipulation of the figures, with one suspects, petrol and diesel imports for transport uses thrown into the equation and assuming no expansion in the renewables capacity.

The government know that a massive programme of energy saving, insulation, efficiency improvements - particularly in public and commercial buildings, but also in improvements to old housing stock and regulation of new build housing - and microgeneration could have a great effect on demand, and that the investment proposed for nuclear new build could be much more effectively spent on renewables. They are tied, however, to the multinational energy corporations who see mega profits to be made from nuclear new build now the climate crisis has swept away the financial objections (money is "no object" now). The role of the new planning changes in smoothing the way for new airport runways and incinerators gives the lie to the government's "climate change concern" reason for going nuclear. It is also ironic and transparent spin that the neo-liberals who tell us we do not need a manufacturing base and can rely on the rest of the world for cheap labour, manufactured products, food and just about everything else suddenly become dyed-in-the-wool protectionists and nationalists when it comes to energy. So food security and a manufacturing base are irrelevant but energy requires us to draw up the drawbridge? If it does come to the absolute crunch - unlikely if the transition to a low carbon, renewables based economy is done properly, but for the sake of argument say it did come to the crunch - what is to stop Britain buying nuclear generated energy from France to cover brief periods of high demand? After all the French have 'thoughtfully' situated much of their nuclear capacity in the North on the Channel coast to 'share the risk' with Southern England should there be an accident! And France is not at the moment an "unstable region" as far as I can tell!

Let New Labour and the corporatist Brown know, they may think this is going to be smooth sailing for them, but plenty of us have them rumbled and know who is really pulling the strings. Let battle commence.

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