A mad rush by the Tories to cut public expenditure the moment they are in office is already leading to fears that it could destabilise Britain’s fragile recovery. But there is now growing evidence that other policies could have similar damaging effects on the country.
Two Green Papers –one on planning and the other on energy- are leading to serious questions from some of the Tories natural allies – the CBI and the British Property Federation about their effectiveness. And when one looks at the detail, it is no wonder why.
The green paper on planning looks on the surface as a great, pro local democracy, anti bureaucracy document. And it does contain some good ideas, notably Open Source documents for all future planning applications.
But in their rush to cull New Labour quangos, the Tories look set to stall rather than quicken the economic recovery. Their dash to kill the Infrastructure Planning Commission is actually going to cause chaos and confusion for any major schemes that might require planning permission in the next few years.
For the Tories want to bring back Parliamentary private bills for major projects and are daft enough to quote the Crossrail bill as a wonderful example of an alternative way of handling objections. This bill took literally years to get through Parliament with all day sittings and an enormous toll on the disinterested MPs who were supposed to monitor it.
Worse still The Tories are proposing an interim period when the Commission facing abolition will still be handling applications, while Parliament is geared up for a new role. Confused? Anyone would be.
But never mind. In their green energy paper, they propose using the same procedure to build an ambitious high speed rail link and nuclear power stations.
They deride Labour’s London to Birmingham link as not ambitious enough and want to build a high speed railway across England .But imagine how long this will take under their planning reforms. The long winded Crossrail bill was just concerned with greater London but a bill for the whole of England will need the full term of the next Parliament for authorisation..
Cameron also promises to build a new nuclear power station every 18 months to solve the energy crisis – again using Parliamentary private bills to get planning permission. Energy analysts are not impressed. Inencom, the UK’s largest energy analysts, warned that this target is “verging on the impossible”, claiming that even if the party overcame planning delays, solving the skills shortages and construction complications would be a “huge challenge.”
Some of the smaller proposals in both papers also don’t stand heavy scrutiny.
On planning the Tories want to allow local residents and third party groups to object to new house building. This could also cause chaos for new home developments and traditional allies are not impressed.
The British Property Federation said: “This would cause chaos for the system by allowing all manner of appeals.”
John Cridland, CBI Deputy Director-General, says: “The CBI agrees with the Conservatives that the planning system is broken, but it remains to be seen whether these proposals will fix it.”
And some energy schemes like encouraging micro generation of electricity in every home have not impressed the CBI either. Dr Neil Bentley, the CBI’s Director of Business Environment, said: This could end up increasing energy costs for businesses and consumers without increasing investment.”
The danger here is that not only will the Tories scupper a fragile recovery but manage to ensure that some half baked proposals will stifle new investment. They could even put the lights out.
This blog is also on http://progressives.org.uk as part of my Tory tracker column.