Will bad planning by the Tories let the lights go out?

A new nuclear power station every 18 months -Cameron. Pic courtesy http://freefoto.com

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.

An own goal investment in England’s green and pleasant land

Lower Feltham Lakes near Heathrow - Green Belt development where Profitable Group plan leisure and housing

Most people  are naturally suspicious about investing in exotic  property projects abroad promising fantastic returns for their cash.

But what about a scheme that promises mainly overseas investors huge returns of up to 1000 per cent investing in  tiny plots in the UK .

A scheme promising  such returns has been running for the last five years by a Singapore based company called Profitablegroup. The company buys land and divides it up into tiny plots to resell to investors making millions of pounds. Its promoters include the company’s commercial director, Steve MacMahon, the former England and Liverpool player, and the famous celebrity former England captain, Bryan Robson, now coach to the Thai national team. 

 Four years ago both of them did a paid commercial for  Singapore TV promising huge returns on a site near Heathrow when it is developed for housing and leisure activities. What was not clear is that site – which being near Heathrow to say investors in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore would seem a safe bet -is on Green Belt land and will require a brave planning inspector to approve any development scheme. So now four years later nothing has happened. Robson, who does not work for Profitable, said he was unaware of subsequent events. .

Similar developments ( some of which have attracted British investors) in  the Colne Valleyin Essex and in Yorkshire have got lots of investors but nothing has happened there either. One site for a hotel on  agricultural land has been turned down by a planning inspector, another in West Bergholt, promising up to 1000 per cent  returns, according to the local parish council, has no chance of ever being developed because of stringent planning controls in the area.

So step in Chelgate, a lobbying company whose deputy chairman is Nick Wood-Dow,  founder of the Tory Green initiative and  an adviser to David Cameron on environmental issues. His company along with  a Sheffield planning firm, are now desperately trying to convince sceptical local people  councils of the need for development there. So far pretty unsuccessfully.

 This is perhaps not surprising since the recent Tory green paper on planning looks certain to ensure that if Cameron is elected that the Green Belt will remain sacrosanct and developers will face more objections at a local level to additional building schemes.

So what chance have those who put somewhere over £50m into schemes of making  a fortune. At the very least  they face years before they get any money back. At worst they will get nowhere.

Chelgate say no one has wanted their money back and promised on behalf of Profitable that anyone who does will get their cash. We shall see what happens but at the moment these developments look like an own gaol.

An article on the issue is in the Sunday Telegraph http://bit.ly/dtiv3h.

Conservative Home: Asset or Tory trojan horse

tim montgomerie -Con Home success could be Cameron's dilemma

If David Cameron wins the next general election, will Conservative Home be an asset or a Trojan horse that could wreck the first Tory government in 13 years?

Like its right wing counterparts in America the website is one of the great success stories in giving a lively voice to free market and Conservative views. It reflects the wide gamut of party opinions on Europe, crime, benefits and taxation. It is to the embarrassment of Tory spin doctors at Central Office singularly unafraid of carrying blogs criticising the Cameron leadership.  Witness the recent public debate on the site over whether Cameron was out of touch and living in a protected bubble from the rest of the party as he roamed round Parliament. Something you might expect more on Labour Home than Conservative Home.

Despite being funded by billionaire Tory donor Lord Ashcroft there appears to be no heavy hand of censorship and some Tory stars like Eurosceptics David Davis and John Redwood are more popular on Conservative Home than members of the present Shadow Cabinet.

Much of its success is due to the personality of Tim Montgomerie, a Christian Tory who is less abrasive than his anarchic right wing counterparts, Tory Bear and Guido Fawkes. He appears to have taken the view that a well read website should not have to toe the party line and can produce uncomfortable facts for the leadership. None more embarrassing recently than the low priority many of a new generation of Tory prospective MPs give to the environment and climate change – despite the Cameron leadership emphasising the “ Blue  Green “ nature of modern Conservatism. It is almost a Christian view of ensuring the leadership have to turn the other cheek when they face a problem.

This is fine while the party remains in opposition but what would happen if it came to power. Now most of the criticism of Cameron is hidden in a deluge of comment attacking New Labour or as many Tory bloggers call it, Nu Labour. It is very easy to take pop shots at Brown over bullying, or slam Ed Balls for his ruthlessness. Attacking Harman and the Milibands is no doubt very helpful to the Tory leadership. They can be blamed for broken Britain.

  But in power it would be different and the signs are that the real Tory party is nothing like the one the Cameron leadership presents to the electorate. It would be extraordinary if the right wing blogosphere that has none of the old guard deference to the leadership did not organise against it with same ferocity it attacks Nu Labour.

I know this is already happening. Before Cameron even has a chance of putting a foot inside Number Ten, Tory right wing rivals, UKIP, have spotted that Cameron appears to have foolishly pledged to hold a debate in Parliament on whether the UK should stay in the EU. Provided, of course, one million people sign a petition.

Organising a million strong petition on the net is child’s play with Facebook, Guido Fawkes and of course Conservative Home, only too happy to play a part. And UKIP has said to me that with many of their friends on Conservative Home sympathising with their views on Europe, they think that debate would have to take place soon. No wonder Cameron is despatching the old pro European bruiser Kenneth Clarke to Brussels to reassure our partners in the EU.

And why stop at Europe? Big tax cuts, bringing back hanging, demanding the right to kill a burglar, abolishing trade unions, opposing action on climate change, none of which are on Cameron’s immediate         agenda, could  become the new  on line demands.

Lord A could pull the plug on Con Home after a Tory victory. But the genie is out of the bottle and the Tory leadership is in for a rough ride from the grass roots cyber fighters on the right.

This post is also on the Progress website under Tory Tracker at  http://www.progressives.org.uk/columns/column.asp?c=361