Friday, May 07, 2010

Will a hung Parliament be good for the environment?

Now that we know there is to be a hung Parliament, the stage is set for much horse trading on environmental issues between the three main parties.

And, now that Caroline Lucas has become the first Green Party MP since Cynog Dafis won his seat in the '90s on a joint Green-Plaid Cymru ticket, it will be fascinating to see if she succeeds in raising the profile of environmental issues.

She deserves huge congratulations, as she has won this on the back of many years of dedication and hard work as a Green MEP.

On the whole, the Liberal Democrats hold the greenest of policies amongst the main three, but if, as seems likely, they attempt to forge an alliance with the Conservatives, then it will be very interesting to see how a party that is against nuclear power and for onshore wind can get on with one that opposes these policies.

Let's take one topic and see what could happen: planning and housing.

Where both Tories and LibDems agree, and differ from Labour, is in a promise to abolish regional planning, including regional spatial strategies.

Although the Liberal Democrat Policies for the Environment election document had little to say about spatial planning it did pledge to abolish the Infrastructure Planning Commission and return planning, including housing targets to "local people", something the Tories might agree with.

A Conservative government would pay councils to release land for housing by matching pound-for-pound the council tax receipts they receive from new housing, and the LibDems could support that.

But the Tories have no target for housing on brownfield land to protect greenspace, unlike the Labour Government, which set one at 75%.

Labour promised to maintain the 60% brownfield and minimum density targets for housing in its election document A Green Future for All, and was the only main party to say it would enforce greenfield land releases, according to its Plan for Housing.

Labour also promised promise to end so-called "garden grabbing" by defining them as greenfield sites in "planning  law" so they cannot be so easily built over.

The Tory document, Modern Conservatism: Our Quality of Life Agenda launched during the campaign represented a very pale green version of John Gummer's 2007 quality of life commission document which promoted a wide range of radical Smart Growth policies.

One thing seems certain: the prospect of a hung Parliament will act as a brake on the deregulatory excesses of the right that historically have not boded well for the environment - which, naturally, does not have a vote.

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