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Labour manifesto - huge promises, little detail

Logo - Labour 2017

The title of the Labour Party’s general election manifesto "for the many not for the few", officially launched yesterday, summarised the document’s aim to re-engage with a disenfranchised portion of the UK electorate which feels left behind by globalisation and privatisation. But while bold and provocative, the title also summarises the manifesto’s content nicely with many promises, but few details.

Taken on face value, Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto should be warmly welcomed by the environmental industry. Bold plans for environmental protection would make this party a strong choice for any with an interest in the green agenda. Make no mistake this is probably one of the most revolutionary and anti-establishment manifestos the UK has seen for many a year. Plans to bring energy, rail and water industries back into public ownership alone have heads turning. But it is also one of the strongest manifestos for environmental ambitions for many years. Just two years ago the environmental agenda was virtually absent in all manifestos as parties wrestled with immigration, the EU and the NHS. 

The document is swelling with commitments to take environmental, as well as social and economic, considerations into account for all aspects of major decisions. It sets out what equates to a truly sustainable economy - with all three pillars represented fairly. But while the content is encouraging, there are no real assurances over how they can be paid for. A pledge to increase the top rate of tax to 45% (above £80k) and 50% (over £123k), increases to corporation tax and that elusive £350m/wk from the EU, must be enough the fill the hole - however unlikely it seems. 

Without the economic fine print it is hard to praise or criticise the manifesto. As a result the party is asking the UK electorate to trust their maths and take the promises at face value. So what are the main pledges?

Perhaps the biggest one as far as the environmental agenda is concerned is a promise to "ensure that 60% of the UK’s energy comes from zero-carbon or renewable sources by 2030". A spokesperson for Labour clarified this refers to power and heat with the party expecting to generate 87% of power from renewables and 40% of heat by 2030. This would be a monumentally large undertaking and would likely require significant amounts of infrastructure investment in anaerobic digestion, biogas, syngas and hydrogen injected into the grid as well as onshore and offshore wind, solar, tidal and wave.

According to figures compiled by BEIS the UK’s energy consumption which was defined as zero-carbon or renewable was 8.3% in 2015. While this also accounts for transportation energy - its not hard to imagine the power and heat figure is some way of 60% with 13 years left to achieve it. Nevertheless the document nods support to conventional renewables, tidal lagoon technology and nuclear while commits to the banning of shale fracking.  

In terms of broader infrastructure spend, the party promises to create a National Transformation Fund which will spend £250bn "transforming our economy" over the next decade. While the party criticises how the UK has been "held back by a lack of investment in transport, communications and energy systems", the promise of £250bn would actually be the same as is currently promised in the National Infrastructure Pipeline - with half of the £502bn publicly backed. It also must be set against the backdrop of the £750bn that has been invested by public and private finance instruments since 2010. Nevertheless a number of major projects in existence today will be given ongoing support including HS2, Crossrail of the North (HS3), Crossrail 2 and the Oxford to Milton Keynes Science Vale connection.

Other measures to improve sustainability on a smaller scale include the changing of company law so directors have a duty to protect the environment. Homeowners will be offered interest-free loans to make energy efficiency improvements to their homes while landlord energy efficiency rules will be tightened. The party also pledges to end the "bonfire of red tape which is a threat to environmental protections".

In terms of the Brexit negotiations labour has pledged to protect all EU environmental laws despite dropping the Conservative’s Great Repeal Bill, replacing it with and EU Rights and Protections Bill. It goes as far as to say a Labour government will "never accept the weakening of workers’ rights, consumer rights or environmental protections". Environmental consultants should note Labour’s pledge to integrate an Environmental Goods Agreement at the World Trade Organisation. "This will boost market access for British environmental goods and services, alongside support for investment into new green technologies and innovative low-carbon products". This might help open international markets to EC firms.

On housing, the Labour Party is promising to build one million new homes - although it didn’t specify over how long. They did however, pledge the UK will be building 100,000 council and housing association homes a year for rent or sale - this would be a significant increase on current numbers. The party will continue the Conservative prioritisation of brownfield sites but commits to protect the green belt. To deliver the housing, the party will start work on a new towns to avoid urban sprawl. The manifesto also signalled the return of the zero carbon homes policy by holding a consultation.

From a planning point of view Labour intends to give more money to local authorities to reverse a trend that has seen, in their words, "democratic planning authorities unable to stand up to big developers". The party wants to properly resource and bolster planning authorities, place communities at the heart of planning while conversely updating compulsory purchase orders to make them more effective as a tool for driving regeneration.

Greenpeace’s UK head of public affairs Rosie Rogers said: "The Labour manifesto paints in broad strokes a compelling vision of our energy and environmental future, but there's little detail on how we can actually get there. If Labour can make good on their pledge to source 60% of our energy from zero-carbon or renewable sources by 2030, Britain could be mostly powered by cutting-edge clean technologies that would also provide skilled jobs, fairer bills, and cleaner air.

"Backing community-owned energy projects and ditching the top-down imposition of unpopular fracking is a smart move, and a new drive to insulate millions of homes will help cut energy bills too. But setting targets is one thing: hitting them quite another. The jury will be out until the actual policies come in.

"It all sounds promising, but to convince voters this is more than just a wishlist of popular measures, Labour will need to show they have sound policies to enact them."

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