Today the Conservative Party released its Forward together election manifesto. In stark contrast to the Labour Party (Environment Analyst 17-May-17) and Liberal Democrat (Environment Analyst 19-May-17) manifestos also released this week it offers little for those working in the environmental sector to get excited about. The manifesto, and its pledge to "leave the UK’s environment in a better shape than it was found" is almost completely devoid of commitments or ambition to continually improve the UK’s natural environment.
Instead the Tory party has retreated to its known strengths: the economy, the union, infrastructure, deregulation and of course Brexit. It is clear in the document the environment is not seen as a major election issue. And maybe it isn’t as far as the Conservatives are concerned. But those active in the green sector might have appreciated some reassurances on the future of the UK’s environmental protection standards in a post-Brexit world. Let's take a look at what they have pledged.
First and foremost the party has promised to "continue to take a lead in global action against climate change" with the UK halfway to towards meeting the 2050 goal to reduce emissions by 80% from 1990 levels. But unlike Labour and the Liberal Democrats they have not strengthened ambitions nor fully explained how they will meet them. While offshore wind is to receive ongoing support the Tories have categorically ruled out large-scale onshore wind as an approach in England.
On shale fracking there were some notable announcements. The Conservatives make it crystal clear they will be looking to develop the UK’s shale fracking industry - setting them apart from the Lib Dems and Labour who will oppose and ban the industry respectively. Not only will the Tories support fracking, they will streamline the planning processes in place to get the industry off the ground.
The Tories made clear "rigorous" environmental protections will be maintained but they intend to do this by setting up a new shale environmental regulator to take over the functions of the Health & Safety Executive, the Environment Agency and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. This will "allow decisions to be made fairly and swiftly". The party will legislate to change planning law so non-fracking drilling will be treated as permitted development. Major fracking decisions will also enter the National Planning Regime.
The Conservatives commit to producing their long-delayed, 25-year environment plan as part of a continued pledge "to leave the environment in a better state than we found it". But the plan’s delay since the Brexit vote was given ominous reasoning as the party stated it will "take control of our environmental legislation again". Another £9 billion is to be saved through the red tape challenge and the one-in-two-out rule.
Another key promise in the manifesto is to "provide stability to farmers as we leave the EU and set up new frameworks for supporting food production and stewardship of the countryside". This includes a commitment to work with farmers, food producers and environmental experts to devise a new agri-environmental system to replace the Common Agricultural Policy. It pledges to deliver environmental improvements on the catchment scale from enriching soil fertility, planting hedgerows, delivering natural flood management, to improving the quality of water courses. It would also ensure public forests and woodland are kept in trust for the nation while providing stronger protections for ancient woodlands.
On housing, the party says it will meet its 2015 commitment to deliver one million homes by the end of 2020 and another 500,000 on top of this by 2022. More land will be freed up for housing while at the same time "maintaining the existing strong protections on designated land like the green belt, national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty". It also pledges to continue the £2.5 billion flood defence programme to protect 300,000 homes by 2021.
On transport infrastructure, the Tories pledge to continue their "programme of strategic national investments" such as HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail (HS3) and the expansion of Heathrow Airport - the latter is not supported by the Liberal Democrats. Interestingly it contains no commitment to Crossrail 2. The party also wants every car and van to be zero carbon by 2050 and will invest £600 million by 2020 to help achieve it.
So from an environmental perspective the Conservatives have laid out their stall as "more of the same" with the ultimate focus of their policies steered towards the economy, trade and productivity.