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DAILY TELEGRAPH 10 December 2005

Start changing the environment by looking at Labour's failures

By Charles Clover, Environment Editor

(Filed: 10/12/2005)

David Cameron's new policy review group on the environment could do worse than start with Tony Blair's failures - of nerve, follow-through and political will:

People want to, and must, travel. But they need to pay their environmental dues by offsetting their greenhouse gas emissions with savings elsewhere.

Instead, the Prime Minister has used green rhetoric to win votes by promising what he could or would not deliver, and has used the Harold Wilson ruse of another energy review or a strategy unit report to disguise the fact that key decisions are not being taken, whether it is on climate change or on the other global environmental problem, the destruction of fisheries.

The Tories' review will have to look at the disastrous shambles that his Deputy Prime Minister and Chancellor have made of planning policy and the regeneration of inner cities, forcing through huge, bureaucratic, ineptly devised demolition schemes in the North, and shoddy, poorly designed housing, with poor environmental standards, across the growth areas of the South.

Is it beyond the wit of man to devise a way of attracting growth back to our northern cities from the over-heating growth areas of the South? I don't think so. It's often nicer up there.

It would be nice, too, if this group of Tory thinkers could move some institutional goalposts.

First, they need to smash up the crass Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, a planning department which, shorn of any environmental responsibilities, has become a delivery mechanism for whatever development Labour's corporate cronies want next, whether it is football stadiums or wind-farms.

They need to give more, rather than less, say in planning matters to ordinary people.

Second, they need to set up some institutions with broad cross-party support that will continue to deliver environmental improvements at arms' length from the five-year political cycle.

Oliver Letwin has already floated his idea of a kind of environmental Bank of England, charged with achieving, say, a three per cent year on year reduction in Britain's carbon emissions. A similar one charged with conserving and managing fish stocks would be a good idea for a future British EU presidency.

In the process of all this new thinking, Mr Cameron has said that he will concentrate on an environmental policy that Labour does not seem to appreciate at all: beauty. That is an extremely attractive idea.