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Environmental Projects

Volume 804: debated on Thursday 2 July 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the announcement of a New Deal for Britain by the Prime Minister on 30 June, what plans they have to ensure that environmental projects will be given priority in their economic growth strategy.

My Lords, as we recover from Covid-19, the Government intend to deliver a UK economy that is stronger, cleaner, more sustainable and more resilient. As the Prime Minister set out in his speech on Tuesday, we intend to

“build back better, build back greener, build back faster and to do that at the pace that this moment requires.”

The UK has shown that growing our economy and cutting emissions can be achieved at the same time.

I welcome the Government’s determination to get the economy moving again, but perhaps my noble friend the Minister could reconfirm their commitment not to let new developments override environmental protections for habitats and species, including the great crested newt.

My noble friend makes a good point: we want to tackle delays in the planning system to support economic recovery, but that does not mean weakening our environmental protections. We can speed up developments while still maintaining the strong protection for the species he highlights, such as the great crested newt.

Does the Minister share the widespread disappointment that, despite the Prime Minister’s green rhetoric on Tuesday, there was no mention of the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitment to spend around £9 billion on a countrywide house insulation scheme? Instead we have promises to spend around £100 million on new road schemes. Does the Minister agree that such schemes inevitably cause more pollution and congestion, are in no way helpful to cutting emissions and certainly do not assist the Government in meeting their published target of being carbon-neutral by 2030?

No, I do not agree with the noble Lord. Local road schemes can contribute to reducing congestion in many areas. We are still committed to our manifesto commitment of home insulation. The noble Lord will want to watch this space for further announcements.

My Lords, taken at face value I welcome the Prime Minister’s speech, in particular his commitment to accelerate projects

“to drive economic growth in all parts of the country”,

including Northern Ireland. I note that Mr Johnson also set his Government the goal of producing the world’s first zero-emission long-haul passenger plane. Can the Minister tell the House the timescale for this and whether there may be a prominent role for Bombardier’s Belfast plant in its design and manufacture?

I cannot give the noble Lord specific commitments on Bombardier’s role in this, but it is a world-class aeroplane manufacturer. This is an extremely optimistic long-term goal that the Prime Minister has set out, but we are totally committed to making progress towards it. It will be a tremendous achievement by Britain’s scientists and engineers when we achieve it.

My Lords, there is a great deal to welcome in this policy, but I am concerned that any large development inevitably impacts on trees, ancient woodland, wildlife and biodiversity in general. Like my noble friend Lord Randall, I am concerned about some of the measures mentioned. The statement says that the Government will

“set out further measures as part of its green agenda”.

Can the Minister perhaps give us any pointers as to what these further measures might be?

My noble friend will understand that I cannot go into too many details on this until those announcements are made, but we believe we can get the balance right between protecting our environment on the one hand and cutting out many of the unnecessary delays in our planning system on the other.

My Lords, Germany has just announced €7 billion to drive forward a green hydrogen economy and France has just announced €8 billion to promote its electric car industry. By contrast, Boris Johnson reannounced just £40 million to create 3,000 green jobs. Why did the Prime Minister fail to commit the resources necessary for a green recovery from Covid? Can the Minister now commit to major new resources for energy conservation, especially home insulation, electric vehicles and a new hydrogen economy?

We are committing resources to all those issues. We are already investing up to £121 million in hydrogen innovation, supporting a range of projects exploring the potential of low-carbon hydrogen for use in heating and transport and the production of low-carbon hydrogen with CCUS and electrolysis technologies.

My Lords, it is good to be back in the Chamber. Does my noble friend agree that all stimulus packages would benefit from a green sheen and that all the capital investment projects referred to by the Prime Minister—from schools to prisons to roads—could now take advantage of this opportunity to build a greener future? In this context, can he assure us that the British Overseas Territories, which contribute so much to our consequence in biodiversity terms, should not be forgotten when they apply for funding for environmental projects, especially as much of their previous green funding came from the European Union? Of course, many of these overseas territories could also contribute to the development of green finance, in which the City of London is leading the field.

I welcome my noble friend back to the Chamber. I agree with her that we are committed to building back better and greener. I am sure the overseas territories will have an important role to play in that, and of course we will consider requests for funding from them.

My Lords, while the establishment of a Cabinet committee on climate change is welcome, we need to do more to embed climate consideration in policy-making across government and consider the systems nature of net-zero delivery. Will the Government consider establishing a cross-departmental body to oversee the delivery of net zero and mitigate the siloed thinking inherent in individual departmental responsibilities?

The noble Lord is correct: the net-zero challenge is fundamentally cross-cutting. That is why in the run-up to the COP 26 summit we will bring forward ambitious plans across key sectors of the economy, including an energy White Paper, a transport decarbonisation plan and a heat and building strategy. We need to avoid siloed thinking in government across these endeavours.

My noble friend Lord Snape drew attention to the fact that the Prime Minister’s recent speech made no mention of plans to insulate homes, although this was a £9.2 billion spending commitment in the Conservative manifesto. The Committee on Climate Change noted recently that retrofitting insulation would be the most effective measure in the race to get to zero carbon. Of course, as we have acknowledged in previous exchanges, this would be an excellent and inexpensive new job creator. Has the manifesto pledge been abandoned?

We remain completely committed to taking all the necessary action to improve the energy efficiency of the UK’s buildings, delivering a UK economy that is stronger, cleaner, more sustainable and more resilient after the crisis.

I draw attention to my interests in sustainable development and renewables, as in the register. The Minister is aware that it is vastly more expensive to retrofit old homes than to build new ones to the right standards in the first place, but the new standards for homes—the elimination of gas, for example—will not come in until 2025. As part of the programme to get people back to work, would it not make sense to make sure that the homes we build are built to the highest standards in the first place and that those standards are brought forward using proven technologies, as some councils are already doing?

That is an important issue. We keep things such as the building regulations under constant review, but we need to proceed at a pace that the building industry can cope with and that consumers will accept.

My Lords, we welcome the Prime Minister’s emphasis on promoting a green recovery in his “Build, build, build” speech. Will the Minister inform us whether the formation of the Green Investment Bank, launched in 2012 with £3 billion, was key to backing the offshore wind industry? It was sold to Macquarie in 2017. Will the Government form a new green investment bank? What about collaborating with countries such as India, which has set a target of 100 gigawatts of solar power by 2022 to lead the world in solar power? Should we partner with countries such as India?

The role of green finance is particularly important; it is one we are working closely on. The former Governor of the Bank of England is leading our efforts on that. Of course, we must partner with many other countries around the world. This is a global challenge and has to be addressed on a global level. India will play a crucial role, as will many other countries.