Eric Pickles used to champion this legislation, why is he now trying to do away with it?

Andrew Warren

Remember hug-a-husky time? Or “Go green, vote blue”? That was 2007 and 2008, when the Conservative Party was run by a chair determined to polish up the party’s environmental credentials. 

But one of the big frustrations with being in opposition is that mostly it is all about making the right speeches, the correct sound-bites. You can’t push your own legislation onto the statute book. With one exception. Each year a handful of backbenchers get their names drawn in the private members ballot. This gives the lucky ones the chance to promote a potential new Act of Parliament. And if they are very skilful, and get a lot of external support, and don’t cause too many problems for the government, they may just occasionally get to place something worthwhile onto the statute book.

That is what happened in 2008, when a Conservative backbencher called Michael Fallon came top of that ballot. Despite being not desperately well-known for any strong ecological interests, he was nonetheless the subject of a very heavyweight persuasion campaign by his party leaders, led by the party chair. It was to take up something called the Planning and Energy Bill and to then make it into the first new Conservative-inspired environmental Act of Parliament for many years. And so he did.

The Act provides local authorities with the ability to set specific carbon, renewable energy and energy efficiency targets for new build properties (the so-called ‘Merton Rule’). It also extends local authorities’ power to specify higher standards of energy efficiency and lower carbon energy production than required as the minimum under the building regulations.

But now in 2013 the secretary of state for communities and local government is proposing, in his housing strategy review launched in late August, to do away altogether with the 2008 Planning and Energy Act. He is describing it as unnecessary bureaucratic red tape. 

This is a very strange and foolish proposal. For three reasons.

The first is because, by common consensus, the Planning and Energy Act has been instrumental in promoting exemplar standards of meeting the energy needs of new buildings and as such, has driven considerable commercial value across all parts of the sustainable energy industry’s role in the built environment.

The second is because Michael Fallon, the backbench Conservative MP who was persuaded to pilot this legislation through, is now a minister at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, known to be seriously persuaded of the effectiveness of the Act, particularly as part of the localism agenda.

But the third reason is because the chair of the Conservative Party in 2008, who was its primary champion in order to achieve that “Go Green, Vote Blue” re-branding, just happens to be Eric Pickles. The very same man who as communities secretary is now seeking to remove it from the Statute Book.

This daft suggestion must progress no further. As he showed with his building regulations “consequential improvements” u-turn, Mr Pickles is prepared to reverse his public position following a consultation exercise. He must do so again.

Andrew Warren is the director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy.