Leader of the Liberal Democrats responds to Building's Charter 284 campaign for investment in infrastructure
I’m delighted to see Building’s Charter 284 in the debate over how we now reconstruct Britain’s shattered economy the big debate at this election.
For too long our economy has been overdependent on financial services. Dazzled by the glitz of the City, successive governments neglected construction, along with manufacturing and other industries. They forgot the importance of building and making things, convinced instead that risk-taking in the money markets was the only route to growth. We all know what happened next. The question now is: how do we get the country back on the path to growth – growth that really lasts? I believe that out of the rubble of this crisis we have an opportunity to build a new economy – sustainable because it is built on sound business, because it is geared towards protecting our environment, and because it spreads prosperity across the 100,000 square miles in Britain, not just one Square Mile in the capital.
Construction is at the heart of that. That’s why in our first year in office Liberal Democrats will invest more than £3bn in the country’s infrastructure, creating up to 100,000 jobs. We’ll bring quarter of a million homes back into use, and set up an Eco Cashback scheme, providing grants to people who make improvements to their homes. We’ll also renovate and adapt facilities in seven North and Irish Sea ports so they can be used to build the giant turbines needed for off-shore wind energy. That’s a huge boost for Britain’s budding wind industry, and will create work in shipyard cities blighted by unemployment. I’m pleased the Charter 284 campaign is getting behind green energy, although nuclear power is one area where we don’t agree. Nuclear carries an enormous price tag and there’s still no means of disposing of waste. Renewables can be built far more quickly and if we put our efforts into expanding the industry and improving energy efficiency we can avoid a future “energy gap”, putting ourselves at the forefront of cutting edge technology at the same time.
I believe that out of the rubble of this crisis we have an opportunity to build a new economy – sustainable because it is built on sound business, because it is geared towards protecting our environment, and because it spreads prosperity across the 100,000 square miles in Britain, not just one Square Mile in the capital
As part of our infrastructure package we’ll also insulate schools. Like you, we believe renewing and improving school buildings is a priority, which is why Liberal Democrats are committed to continuing investment in new school buildings. It beggars belief that the Conservatives are now planning to cut the school building programme by about £500m a year. And we have big plans for transport, too. By redirecting £3bn of capital spending from the roads, we can fund the biggest expansion of Britain’s railways since Victorian times, reopening stations and electrifying thousands of miles of track, everywhere from Tavistock to Penrith. With the public finances under such pressure, we also need to find ways of attracting the private investment needed for infrastructure projects. That’s why Vince Cable and I have developed proposals for a National Infrastructure Bank.
That recovery package is based on a renewed ambition for the role your industries can play in Britain’s future. An ambition we haven’t seen from either Labour or the Conservatives. But I understand that those expectations can only be achieved if government doesn’t strangle your industries with red tape. Some readers will be worried about the impact of incoming regulation on homebuilding, like the Lifetime Homes Standard. My view is this: we aren’t going to tackle climate change unless we cut carbon emissions from our housing stock (which is why Liberal Democrats will invest in insulating every British home over 10 years). And our houses are central to our social goals too, like enabling people to live longer and independently in their own homes. So Liberal Democrats will consult on the Lifetime Homes Standard to establish how best to incorporate it into building regulations. But we will, of course, take any impact on your industries into account, and we recognise that it may not be right to insist on every single one of the 16 criteria for every new home; it may not be appropriate, for example, to require an individual car parking space for each new dwelling where space is limited. Regulation is important, but let’s be smart about it.
So, a new, sustainable economy for Britain, where instead of pinning our hopes on casino banking, we tap into our potential for building and making things – that’s what the Liberal Democrats are offering in this election. You are central to our vision for Britain’s future. We should be central to yours too.
Nick Clegg MP, leader of the Liberal Democrats