If I could turn back time

This is an exclusive blog by planning expert Mitch Cooke examining the potential impact of David Cameron’s “renegotiation” of EU legislation on the green economy.

I picked up David Cameron announcement last week that the UK would be renegotiating with the EU over certain areas of social, employment and environmental legislation, where he considered “Europe has gone too far”. Although his speech was light on detail of which legislation this was others have speculated that this would include targets for renewables and air quality, the habitats directive, the fisheries policy and the Common Agricultural Policy. Ignoring the reaction to this announcement, which has centred on whether this is likely to be possible, the main question is of course what it means to us in the environmental sector and the green economy. How this sits with the launch of the Green Deal by the government earlier this week sends out very confusing messages to investors and the industry as a whole.

An insight into the government’s thinking was provided by the comments of Guy Newey from Policy Exchange, who commented that “There is some excellent EU environmental policy, but the Prime Minister is right to look at what is working and what is not. The renewable energy target is an example of a clumsy measure that risks undermining an environmental goal by making it more expensive to cut carbon than it needs to be.”

I can understand the stance here, as a one size fits all approach is not always appropriate and targets which encourage the wrong type of action can be damaging. However, this does not sit particularly well with the aspiration to be “the greenest government ever” (which the government must now be sick of hearing quoted back to them) and it does not necessarily follow that removing the legislative burden on business will make them more efficient.

In fact, there is a stack of evidence that stricter green rules leads to innovation and can boost business performance. A large number of studies have found that both R&D spending and patent activity increase when the costs of environmental compliance are higher. Although regulation might run contrary to the Conservative ethos, regulation in the environmental sector is also necessary for maintaining the wellbeing of people and protecting the environment; removing it may conversely be a barrier of growth by removing opportunities within the green economy, and stifling investments in the UK’s ageing infrastructure.

It feels like a scene out of Back to the Future. Except, unfortunately, this is not a Hollywood fancy and if the country starts to turn back time we could find ourselves back in the 1980’s.