Brown’s vision: live next to a nuclear power station, a new housing estate or a larger airport?

Gordon Brown has claimed to issue his vision of Britain, in his Observer interview today. There are slightly warmer words for those of us who believe in defending and strengthening our civil liberties, with a promise that ID cards will not be compulsory. Why not just drop them altogether, as an unwanted expense and a temptation to government to intrude too far? Why not introduce proper border controls, and use the passport and visa system, to deal with immigration?

In contrast there are tough words for those who want to preserve Englands green and pleasant land ?? or what remains of it. Mr Brown has decided his crusade is to go to war with the Nimbys, using a highly overcentralised and bossy state to drive through new houses, nuclear power stations, new runways and eventually new train lines. He thinks he can make himself more popular by announcing unpopular decisions. It is an unusual approach.

Readers of this blog will know that I think Mr Brown is fighting yesterdays war on housing in the wrong way, instead of fighting todays war the right way. The issue today is not how to expand the supply of new housing, but how to stabilise the market in second hand homes. If he does not succeed in protecting the UK housing market from the credit crunch, housebuilders will not want to build all the extra homes in Mr Browns 12 year plan.

Mr Brown tries to create the impression that the credit crunch is made in the USA. He needs to recognise that the run on Northern Rock was made in the UK. It is banks based in London and regulated in London that are having to pull in their horns after a period of easy money and excess which occurred during his time as Chancellor. Today Mr Brown needs to come up with the right mixture of regulatory reform and money easing to prevent the credit crunch pushing house prices down too far too fast and undermining his hopes for new homes.

He also needs to understand that in many constituencies that Labour needs to hold in the suburbs and the countryside in England there are strong feelings that communities can only take so much extra development. There is growing resentment at the way large scale high density development is pushed onto reluctant communities by the centre. Trying to trap the Tories over Nimbyism is a very high risk strategy at the best of times. It is particularly silly at a time when government can force through the planning permission but cannot force a housebuilding industry under pressure to build on the scale Mr Brown thinks is needed.

Mr Brown is right that the UK is short of transport capacity of all kinds. It has become so because this Labour government has failed to initiate any major new project to expand rail, road or air capacity. They have completed the Channel tunnel rail link they inherited, but precious little else.

Readers of this blog will know that I pursued their last announcement that they intended to build Crossrail, only to discover that they are not going to make the final decision about it this Parliament. I doubt if anything has changed, and assume this is another re-announcement of the same lack of progress. Their much publicised difficulties with engineering works on the West coast mainline over Christmas will not encourage them to try to speed up rail improvements, against the background of poor performance and a shortage of trained staff.

The Prime Minister is also right in realising that we are also short of generating capacity. This island of coal set in a sea of oil and gas did almost run out of energy last winter. This Christmas I was asked to help constituents who had a power cut all Christmas day so they were unable to cook their Christmas dinner. I forget how many times we have heard they are going to take the ??tough?? decision to build nuclear stations. We heard that before the consultation before last, only for them to be defeated by a legal challenge. They had to consult again.

I have regularly suggested they hold a competition between all the low and no carbon technologies for generating power to decide which mixture would give us the best trade off between low cost and good security of supply. Has Mr Brown now got as his command all the figures, so he knows nuclear is the outright winner? How much subsidy ?? or guaranteed carbon price ?? will it take to justify building a new generation of nuclear stations? Will the taxpayer or the electricity consumer pay?

If Mr Brown is to turn this interview into a working vision of the future he needs to have answers to these questions:

1. How much will Crossrail cost? Who will foot the bill? When will the contract be let?
2. How will nuclear power be subsidised or supported to enable it to compete with gas and coal? Why is it better than renewables and other low carbon options?
3. How will he stabilise the residential housing market, so that housebuilders will want to build all the homes he seeks? Will he take seriously the objections of local communities who may have their own views on numbers of new homes and densities? Will he recognise that new homes require new roads, schools and hospitals to sustain them?

It is easy to caricature Mr Browns statement: he wants a UK where you will have to live next door to an expanded airport, or a nuclear power station, or a new housing estate which he intends to drive through regardless of local opinion.

He is right that the UK needs to expand the capacity of its networks. He is wrong to think there are simple top down answers, and to believe that local opinion can be overwhelmed. The art of government is persuasion. More need to be persuaded that the government has the right answers. In the meantime there are many other things that could be done to remedy the transport shortage, the electricity shortage, and the housing problem.


  1. mikestallard
    January 6, 2008

    1. I predicted, on this very blog, that Harriet Harman would be the next Governor of the bank of England. In yesterday's Telegraph, it said that the Chancellor was going to take on responsibility for most of the bank's duties and that the FSA was going to have more input. The Governor, apparently, was to be given an "advisory" role. I suspect that what the Chancellor knows about the banking system could be written on the back of an envelope and that goes for most of his advisors too. Being a bureaucracy, the FSA is the last set of people who ought to be in charge of anything – far too slow and ponderous. I think, myself, that Northern Rock is going to be just one of many to come.
    2. What would happen if the housing shortage was simply abandoned and the market left to sort itself out? Wouldn't people start to realise that life, even in Milton Keynes, was preferable to living in London? Maybe people would come to move up North if the Police there were allowed to do their job? London seems to be getting so unpleasant nowadays.

  2. Neil Craig
    January 6, 2008

    "He thinks he can make himself more popular by announcing unpopular decisions. It is an unusual approach."

    If he sticks to it it will show some courage & will earn respect which may be better than popularity (Thatcher was respected rather than popular). Certainly building new houses, airports or nuclear power stations (or windmills) in your own backyard is not something which will be individually popular but something which most of us will recognise has to happen somewhere. There are reforms which we could not accept if they only applied to us but could if applied fairly across the board.

    Certainly Britain's planning system is horribly bureaucratic & expensive. It seems, for example, to be the main reason why Scotland's new Forth Bridge is being costed at

  3. Iain
    January 6, 2008

    I am glad to read that one Conservative is looking to challenge Brown, but I am sorry to say the Shadow Treasury team has been absent from the fray when they should be out there pinning this economic mess on Brown, and not letting him get away with blaming it on the US’s sub-prime problems, a point I have been making many times on the Conservativehome web site.

    As to house building, I feel the Conservatives have strategically messed up, for what ever they say when objecting house building it will be categorised as Nimbyism unless they can come up with a better argument than just no. The argument and debate in my opinion is the need for a population policy, for as most of Brown’s house building is driven by the expanding population Labour have engineered, and most of this expanding population is the result of their mass immigration policy, to put forward the need for a population policy would neatly tie in many stands into a cohesive narrative of policies, for not only would it tie in immigration, house building, public service planning, but also sustainability, global warming and Camerons green agenda, for the biggest global warming denialists must be those who promote mass immigration into an already over crowded country.

  4. Richard
    January 6, 2008

    The reason why nuclear energy is considered better than "renewables" is because it costs a mere 3 pence per kilowatt hour whereas the cheapest forms of "renewables" cost double that. So called "renewables"such as wind-turbines also rarely offset the total amount of input energy required during thier construction and transport so are infact not renewable at all. Although both nuclear power stations and wind-turbines are exceptionally ugly, the difference is that a nuclear power station is in a single place and will perhaps be a problem to those within a ten mile radiuis of it, whereas wind-turbines will blight a much larger section of coast and also produce a rather irritating noise. The environmental destruction that renewables cause is therefore unacceptable due to the realtively minute amount of electricity generated. The government may have a ludicrous centralzed approach to planning, but surely you must accept that nuclear is the only form of viable electricity generation for the foreseeable future?

  5. Bazman
    January 6, 2008

    Looks like Brown is taking the bull by the tail. Strange how there is a housing shortage when house prices have never been higher? Rubs me suspicious. I am a Nimby in the sense near to where I live, just off the A1. A local pub has closed down. Locals never went there, very respectable and exceptionally clean. Daft flats or well Known burger chain is the dilemma faced by the local council.
    I wondered how long it would take the right to link green issues with immigration for there own agenda.

  6. apl
    January 7, 2008


  7. Iain
    January 7, 2008

    "I wondered how long it would take the right to link green issues with immigration for there own agenda."

    Aren't all agendas 'peoples own agendas' ? But objecting to Labour's mass immigration policy, whether right or left must come in the end down to sustainability of the situation, which its not!

    The left are also in denial of the situation, in effect guilty of a schizophrenic view of the two issues of immigration and global warming, for on the one hand they are to be found waxing lyrical about the wonders of immigration, and on the other painting the blackest of black pictures about sustainability and the environment .

    The fact is the two issues are directly linked for sustainability in the end comes down to population sustainability and in our case immigration, for we would have a gently declining population to a more sustainable population size if it weren't for Labour's mass immigration policy which has tipped us into population growth. This isn't a serious problem for a country with environment to spare, but England as a country which has one of the highest levels of population density and dependent on food imports for 50% of its needs its a disaster, especially when we are told the effects of global warming is likely to make agriculture marginal, and the energy shortage has countries with agricultural surpluses redirecting their crops to bio ethanol production.

    But please dont delude yourself in believing that action by world bodies like the UN will come to our aid as the left usually does, for the UN is a pretty useless organisation, and cant get any worthwhile agreements on climate change. The fact is even if in the unlikely event the UN gets an agreement for a 50% cut in energy consumption in the West, a combination of increasing demand in developing countries and their massive populations ( 4times that of the West) and the massive increase in population growth which is taking place there, (50 years ago Africa had a population of 250 million, it now has a population of over a billion and exponentially rising) will actually result in a 50% increase in energy consumption by 2030. Yes a 50% increase in the worlds energy consumption.

    So IF the global warming theory is true, then it is going to happen. This makes sustainability key to any countries survival, regretfully we are right up the creek on that score, and getting worse by the day with Labours insane mass immigration policy. So Labours insane mass immigration policy has to make global warming denialists of all of us, for we must hope that all the scientists have go it wrong, for that is the only hope our children will have any future to enjoy.

  8. Bazman
    January 7, 2008

    It's not about stopping immigration, but controlling the numbers of people here, identifying where they are and who they are. ID cards are not the answer for many obvious reasons. More clever method must be deployed with incentives not to be illegal. Countries like Germany have borders so long that if a person was to be stopped they would just walk further down the fence and climb over.
    It's not physically possible to stop anyone entering this country. Illegal immigrants by definition are 'illegal'! The country would have to become a fortress.
    I do believe that green issues In Britain are linked to the total population. The right wing should not be allowed to hijack environmental issues that they often do not want to believe ( removed last few words as I think them unfair).

  9. APL
    January 8, 2008

    Bazman: "The country would have to become a fortress."

    You are aware that the United Kingdom is an island? It does not make sense to compare the situation of the UK with that of Germany which has a very large land border.

  10. Steven Baker
    January 8, 2008

    Back in July, The Economist published an article discussing the tension between people wanting to live in large houses with gardens, agreeing that more should be built, and peoples desire that these should be built far away.

    And I was prompted to blog the awful development at Wroughton, where a revolting modern development has been squeezed onto itself, on an old airfield, in the middle of fallow farmland. Moreover, it is adjacent to the old officers' quarters for the now-closed hospital (another story!) which, though old, amount to living in parkland:

    I'd like to believe it would be possible, with careful thought, to arrange matters so that people lived in attractive surroundings, in sustainable homes, in the midst of a worthwhile community, and with the sacrifice of just a little greenbelt. Maybe it's possible to have attractive office space within walking distance too.

    So, let's not rebuild Milton Keynes, but let's figure out how to sweep aside failing planning law and enable the market to deliver attractive, sustainable communities.

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