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25 year environmental plan puts practically ahead of popularity

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Today saw the UK Government reveal its long-awaited 25 year environmental plan. It could have framed it all around populist virtue signalling, but instead has focused on practical deliverables.

Overall, I like it (caveat: I’ve only had time to speed-read it and so I reserve the right to change my mind later!)

I’m not sure that some sort of new environmental watchdog is needed – it will just create an additional cost burden for tax payers and divert existing funding from other priorities like health and social care. No matter how much people want to see our environment improved, ask them what they’d prefer to see their taxes spent on and I’m pretty certain most would say more frontline medical staff than a new environmental quango.

The thing that caught my eye most was the ‘environmental net gain’ principle to be applied to housing and infrastructure developments. I think this could be transformative, if done right. Developers would do well to start considering about how they might incorporate this sort of thinking into their business model because I suspect it will prove popular in communities across the UK and will, in time, come to be a deciding factor in the determination of planning permission for all sorts of schemes – where we may also see Section 106 agreements start to be used to deliver on this ambition.

I think the focus on plastic pollution would be better if it did more to address the issue further up the value chain – for instance, getting manufacturers and retailers aligned on phasing-out hard-to-recycle plastics. Moreover, given that China – the go-to destination for most of our plastic waste in the last decade – has closed its doors to further imports, it would be good to see greater focus on building recycling capacity here (and I don’t mean collection, sorting and baling but the actual physical process of turning one unwanted plastic item into a new one).

It’s also worth noting that the UK contribution to the floating ‘islands’ of waste plastic featured in the BBC’s Blue Planet 2 series recently is actually very small because our waste management systems are well developed – most of that comes from places like India and China, and so it’s right that the 25 year environment plan contains some provision for helping those countries get to grips with throwaway single-use plastics, but they also need to step-up themselves and make their own improvements.

It’s not exactly what I expected, it’s better. Yes, it now needs some further clarification, consultation and the right delivery mechanisms to make it all happen, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Unlike the sometimes ideological ‘greens’ at Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth etc, I’m a pragmatic green – I like to see progress made but I accept that we don’t live in Utopia, can’t do everything all at once, and that we sometimes need to do things we’d rather not in order to secure a broader benefit.

From what I’ve seen of it, this plan has been written with the sort of ‘aspirational pragmatism’ I believe works and I look forward to seeing it implemented.

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