Green agenda needs determination not dither

Doubts are swirling around HS2 coming to the North and promises on Northern Powerhouse Rail. Jim wonders if the Prime Minister is the right man to deliver on these projects or the wider green agenda where tough choices are needed.

Jim Hancock

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Getting Britain to meet its carbon targets will require political courage, determination, and attention to detail.

Boris Johnson is deficient in these qualities and as a result, efforts to make our contribution to reducing climate change is likely to be marked by uncertainty and political opportunism. We are seeing signs of it already with our rail network. Major investment was meant to get cars off the road and link our northern and midland cities.

Almost daily there are reports that HS2 will be terminated at Birmingham. Worse still the government’s integrated rail plan which is meant to trigger investment in our east-west connections from Leeds to Manchester keeps getting put back.

Taking HS2 first. Ministers have apparently lost confidence in HS2 Rail Ltd. With the budget ballooning from £33bn to £100bn it is easy to see why. But one senses it is not all about money. Doubts are growing about the future patterns of rail use. If there is to be much more working from home (I hope not) do we need HS2 to get us to a London that will be hollowed out by the change in work patterns.

I was at Westminster this week. I know it is August, but it was very quiet with no sign of the big return to work that is meant to have taken place since mid-July.

The government’s own Infrastructure and Projects Authority says the HS2 budget and schedule is “unachievable”. Sir John Armitt, chair of the Infrastructure Commission says priority needs to be given to east-west rail across the North.

Good news you might think except that Henry Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership says the integration of HS2 with northern rail improvements go together.

It may be that the government sugar the pill of the scaling down of HS2 with a promise to give control of more rail cash to elected mayors in the North, but at the moment that part of the green agenda is shrouded in doubt.

Now let’s come to some of the big decisions that will affect all our lives, removing gas boilers, banning petrol cars, and reducing our habit of flying to foreign holidays.

Replacing gas boilers with heat pumps could cost £12,000 a household. Is Johnson up for spelling that out to people? Electric cars are way more expensive than petrol ones and the investment needed in charging points to end “range anxiety” is huge. Is the plan in place? Finally, we have seen the appetite for foreign holidays. Johnson tells us he desperately wants to ease the Covid restrictions to let us fly. Is he coming back next year with taxes to deter flight in the pursuit of reduced carbon emissions?

The Prime Minister is all over the place on almost every policy. His ex-advisor Dominic Cummings says he likes the chaos to keep his ministers in check. I don’t know how that works but what I am convinced about is that Johnson is incapable of delivering the bad news to voters and sticking to a range of long-term policies to stop our homes being flooded one week and people dying of heatstroke the next.

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