WMN opinion: Narrow party ambitions do not serve our energy needs
What is the purpose of government? Is its role to implement policies for the greater good of society? Or is it simply a way of batting for your own team? No need to answer that; it was a rhetorical question.
In the case of Eric Pickles – the laughingly-titled Secretary of State for "Communities" – it seems the latter is his prime motivation. Like his mentor, Margaret Thatcher, Mr Pickles would appear to believe "there is no such thing as society". Otherwise why would he decide, with a wave of the ministerial wand, to sweep away the long-established system of local authority responsibility for planning appeals?
In a statement to MPs yesterday, Mr Pickles said he intended to scrap the checks and balances offered by planning officers and elected councillors where wind farms are concerned.
What this announcement does is to effectively put aside this country's tried and tested planning system for wind farms and replace it with an arbitrary cohort of Tory faithful led by Mr Pickles himself. If he gets his way, they – and only they – will decide on all renewable energy matters.
Is Mr Pickles' decision to wrest responsibility for renewable energy applications from planning authorities born of a desire to improve the lot of the whole of society? Or does it have more to do with post-conference season opinion polls and the fact that wind farms are largely sited in rural areas with a high proportion of Tory voters?
Looking to the future, what happens if this government discovers that objective planning officers who play by the rules are making other recommendations deemed to be against the wishes of some Tory voters? Presumably Mr Pickles will wave his wand and be done with them, too. If I worked in a Cornwall or Devon planning office I might be extremely worried by Mr Pickles' attempt to play Big Brother.
Looking at the broader issue, in a nation where rising energy consumption is matched by diminishing raw materials we cannot allow narrow party ambitions to jeopardise our future energy needs.
Cross-party unity on the need to fund research into all forms of renewable energy is long overdue. Not only would adopting a more mature approach benefit our domestic energy needs, but serious state investment in all forms of renewable technology could make the UK as a whole, and the South West in particular, a world leader.