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£2.3bn for flood defences in England is not new money, and spending has gone backwards under this Tory-led government despite its claims to the contrary.
‘The government … is having to rely on councils to meet three-quarters of the costs as the private sector sit on their hands. It is difficult to see how cash-strapped local authorities will be able to raise anything like £600m for flood defences in the next six years.’ Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/Alamy
Maria Eagle MP, shadow environment secretary for the Labour party.
Climate change is a serious threat to national security and last year’s winter storms highlighted the cost, damages and disruption that extreme weather can cause. Yet within the first six months of the coalition, David Cameron cut the flood protection budget by over £100m, leaving many communities, including the South West, overly exposed.
Ever since then the government has been playing catch up and that’s what today’s promise of £2.3billion for flood defence schemes is all about.
Communities at risk of flooding won’t buy this spin from David Cameron. The £2.3bn is not new money, instead it is another re-announcement of capital funding confirmed a year ago. As a result the Committee on Climate Change claims that the government’s plans will leave 80,000 additional properties at significant risk of flooding in the next five years alone. There were even reports over the weekend that these plans contain a £500m black hole.
There are some heroic assumptions underlying these plans. The government has assumed it can raise £600m of the £2.3bn from its ‘partnership funding programme’, four times more than at present. The programme includes contributions from both the public and private sectors. Yet this has been a disaster.
Not only has the government failed to raise even the original target of £140m in this Parliament, it is having to rely on councils to meet three-quarters of the costs as the private sector sit on their hands. It is difficult to see how cash-strapped local authorities will be able to raise anything like £600m for flood defences in the next six years.
The reality is that flood risk management has gone backwards under this Tory-led government. Despite repeatedly telling us that they’re spending ‘more than ever’ and promising that “money is no object” they have been found out time and time again. Just last month the National Audit Office confirmed that David Cameron has cut flood defence spending by 10% in real terms since 2010.
This same short-term approach has been applied to the ongoing maintenance of flood defences which were cut by 20% in 2010. As a result the Committee on Climate Change has said that three-quarters of existing flood defences are not being maintained to their identified need. This will end up costing the taxpayer more in the long-term because maintaining existing flood defence systems can be among the most cost-effective use of resources.
This replaces The Guardian’s video which was not available to share.
Communities at risk of flooding deserve a proper long-term plan for infrastructure investment, including flooding. That is why Labour has called for an Independent National Infrastructure Commission to set out its flood defence spending in the context of a 25-30 year infrastructure plan.
Taking climate change seriously is not something only to be done a few months before an election. Voters won’t be fooled by the prime minister who pledged to lead the “greenest government ever” and then instructed his aides to “cut the green crap”.
Maria Eagle MP is Labour’s shadow environment secretary.
Ineos has made no secret of its interest in shale gas
Chemicals giant Ineos has announced plans to invest up to £640m in shale gas exploration in the UK.
The company plans to use the gas as a raw material for its chemicals plants, including Grangemouth in Stirlingshire.
Grangemouth is currently running at a loss, but Ineos believes shale gas will transform the economics of the plant.
Shale gas extraction is promoted as an important potential energy source, but has sparked opposition from environmental groups.
Shale gas is extracted through a technique known as fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, in which water and chemicals are pumped into shale rock at high pressure.
Numerous anti-fracking groups have formed and protests have been staged at several sites over fears of earthquakes, water pollution and environmental damage.
Ineos is currently building Europe’s largest shale gas import facility to feed its petrochemicals plant at Grangemouth – but it wants to produce home-grown shale gas as well.
In recent months it has been buying up rights to explore across hundreds of square miles of the Midland Valley around the Stirlingshire site.
Ineos is also thought to have applied for further licences as part of the government’s ongoing onshore licensing round.
The company outlined plans on Thursday to invest hundreds of millions pounds in UK exploration.
“I believe shale gas could revolutionise UK manufacturing and I know Ineos has the resources to make it happen, the skills to extract the gas safely and the vision to realise that everyone must share in the rewards,” said Ineos boss Jim Ratcliffe.
The firm added that “substantial further investment would follow if the company moved to development and production”.
BBC industry correspondent John Moylan said the move will be seen as a significant vote of confidence in the sector, and will position Ineos as one of the major players in the emerging industry.
But, he added, it will also put Ineos in the sights of protesters who believe shale gas and fracking are dangerous and harmful to the environment.
A spokesman for Greenpeace UK characterised Ineos’ investment as “giant speculative bets on unproven and risky resources”.
“It seems that Ineos have based their business plan on breathless PR brochures rather than scientific reports,” he added.
Shale gas sites in UK.
Earlier this year, Ineos announced plans to hand over up to £2.5bn of shale gas revenues to communities close to its wells.
The company has bought the licence for shale gas exploration and development across a 329sq km area around its Grangemouth power plant.
It will give away 6% of revenues to local homeowners and landowners.
However, Friends of the Earth Scotland criticised the move as “a transparent attempt to bribe communities”.
The British Geological Survey has estimated there are “modest” shale gas and oil resources in the area.
Fracking is used extensively in the US where it has revolutionised the energy industry.
The Scottish government has called for devolved powers on fracking after the UK government decided to press ahead with plans to let companies drill at depths of 300m below private land without consent.
Analysis: John Moylan, BBC Industries Correspondent
This sounds like a huge investment by Ineos.
But any firm wanting to bring shale gas from the exploration stage through to full production will have to spend hundreds of millions of pounds.
An industry report earlier this year suggested that a single shale gas production site with 10 wells might cost as much as £350m. So firms intending to have multiple gas production sites will have to spend eye-watering sums.
But the timing of this announcement is key. The government is currently assessing applications made by operators for new onshore licences to explore for shale gas.
Firms have to demonstrate that they have the cash and know-how to exploit a license area. If this has been a competitive license round – and there’s a suggestion that this is the case – then firms like Ineos will have to lobby hard to ensure they get the areas that they want.
There could be more announcements like this from other industry players in the weeks and months ahead.
- Ministers’ shale gas ‘hype’ attacked
- Fracking regulations ‘too strict’
- Fund proposed for shale gas revenues
Parts of Lake Shore Drive closed after 65 mph gusts create huge waves at Lake Michigan shoreline, prompting closure of Halloween haunted barge attraction.
High winds create huge wave crashing along a Lake Michigan retaining wall at Chicago’s 31st Street Beach. Photograph: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP.
Associated Press in Chicago.
Winds gusting up to 65 mph caused waves from Lake Michigan to slam into the Chicago shoreline, slowing traffic and forcing the closure of a Halloween attraction.
Parts of the scenic Lake Shore Drive highway were flooded on Friday, leading to some lane closures. Traffic was backed up for miles.
The waves slowed traffic along Lake Shore Drive and prompted the cancellation of a Halloween attraction. Photograph: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP.
The high waves prompted Navy Pier, one of Chicago’s top tourist attractions, to close its eastern end. Navy Pier officials also canceled a haunted house located on a barge. Officials later announced the barge was taking on water and the attraction was to be permanently closed.
Manuel Hernandez takes video of high waves crashing into a break wall on the south shore of Lake Michigan. Photograph: M. Spencer Green/AP.
The National Weather Service issued a lakeshore flood advisory to remain in effect until 4am on Saturday. The warning forecasts winds of up to 50mph and 23ft (7m) waves.
Environment secretary Liz Truss has cut solar farm’s subsidies saying they harm food production, but most UK solar farms successfully produce food as well. Karl Mathiesen investigates.
Sheep remain an essential part of this solar energy farm at Wymeswold in Leicestershire, and the panels even provide shelter for the animals. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/Christopher Thomond.
Karl Mathiesen reporting,
The environment secretary, Liz Truss, has stripped farmers of subsidies for solar farms, saying they are a “blight” that was pushing food production overseas.
But the new minister has fundamentally misunderstood the way solar farms operate, according to the solar industry and farmers.
Truss revealed on Monday new rules on payments under the Common Agriculture Policy that will see agricultural subsidies removed from solar farms. She said: “I am committed to food production in this country and it makes my heart sink to see row upon row of solar panels where once there was a field of wheat or grassland for livestock to graze.”
Truss told the Mail on Sunday that 10,000 football pitches of panels were “in the pipeline”. She said solar farms were “ugly, a blight on the countryside, and villages are pushing production of meat and other traditional British produce overseas”.
But farmers who run solar farms said Truss’s justification for removing the subsidies was flawed. First, almost all solar farms in the UK continue to produce food. Second, solar farms provide farmers with a way to diversify their income – helping them to stay in business.
“It seems a shame that people aren’t becoming informed before they make judgments,” said Clive Sage, who has a 4.8MW solar farm on his property in West Dorset and continues to produce prime lamb from beneath the panels. “As times have moved on, as a small family farm, we’ve had to diversify to survive.”
He said this government had originally encouraged farmers to diversify their income streams through solar farming.
But Truss’s move showed that the government did not understand the issue. “It’s nonsense for anyone to say that you can’t use land for solar production and agricultural production. The sheep compliment the solar really well. For them to pull the rug out, I don’t really think this government understands the word sustainability.”
“It definitely helped us to survive,” says Andrew Hawkey of his 5MW solar farm in North Cornwall. Hawkey’s family have been farming his land for four generations. “We are committed farmers, we are Cornish farmers and we want to stay farming.” For the Hawkeys, there was never a choice between farming food and farming sun. His solar fields are also still used to produce lamb.
“There is virtually no loss [of production] at all. We could almost say we are farming double on the same land,” he said. Originally the land had seen a rotation between crops and pasture. The only change was that now the land was solely used for sheep grazing. He said the solar panels had offered an unexpected benefit as they provided shelter for animals during the winter months.
Farmer Edward Packe-Drury-Lowe’s property currently houses the largest solar farm in the UK at Wymeswold. The disused airfield was previously used for grazing sheep and cattle and growing oilseed rape. Packe-Drury-Lowe said the sheep remained an essential part of his farm.
He said there is anecdotal evidence from some farms that solar can actually provide a boost to the production of lamb because of the shelter provided by the panels. He says stopping crops that use pesticides also had an immediate effect. “If you look at the biodiversity, the bees, insect life, the gain is almost instant.” This boost has a knock-on benefit to all farmers in the area.
Former energy secretary, Chris Huhne, told Newsnight on Monday that Truss’s prioritisation of food production over energy made little sense. “We import our energy and we import our food, so frankly, saying that we should make less energy so that we don’t have to import apples seems to me to be nuts.”
Whether a net loss of food production occurs depends largely on what was being farmed before. This is governed by the government’s planning guidance, which already stipulates that land for solar farms should preference “previously developed land, and if a proposal does involve greenfield land, that it allows for continued agricultural use and/or encourages biodiversity improvements around arrays”.
Communities minister Kris Hopkins said planning provisions were already in place to ensure productive farmland remained unadulterated. “The guidance is clear that councils must protect good-quality farmland and consider the effective use of brownfield land.”
The solar trade association’s advice goes further, recommending highly productive crop land be avoided and only land graded 3b, 4 or 5 be developed for solar farms.
It appears that some farms, including Hawkey’s which was built before the guidance came in around 18 months ago, have been placed on higher grade agricultural land. But the Solar Trade Association (STA) says this no longer happens at any of the projects they manage.
Solar farms do limit what can be grown on the land. In some cases, sheep alone have replaced a rotation of sheep, cattle and crops. But it is unclear whether this reduces the overall productivity of low grade land. Conversely, there are examples, such as the 14 MW solar array at Marsh Farm, where a solar farm on previously unused land is now running livestock for the first time.
The solar industry, whose farms were consistently attacked by the Consevative MP and former climate minister Greg Barker, were incensed by another Tory minister coming out in opposition to solar farms. Leonie Greene, from the STA, said Truss’s comments were “damaging and incorrect”.
Greene said: “The land is still available for farming – the solar fixings only take up 5% of the land. This means plenty of room for continued agricultural practices such as sheep, geese or chicken farming. As far as farm payments are concerned, solar should really be treated in the same way as orchards or fields with trees, where animals continue to graze the land in between.”
Toddington Harper, from solar operators Belectric, said: “I think [Truss] has completely misunderstood the benefits. She’s said we are taking land out of food production, which we are not. What else would you expect from a [former] oil executive?”
Harper said all 10 of Belectric’s solar farms are still farmed for food and that the planning advice simply needed to be enforced. “She should be saying that every solar farm must continue agricultural use. It’s happening most of the time but if it happens all of the time time that would be marvellous.”
London Greens councillor Jenny Jones said Truss’s suggestion to the Mail on Sunday that orchards were being replaced by solar farms was “total nonsense”.
Jones said: “This misguided attack by the environment secretary deliberately ignores the fact that the planning system is already there to prevent unsightly and overly dominant solar farms or their deployment on high-quality productive agricultural land. Where they do go ahead on poorer grade soils, planning conditions should ensure that they boost biodiversity and revert back to their original use when appropriate.”