In his début phone-in interview on LBC radio, Nick Clegg spent half an hour being harangued by callers citing his myriad of broken electoral promises, before (providing urgently-required comic relief) revealing that he once received a big green onesie – although he has yet to wear it. Coming a mere two days after political aide Patrick Rock was photographed outside No.10 with a clearly visible document spelling out the extensive list of this government’s discarded electoral pledges (causing them to take a cheeky tactical leak on the web), the timing could not have been more apt if it had been staged.
In the two and a half years since taking office, the Coalition has had mixed success in making their lofty promises a reality. I recognise that these unequal partners each campaigned on a different set of policies, naturally including some contradictory stances. I also accept that when building a consensus from which to govern, the two parties were understandably forced to make certain compromises. The Liberal Democrats, for their part, are due more credit that they have been given for climbing into bed with the Tories if it meant their cornerstone policies reforming our voting system and the House of Lords were ever going to see the light of day; that they squandered those opportunities is a separate issue.
That which does deserve wholehearted criticism, however, is the government’s abysmally poor record of bringing about environmentally friendly legislation. Both Liberals and Conservatives alike sought to woo the section of the electorate who care deeply about protecting the environment, claiming to be the UK’s foremost (mainstream) pro-green party* (the Tories even changed their “we are the pathfinders” torch logo into a “look at us, we’re green” cartoon tree). So whither the lip service? Where are either of these parties’ green credentials?
Every primary school pupil is taught what you get if you mix primary colours. Sadly, however, the only thing resembling green in this blue-and-yellow government is Nick’s unwanted gift.
The housing strategy proposed by Nick Boles, DCLG’s new planning minister, will irresponsibly destroy precious greenfield sites, whilst countless unused land remains in need of regeneration in the cities – precisely where it is needed most.
Nick has completely missed the mark. Confident in his self-assured quest to have single-handedly “solved the housing problem”, he has stridden into the road without looking both ways again and forgotten to consider anyone who may have an objection to him building on unspoiled land. As with its forest selloff U-turn debacle, the Coalition is once again showing its hand: Liberal Democrats failing to stand up for any of their principles as Conservatives belie their utter disregard for preserving the environment. Yes, we sorely need to create more – particularly affordable – housing, but why irrevocably tarnish natural beauty when we have brownfield sites littering the country and hundreds of thousands of homes lie vacant?
Instead, shouldn’t the government be working towards funding a large-scale housing project to buy up dilapidated urban areas and inner-city brownfield sites, and build twenty-first century urban hubs akin to Stratford’s Olympic Village? These, not cookie-cutter settlements on a newly thrown-up ring road, would be the “more beautiful” built environments Boles seems to champion. These would rejuvenate city centres whilst creating more housing where it is actually needed.
Instead of raising capital by pawning off our natural resources to our children’s irreparable disadvantage, we should increase taxes on luxury goods and impose a stricter stamp duty on a band of houses higher than that which currently exists. The punitive proposed ‘mansion tax’ should be scrapped. All it serves to do is overly affect the metropolitan middle classes, who are evidently to be punished for merely possessing the fiscal rectitude necessary to save for a mortgage in an urban environment with an elevated cost of living. Finances should instead be raised from taxing those who can afford to buy a premium car for their enjoyment as opposed so a household in suburban London that has two cars because both parents have to work.
Fascinating new developments in green technology and energy efficiency have arisen since a government last had such an undertaking, and we must now make the best of them. New building techniques now permit us to create aesthetically pleasing domiciles for our denizens, and finally we may now heed the sage advice of visionaries like Hundertwasser and Gaudi, a century ahead of their time in terms of using light and space to their fullest advantage. Small-scale community development works have done wonders in our cities, and forward-thinking architectural styles have been shown to pay dividends in places like Chicago’s riverbank, where successive schools have adapted new methods to work in harmony with existing structures.
When development is more than piecemeal, there is a real opportunity to invest in the necessary infrastructure to create entire community centres that have long-lasting benefits. Better transport links, new shopping areas, and properly equipped schools and hospitals will create family-friendly environments, increase worker capacity and productivity in commercial centres, work towards solving the housing shortage (and the percentage of UK citizens still below the poverty line), as we once again become a beacon for foreign investment as a fiscally strong, developed state.