Reflections on the week past

Reading Chris Loder’s column in last week’s Bridport News has left me a little confused. On the one hand it’s given me hope. His criticism of supermarket chains as “defenders of corporate greed” leads me to suspect that our MP may be a rarity amongst Conservative MPs – someone who does not support a neo-liberal free market economy. It is, after all, the open competitive nature of our market economy that allows these supermarket chains to saturate the market and devour most locally based small businesses.

It’s also reassuring that our MP recognises that the “cost of cheap food is nature.” One way to redress this, of course, would be to impose some restrictions and controls on our market economy. Perhaps the introduction of a carbon tax? Such a tax would allow many of the externalities, those costs which are paid by nature but not directly by the consumer, to be absorbed into the market price of goods. For example, the price of foods transported from the other side of the world would include the cost of removing the carbon deposited into the atmosphere from their transportation. This would make these foods much more expensive and locally produced foods much more competitive.

But on the other hand I get the strong impression that he is simply playing to the local farming community, trying very hard to develop the ‘son of a farmer’ image, someone who’s fighting their corner. I also get the strong impression that he is ambitious regarding his career in the Conservative Party. Such ambition would be incompatible with being a critic of the free market economy. I’m struggling to imagine him rocking the boat regarding any Conservative orthodoxy

I’m pleased though that our MP will be attending the Transport Day of the COP26 Climate Summit. However, if he is serious about mitigating the worst effects of our climate emergency perhaps he will also support a carbon tax on air travel; perhaps he will be advocating for public transport to be made easier and cheaper than driving by car; perhaps he will be calling for public transport to be nationalised and regarded as a not for profit public service?

Last Thursday saw a full meeting of Dorset Council. Fortunately this one was far less cantankerous than the last, and we managed to get through all our business in a reasonable time without falling into chaos. During the ‘Questions from Councillors’ I asked two questions to the portfolio holder for planning. The first was:

A recent report from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee concludes:
“The scale of the challenge to retrofit existing homes to tackle the climate crisis is enormous. Energy efficiency is a precursor to the transition to low carbon heat, so action must be taken in the 2020s to set homes on a decarbonisation trajectory to meet our net zero targets.” In Bridport, and other parts of Dorset, many of these existing homes have had requests to install energy efficiency measures, including the installation of double glazing, refused by our planning system because they are listed buildings. These listed buildings are nothing grand. Many are simple terraced houses that have been occupied by generations of working families, and the installation of double glazing would “lead to less than substantial harm” to their significance as a heritage asset. Could I have an assurance that the new Dorset Local Plan will take a different attitude to listed building consent and positively encourage the retrofitting of energy efficiency measures?

The issue of energy efficiency in general, but the installation of double glazing in particular, in listed buildings is fast becoming a personal campaign. Whereas most home owners are free to install double glazing if they have not already done so, and install solar panels on their roofs to generate electricity, those who happen to live in listed building have to apply for permission through the planning system – permission that is often refused on the advice of the conservation officer. The national planning guidelines on this are less than clear cut and require conservation officers to balance one guideline against another. In the absence of stronger wording in support of energy efficiency measures in listed buildings from the government I plan to argue that Dorset Council makes its case in the new Local Plan. My question was in effect the opening move in this campaign. I was not surprised at the bland and non-committal answer I received.

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