Time for a green Economic Regeneration Bill
What would we want from the Economic Regeneration Bill that seems likely to replace Lords Reform? One that, hopefully, will focus on sustainable initiatives to support a green recovery. Something more than the Chancellor’s false-choice vision of a fresh assault on “ludicrous planning laws” that protect the green belt. This politician’s device reflects a deliberate attempt to eliminate the middle ground on an issue: “You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.” We think green is good for growth , and would make a fine and sustainable guiding principle for a four-part Regeneration Bill: infrastructure, low carbon technologies, finance and skills.
Take just the first two: we need to integrate stimulus spending on infrastructure with directed investment in strategic new technologies and sectors. Build new road and rail infrastructure, fine. But what matters more for the long term is the investment in technology and manufacture in the UK of the vehicles that use them: the new generation electric cars and commercial vehicles, the new rolling stock, all of which, with the right investment and procurement strategies, should be made in the UK. While infrastructure projects are key for employment in the short term, as Marian Mazzucato argued yesterday, they do not provide the vision for change needed to transform the economy to make it fit to face the technology and environment challenges of the future.
There are less than 40,000 alternative energy vehicles on the road now (1,700 all-electric vehicles and 38,000 hybrids). The independent Committee on Climate Change argues that it is feasible to have up to 1.7 million electric cars on the road in 2020, to meet our climate change commitments. Government should set ambitious targets for electric car manufacture and commit to funding both the transitional cost premium of electric cars and the cost of a national battery charging network. Progress has been made in setting up electric car pilot projects through the Plugged in Places programme. But the motor industry and the power supply companies need to work together to build the vehicles and infrastructure to realise the huge benefits for jobs and economic recovery of a sustainable vision for transport.
Our competitors, meanwhile, aren’t letting the grass grow under their feet. The Japanese Government has set ambitious targets for take up of “next generation” cars (hybrid, electric and plug in hybrid, fuel cell and clean diesel cars) for 2020 and 2030. The aim is a 20% market share by 2020. And the first mass-produced electric cars in the United States, the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, had total sales of 17,345 in 2011.