Dear Mr Reed, 4 – your five priorities

Dear Mr Reed, welcome to your new job. It all gets real now.

Yesterday you set out your five priorities for Defra;

  • clean rivers
  • zero waste economy
  • food security
  • nature recovery
  • reducing flood risk

These are good as headlines and demonstrate more strategic thought than we have seen from the Tories in 14 years.

Everybody has been rushing to congratulate you on your job and say that they are looking forward to working with you – you don’t need to pay much attention to that, they all want things from you. Rather different was Wild Justice’s welcome – click here – which said that they hoped you wouldn’t make unlawful decisions but if you did you’d be added to the list of Defra Secretaries of State who would face legal challenges (I speak as a co-director of Wild Justice).

But the world will be congratulating you, and so will the electorate, if in the next five years you make significant progress on each of your five priorities.

You must know this, but land use is a large part of the solutions to at least three of your five priorities. If Labour builds houses in the wrong places then flood risk will worsen and the cost of insurance and government-funded adaptation will rise. Clean rivers will only come about by regulating both the water and farming industries – the River Wye isn’t polluted with human shit but with chicken shit and run-off of agricultural chemicals.

You may have to make a difficult decision between land-sharing and land-sparing. Can nature recovery happen if food production increases even further without some land being set aside for nature? That might be some land heading towards the rewilding end of the spectrum. There are some easy decisions – the uplands are unimportant in food production terms and yet could be wonderful for nature, flood relief and clean water so they should head in the wilder direction.

Good headlines, particularly since they weren’t clear in the manifesto. Good luck with delivery. More on that tomorrow.


2 Replies to “Dear Mr Reed, 4 – your five priorities”

  1. “the River Wye isn’t polluted with human shit but with chicken shit and run-off of agricultural chemicals.”

    A point which may not have been missed by some employed by the chicken shit by-product producers – but with a different focus.

    They will possibly argue in court that historical and current phosphate agricultural use (easily) outpaces their (meagre) additions, and if they are really having an impact they’re planning to close a (small) number of their operations within the Wye catchment, thus reducing any possible negative impact they have on the Wye. They will add that they’re now planning to move (some of) their chicken shit by-product outside the Wye catchment. Spread it about to help out.

  2. I think the conservation bodies – and farming – made a big mistake screaming for yet more Government money. The money is there by being cleverer and fairer. Tesco celebrated the cost of living squeeze by doubling its profits to £2 billion. It clearly didn’t feel the squeeze. That sum is 2/3rds of the total Government farming budget and that is just one supermarket chain.

    Planning is a huge opportunity. Government shouldn’t be running a lottery to turn the rich into the super rich – but that is what planning permission does, pushing land values up by 50-100 times from agricultural value solely for owning land in the right place at the right time. We can share that money more fairly without leaving the poor landowner penniless in the gutter – we can nudge into the greenbelt if every hectare built on brought 5-10 hectares of green space right where people live – it would be transformative.

    I was marginally involved with onshore wind and it wasn’t a pretty situation: engineers concerned only with getting a grid connection, planning consultants aggressively attacking anything in their way and bizarre obstacles like interference with RAF radar. Rather than Government copping out we need real planning – guidance on the places likely to get approval, strict rules to protect people’s environment – these turbines do make a noise – and landscape and wildlife. Where the wind blows hardest often has other values. Experience in northern France supports your view, Mark, that turbines fit the flat arable landscape well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.