I used to think communism was the most damaging creed that could be foisted upon an economy. Following yesterday’s decision by Lancashire county council to reject a second planning application for fracking near Blackpool, I realise there is an even more destructive belief system: localism.
Say what you like about the Soviets, but at least they succeeded in the electrification of their vast country. When the lights go out in Britain in a few years’ time we will be forced to reflect on those happy scenes of locals popping the champagne corks as they managed to stop yet another energy project. We cannot frack because in the words of Lancashire’s planning committee, it causes an “unacceptable noise impact” and an “adverse urbanising effect on the landscape”.
We cannot build windfarms because they are ugly and upset residents with a low humming noise. We cannot build coal-fired power stations because Greenpeace will abseil down the chimneys in protest that they emit CO2. We cannot build a tidal power station in the Severn because it will destroy a habitat for wading birds. We cannot build solar farms because they spoil the landscape. We cannot build waste incinerators because they emit traces of dioxin. As for nuclear power stations, the last new one was finished 20 years ago.
The only feasible form of power left is a donkey walking in circles pulling on a yardarm attached to a generator. Even then the animal rights lobby would scotch it.
We all want power, but no one wants it generated on their doorstep. If an economy is to function there is only one way to deal with this: make decisions in the national interest above the heads of screaming local protesters. This may yet happen — the communities secretary has the power to call in the fracking application. But the government, too, seems frightened of a few Lancastrians: all Downing Street could manage yesterday was a feeble: “we respect the planning process”.
Tony Blair, fed up with the farce over Heathrow’s Terminal 5, conceived the Infrastructure Planning Commission to decide large applications of national importance. The coalition abolished it in the name of localism. Ministers thought they could rely on the good sense of local people to see when a project was vital.
Sorry, but they can’t. A planning system where locals are given a veto is one where nothing gets built at all. Now that nimbyism has gone nationwide there is little hope but economic stagnation.