The Green Party made great strides in the May elections, with a collapse on the Labour vote, and Tory votes over Brexit they gained 42 seats, a gain leverages by the rise in independent Councillors and loss of overall control in many local authorities, with losses seemingly greater in authorities where anti-greenfield sentiment has been large.
From authorities from South Oxfordshire to Warrington and St Helens we have seen calls from Green Councillors to forestall or even ‘scrap’ local plans, even though in most cases this will lead to more speculative sprawl where there (by definition) will be no 5YHLS.
The script is clear:
1. Declare a climate change emergency
2. Claim that by definition greenfield housing consumes resources and will worsen the emergency
3. Scrap the local plan QED.
I see nothing wrong with being Green, and have been involved with Green activism for decades. However this approach is both naive and dangerous as:
A. There is nothing necessarily resource hogging about new housing, new houses allows its occupants to consume less and it can be designed as net-zero. Houses dont consume resources residents do, which on the whole are living in the are already. If they are forced out and forced to drive in for work you are making the climate emergency worse.
B. There is a massive shortage of greenfield sites in the area of greatest affordability pressure in the South East, however opponents simply wont read or believe the evidence on this as it contradicts there Greenfield=the holyness we must protect doctrine.
C. They promote wholly unfounded and disproved malthusian theories that building on farmland will create food shortages, even though this has happened nowhere in the world. The most productive agriculture in the world is glasshouses in or near rapidly urbanising areas .
D. If there is a shortage then build Green New Settlements linked by public transport. Something which has firmly part of the original Green party platform but now long forgotten.
How has this come about? How have local Green party members become so reactionary promoting policies design to destroy the welfare of lower earning constituents and worsen the climate emergency?
There have always been clashes between reactionary and progressive wings in Green Politics. In Italy and Germany we have seen the formation of eco-fascist parties. In the 90s we saw the split between Deep Green and Social Ecologists. But the main cause I think is the rise of middle class progressives who have grown up on protesting and campaigning for scrapping things. Many of these are now homeowners and /or live near areas which they place a price on in terms of local amenity. As has been observed in the states amongst many NIMBY groups
back in the 1960s and ’70s, NIMBYs were the people fighting highways and oil refineries in their backyards, not [development]. In battling upzoning, some NIMBYs are animated by the fear of a takeover of their neighborhoods by commercial interests.
Also the policies reflect a certain naievity that comes from the freedom to oppose not the responsibility of proposing sites and locations for development. There is always a unicorn paddock of somewhere else where development should go.
As we are in a climate change emergency this requires immeadiate action. Action now to meet our housing needs, reduce energy from the construction and transport sectors and find locations for Zero Carbon developments. As such the worst enemies of the climate change emergency movement are Green Councillors, with there call to delay and as they are searching for unicorn paddocks effectively put of for ever the key choices necessary to achieve zerio carbon development.
Overall at a national level they need to make a manifesto choice, are they to present themselves as the natural party of reactionary Nimbys (as UKIP did at the last election) or are they to push forward realistic proposals to solve the housing crisis and climate change emergency at the same time.
2 thoughts on “Why has the Green Party become the Party of Reactionary Nimbys, with its Opposition to so Many Local Plans”
Environmentalism has always represented a conservative outlook. This is apparent whether one reads Thomas Malthus, or Garret Hardin with his Tragedy of the Commons (he recommends population control especially in the third world and an end to welfarism to discourage children) or Roger Scruton’s Green Philosophy. Burke-ian notions of stewardship has always featured prominently in conservative thinking with its connotations with landlordism, gamekeeping, clearances and enclosures. Environmental stewardship was always the opposite of the left’s demand to break the hold of landlordism and to re-distribute land. It should therefore come as no surprise to anyone that green activists are in the forefront in opposing house building. They certainly have through the London Plan and local plans in my memory and experience.
What is interesting is the extent to which the environmental outlook was embraced increasingly by the left from the 1960s onwards and even more rapidly with the end of the cold war in 1990. Having previously been regarded as the preserve of the right, it is now an issue more strongly associated with the left (to the extent that Scruton had to write his book to remind people that conservatives are the true guardians of the environment). What is also interesting to observe is how green politics didn’t really gain any traction in this country until after the defeat of the miners in 1985. It was as if that major political challenge needed to be defeated before the middle-classes could then turn their attention to other, secondary, things. Notably, the Green Party performed much better in the 1987 general election than at any time before. This prompted Thatcher to point the Tory party in a new direction 1988 by saying that the Tory Party were the true guardians of the earth.
Also, let us not forget that the Telegraph-led ‘Hands Off Our Land’ campaign against the government’s new NPPF 2012 based planning system (which wasn’t even that radical, but was a response to the fact that you needed to do some kind of planning if the state was to continue justifying the nationalisation of development rights) was strongly supported by Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace as well as the National Trust, CPRE , English Heritage and the RTPI.
The real debate for the green movement is the extent to which its adherents will embrace raising standards of living for all, including providing the many homes that people need so they can live good, comfortable and productive lives, or whether it will continue to embrace Malthusian arguments of there being ‘limits to growth’.
The conservative character of causes is often drawn out over time. I remember “Community Architecture” being stood on its feet in 1984 by Prince Charles when he took on the Institute of British Architects to which he lends the prefix “Royal”. Those who thought themselves to be radically defending areas against rapacious developers discovered that the notion of the “community” served vested interests, and was not the vehicle for social change hoped for. Colin Ward’s experience of community action while he was leading the Town and Country Planning Association Environmental Education Unit being a case in point.
The conservative character of environmentalism has come to a head in David Attenborough, who like Jonathan Porritt before him, is a bit vague on method about how to optimally resolve what he perceives as “over-population” requiring the evils of “development”. Locally the now home-owning-grown-up-Greens solve their personal perception of “over-population” requiring the evils of “development” by colonising the powers of the executive Planning Committee to be able to say NO! Go Away!
Thankfully Greens are not Thanus, and don’t have the cosmic power to click their fingers to make people go away. Thankfully people socially persist with wanting development.
Ward hoped that all could become owners and develop their own land. In that he was more like an American libertarian. He had a point, but backed “community”. He should have been more American and backed society at large for the shared equality of freedoms he hoped for.