By Michael McCarthy
Thursday, 25 March 2010
Although there was a fanfare of praise for the announcement of the Green Investment Bank, most of the budget's other environmental measures were tinkerings, adjustments and continuations of existing policies rather than radical new departures, in areas ranging from fuel duty to the landfill tax.
Some commentators thought that the lack of major green measures was clear evidence that in times of recession, the environment takes a back seat.
Indeed, Martyn Williams, Friends of the Earth's parliamentary campaigner, provided some evidence of this. "Stepping back from the policy detail, the 'green mood music' in the budget is interesting," he said.
"I whizzed through the last three budget statements and found that in 2008 Alistair Darling devoted about 1,300 words to the 'green' bit of his speech. In 2009, it was about 700. This year it was around 250.
"Obviously this is not a scientific measure of which was the greenest budget – one good policy can be announced in just a few words, whereas it takes pages to set out a list of ineffective ideas. But it does suggest that Mr Darling thinks there is less need to make a big deal out of environmental policies now than he did a few years back."
However, there were some developments rather smaller than a £2bn investment bank that green campaigners nevertheless welcomed.
The Government allocated £30m from the Strategic Investment Fund to fund low-carbon transport schemes, which included a second Green Bus competition to increase the number of low-carbon buses on the UK's roads, and a new test centre in Nuneaton for future intelligent transport technologies, which could increase fuel efficiency and reduce congestion.
There was also the announcement of company car tax exemption for zero-carbon cars, and these were greeted warmly.
Yet environmentalists were split over the issue of more money – £250m – for the Government's latest cutting edge road project, "managed motorways", where motorways are run more like railways, with speed limits being regularly changed to cope with congestion and other traffic conditions. The scheme is being initially tried out at several locations on the M42 and the M6.
Friends of the Earth said the scheme was "road widening by stealth" but the Campaign for Better Transport was supportive. "It gives us the opportunity to manage traffic properly, and control how much traffic goes on the road, and there is some evidence that CO2 can reduced by it," said executive director Stephen Joseph. Mr Joseph also welcomed the announcement of a "pothole fund" - an additional £84m to fund the repair of roads damaged by the recent cold weather. "This will help cyclists and pedestrians as well as motorists," he said.
The fuel duty escalator will continue, adding 2.76p per litre to the cost of petrol over the next 12 months (although it will be staged in three parts) - a measure that the Government calculates will be saving 1.7m tonnes of CO2 per year by 2014-15 – and the landfill tax tax escalator of £8 per year will be continued for a further year, to 2014. "This is welcome and will further drive incentives for expanding and improving recycling and reuse facilities," said Friends of the Earth.