It's Not Easy Bein' Red

Unless you’ve been living under a landslide, it won’t have escaped your attention that we’ve recently had a very welcome change of leadership in the UK. However, the countdown to deliver on the promise of change starts now. Change takes time to be realised, so it is essential to set things in motion immediately. There may not be much money left but there are plenty of rules that can be changed to unlock growth.

No planning for growth

The main point of action is urgent planning reform. The rules need radical relaxation and streamlining. It has to be far easier to deploy (onshore and offshore) wind generation, solar farms, pylons, battery storage and heat pumps. I’ve been struggling to get a heat pump installed due to planning rules (more on this another time) so I have first-hand experience of the pain. Domestic heat pumps must be allowed as permitted development in almost all circumstances if we are to get off methane gas. The current crude and strict requirements are a blocker to that.

Moving charges from electricity to gas to make the prices more equal would help encourage people to move to electric heating, particularly with the high coefficients of performance available from modern heat pumps. Introducing regional pricing for electricity would make it cheap in regions of high green generation and at present would encourage businesses to move North. This aligns with the “levelling up” policy and is an obvious benefit to a Labour government keen to elevate it beyond an empty slogan.

Gas should not be allowed in new builds and the building regs should require enough insulation and solar that a new house will pay you to live in it, from selling the energy it generates and doesn’t need. I would also support making it much harder to install wood burners and require planning permission for them due to the air pollution they produce, but I’m not holding my breath.

EV access

We need changes to ensure fair access to green infrastructure, in particular the public EV charging network. It needs to be much easier to install a home charge point if you don’t have off-street parking. There are grants available but the problem is again, unsurprisingly, the planning system. We need some subtractive thinking here to remove rules, which will also reduce the workloads and costs of local planning authorities, thus making it cheaper and easier for everyone.

I would like to see open access to the public EV charging network in addition to the open data that has happened. Requiring operators to permit any roaming with NFC charge cards would reduce fragmentation. Think about how much easier and cheaper it is with EU mobile roaming (for calls and data). I don’t want a different app for every network. I don’t want an app at all, I want to simply plug in and charge (and if I really must then tap a card).

We also need to reduce costs in addition to increasing capacity. We are being left behind by other European nations, where public charging is cheaper, easier and more extensive. I’ve done a lot of EV driving in Western continental Europe and the difference to the UK is night-and-day. Public charging is ubiquitous, reasonably priced and my Electroverse card works with almost all operators when abroad.

There are also opportunities around V2G regs but that’s a post on its own. This tech for using EV batteries to supply the grid is already being trialled in Europe but the standards are fragmented.

Healthy appetite

Clearly there is appetite to nationalise industries where privatisation isn’t working (i.e. ones where there is no consumer choice or competition due to geography, such as water and rail). This is also an opportunity to reduce pollution and incentivise greener choices. It should be easier and cheaper to take the train or drive an EV than fly (at least for short and medium routes).

Regulation and taxation tweaks could also help reduce food prices by nudging people towards a cheaper and healthier plant-based diet. I would also ban shops from offing lower prices to members of loyalty card schemes only. This penalises people who aren’t good at or don’t have time for paperwork and shopping around (it’s similar for switching financial services and utilities). Mandatory labeling of food that has been air-freighted would also be welcome.

I’ve plenty more ideas for boosting growth, particularly in the tech and energy sectors but let’s focus on the most impactful for now. In five years we’ll see where we are at, but it looks like there is reason for some cautious (stubborn) optimism.

Header image by Dan Cristian Pădureț.

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