My big manifesto idea: infrastructure

Big Ben londonIt’s less than a year until the next election, and the race is on to inform and shape the policy agenda of the next government. Manifesto priorities may appear to be determined entirely by public sentiment, party values and a febrile media debate, but the quality of new policy ideas also plays an important role. New ideas nearly always come from outside formal politics. The proposal to create a Green Investment Bank, championed by both Conservatives and Labour in the run up to the 2010 election, emerged from policy entrepreneurs in the environment and finance community over a year before.

Stimulating strong proposals for the next government is one of Green Alliance’s priorities for the coming year. We’re kicking off the process by asking leading thinkers on the environment, business and politics to set out their big manifesto idea – the one they think will make a big impact in creating a greener Britain. The ideas will come in a series of posts over the next month, covering a range of subjects.

Some of these ideas will compete for attention, some will reinforce each other, and a few could appear in the manifestos in the coming year.

The reaction they generate from our readers over the next few weeks will be a good guide as to which is likely to make it through. We invite you to participate by joining the twitter chat (#manifestoidea) or by building on the ideas via the comment section of this blog.

The first three ideas to launch the series are for greening the UK’s infrastructure, including an idea of our own, and one each from the Aldersgate Group and the Campaign for Better Transport.


Matthew Spencer
Director of Green Alliance 

What’s the big idea?
Create a green infrastructure ISA, provided by the Green Investment Bank

This would be an opportunity for citizens to invest in the UK’s green infrastructure. The Green Investment Bank (GIB) would borrow from consumers by offering bonds backed by the wind farms and green energy plants it has helped construct and pay a tax free return to the holders of its ISA.

Who benefits?
It would allow c.50,000 consumers to invest every year, and get a healthy return on their investment. It would increase UK green investment by approximately a quarter of a billion pounds a year.

What’s the catch?
The money borrowed from consumers would register on the government’s balance sheet as public sector debt because it retains formal control of the GIB. The Treasury has to approve such borrowing.

What has to change?

  • Political parties have to fulfil their commitment to let the GIB borrow.
  • The GIB either has to register with the Financial Conduct Authority to be able to offer a financial product to consumers, or to find a regulated provider to offer the ISA on its behalf.

Why should it be in manifestos?
It allows government to share the proceeds of green growth with the public, and to do so in a high profile way.

Individual investors currently have very few ways to invest in low carbon projects with the vast majority of UK investment being made by utilities or large developers. ISAs are popular across all income groups and recent share issues in green energy suppliers Ecotricity and Good Energy were oversubscribed, as was the public sale of Royal Mail. The difference with this ISA is that it doesn’t dilute the government’s ownership of the GIB, as it is a bond rather than an equity stake which would be offered. It would, however, allow the GIB to work its existing capital harder and recycle more of its money into new infrastructure projects. The impact would be to increase UK green investment via an annual public subscription.

@Spencerthink #manifestoidea


Paul King headshotNo.2
Paul King
Chief executive of the UK Green Building Council

What’s the big idea?
Home energy efficiency retrofit should be a national infrastructure priority

Improving draughty homes recognised alongside new energy generation as a key priority for meeting the UK’s energy needs.

As an infrastructure priority, home energy efficiency would receive the long term strategic planning and government capital investment afforded to other major infrastructure projects, such as new railways and airport capacity. Government funding would be used to offer subsidised home renovation loans to the able-to-pay and provide grants to low income households. These schemes would provide the certainty needed to leverage investment into the retrofit market and create a step change in the delivery of energy efficiency.

Who benefits?
Transforming inefficient homes would permanently bring down household energy bills and greatly reduce the number of cold homes which can be dangerous to residents’ health. Using less energy increases the UK’s energy security by reducing our reliance on fuel imports and providing a cheaper way of meeting our energy needs than building new power plants. A national programme of energy efficiency would also generate significant work for the construction industry, stimulating economic growth, increasing tax revenues and creating thousands of local jobs across the UK.

What’s the catch?
A large scale programme of energy efficiency is a major national challenge requiring significant levels of long term government investment. To retrofit 26 million homes within a generation will need government investment of between £2 billion and £4 billion a year, but this would encourage even greater levels of private investment. The government spends £45 billion a year on infrastructure and energy efficiency would have to compete with other priority projects for funding.

What has to change?
The government should:

  • Recognise home energy efficiency as an infrastructure investment priority in the National Infrastructure Plan.
  • Set out a long term strategy for improving the housing stock and provide capital funding to leverage private investment into the market.

Why should it be in manifestos?
Energy efficiency could be a vote-winner because it addresses some major voter concerns. It would tackle the cost of living crisis by permanently bringing down energy bills and reducing fuel poverty. It is the most cost effective way of combatting the energy crisis and helping to keep the lights on, and it is the cheapest way of achieving carbon emissions targets and tackling climate change.

@PaulKingGREEN #manifestoidea


CBT 2013

Stephen Joseph
Chief executive officer of the Campaign for Better Transport

What’s the big idea?
Give all UK cities London’s transport powers and funding

This would support UK cities, making them easier and greener to get around. While there is still more work to be done, London is slowly being transformed by investment in decent sustainable transport infrastructure and technology, like smart ticketing. This is making the capital a better place to live and work with connected, modern public transport networks, increasing rates of cycling and walking, and a better environment. The contrast with much of the rest of country is stark. During the next parliament we want to see all our cities becoming more like – or even surpassing – London’s transport networks.

Who benefits?
Everyone. A good public transport system and better provision for cyclists will reduce car dependence, air pollution and carbon emissions, while promoting accessibility and economic growth.

What’s the catch? 
This will present challenges for district councils which would be required to work together more closely, as would existing transport operators, to agree joint ticketing and operations. Small but vocal motorist groups will object to priority being given to buses, cyclists and pedestrians, and business interests may object if they are asked to finance some of it (though, increasingly, they recognise that they will benefit)

What has to change?
City regions need to be given stronger strategic transport powers. This would include:

  • Strengthening ‘combined authorities’ or creating them where they don’t exist; linking them to the Local Enterprise Partnerships, and giving them stronger strategic transport powers and duties over local public transport and roads, with devolved multi-year funding and the ability to raise funds. Greater Manchester is already a long way down this road. Strategic planning and economic development powers need to go with this, as in London.
  • Support for city regions from national government, with control over local rail services and strategic roads devolved (many city regions are already asking for this), and national strategies for rolling out smartcards and increasing cycling, with funding attached.

Why should it be in the manifestos?
Improvements in local transport are tangible to local populations and voters, and are also critical to supporting sustainable economic development. A commitment to this programme would benefit several government priorities: those on environment, health, access to jobs and services and isolation, and it would address the cost of living crisis.

@StephenJoseph7  #manifestoidea



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  • My manifesto idea comes from the work of the One Planet Council. It is to permit building on greenfield sites if they can establish that they are truly sustainable in a measurable way. It would copy a little known Welsh policy that has just achieved its first success and is showing its potential to spearhead a revolution in the way Wales tackles its policy aim of achieving sustainable development.

    The Moodys live on a smallholding between Caerphilly and Cardiff. Theirs has become the first One Planet Development in Wales – and the world – to receive permanent planning permission. Dan and Sarah Moody and their five children had already been working their 16 acre plot for four years and were seeking retrospective planning permission from Caerphilly Council. They decided to apply for planning permission under One Planet Development, a forward thinking policy by the Welsh Government which provides a way for people to live and work on the land with social, economic and environmental benefits. In addition to meeting planning regulations, applicants are required to produce a detailed management plan and ecological footprint analysis which demonstrates their commitment to sustainable living, including how they will provide for at least 65% of their basic household needs from land based activity within 5 years.

    One Planet Developments should, according to the Welsh Government guidance, initially “achieve an ecological footprint of 2.4 global hectares per person or less in terms of consumption and demonstrate clear potential to move towards 1.88 global hectare target over time”. So the practice offers a transition to a more sustainable way of life by providing a way for people to live and work on their own land with measurable social, economic and environmental benefits. By using a verifiable metric – ecological footprint accounting – it is setting a precedent for assessing planning applications and other developments. In this sense, it is far from being of minority interest only. The planning guidance behind the policy holds open the door for One Planet Developments occur in an urban context, but remains unclear on how this could be achieved. Some architects believe that ribbon development, for example, where there is green field countryside behind housing on transport links, offers one opportunity for this to happen. So does the concept of garden cities.

    My book advocating this policy, The One Planet Life, will be published by Routledge later this year

    [This comment was shortened by the editor, find out more about the advantages of this policy at]

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