With the general election fast-approaching, find out what each of the main parties plans for the environment, farming and rural communities.
With the country facing the third general election in little more than four years, most parties are pitching this as the chance to have a final say on Brexit. However, polls show that other issues are just as pressing in voters’ minds: alongside health and crime, many people now identify the environment as one of their top priorities. Rural areas also face specific challenges, from patchy broadband to balancing much-needed housing with the protection of the Green Belt. So where do the main parties stand on what matters to the countryside?
Climate change and the environment
The Tories plan to make the UK carbon neutral by 2050, banning gas boilers from all new homes, promoting electric cars and supporting energy-efficiency and decarbonisation schemes, including one for social housing. Legal targets would be introduced to improve air quality, about £640 million would be invested in a Nature for Climate Fund, peatlands would be restored and up to 75,000 more trees a year would be planted by the end of the next Parliament, with new National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty created alongside a Great Northumberland Forest. A Conservative government would also launch a deposit-return scheme to boost recycling and ban plastic exports to non-OECD countries.
The party promised a Green Industrial Revolution that cuts the majority of British emissions by 2030. It would invest in renewable energy, plant two billion trees by 2040, create new National Parks, facilitate the uptake of electric cars, ban fracking, introduce a windfall tax on oil companies, improving energy efficiency across most of the UK housing stock and setting zero-carbon standards for new developments. It would also bring in a Climate and Environment Emergency Bill and a Clean Air Act, alongside launching a bottle-return scheme, developing new skills through climate apprenticeships and monitoring the carbon footprint of imports so the UK cannot ‘offshore’ its environmental impact.
The party intends to make the UK carbon-neutral by 2045, insulating all homes and generating 80% of electricity from renewables by 2030. It would ban fracking, end fossil-fuel subsidies by 2025, introduce a frequent-flyer levy, accelerate the take-up of electric cars, pass a Clean Air Act, build new houses to zero-carbon standards and support research, investment and innovation in zero-carbon infrastructure and technologies. Measures to support nature would range from planting 60 million trees to restoring peatlands, heathland, native woodlands, saltmarshes, wetlands and coastal waters, and protecting habitats, including through pilot rewilding schemes. Non-recyclable, single-use plastics would be banned and deposit return schemes for bottles and containers would be introduced.
The Green Party intends to achieve net-zero by 2030 through a range of measures such as replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, improving home insulation and energy-efficiency across the country, promoting sustainable public transport, introducing a frequent-flyer levy and a carbon tax on fossil fuels, banning mineral extraction, road building and military training from all National Parks, helping businesses decarbonise, restoring peatlands, banning the production of single-use plastic for use in packaging, brining in new laws to improve air quality and prevent crimes against the environment and planting 700 million trees.
Plaid Cymru wants Wales to be ‘100% self-sufficient in renewable energy’ by 2030 and would pass a Clean Air Act for Wales, ban single-use plastics and plant about 5,000 acres of woodland a year from 2020. The SNP would press the UK to meet Scotland’s climate targets, which include achieving net-zero by 2045, put forward a green energy deal, and ask the Government to help oil and gas companies diversify through incentives. The Brexit Party plans to ‘plant millions of trees’ and recycle waste.
Connectivity and infrastructure
The party would bring energy, water and railways into public ownership, launch the Crossrail of the North, consult with local communities over the reopening of local train lines, deliver electrification across the country, expand rail freight to reduce emissions, pollution and road congestion and complete HS2 to Scotland ‘taking full account of the environmental impacts’. It would also give councils control of bus networks, expanding services and introducing free travel for people under 25. Nationalised broadband would make full-fibre services available to everyone by 2030. Funding worth £5.6 billion would help improve flood defences.
Public transport would be strengthened by building the Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester, reintroducing lines between smaller towns and creating a super-bus network, while decisions on HS2 would be discussed with regional authorities. Every home and business in the UK would have access to full fibre broadband by 2025, with greater mobile coverage provided for the countryside. £4 billion would be spent on flood defences.
The party plans to invest £130 billion in infrastructure, delivering fibre-optic broadband across the UK, with a particular focus on rural areas, investing in buses and trams and extending the rail network, converting it to ultra-low-emission technology. It also remains committed to HS2 and Crossrail 2, taking into account ‘their climate and environmental implications’. £5 billion would be spent on flood prevention and climate adaptation.
Most of the rest
The Green Party seeks to scrap HS2, expand other forms of public transport, making it cheaper than car travel, introduce new forms of common ownership for key infrastructure, deliver environmentally friendly flood management measures and bring ‘reliable broadband and mobile internet’ to rural communities; Plaid Cymru also intends to bring full-fibre broadband everywhere in Wales by 2025, as well as creating a Wales-wide electric vehicle charging network, electrifying all major railway lines by 2030, expanding the bus network, developing new train and metro lines and investing in flood prevention measures. The SNP plans to push the government to invest in cutting-edge digital connectivity and improve mobile coverage in hard-to-reach areas. The Brexit Party plans to cancel HS2, invest £50 billion in roads and railways, and offer free base-level domestic broadband in deprived regions.
Housing, planning, communities and crime
A Liberal Democrat government would build 300,000 homes a year by 2024, ensure developers deliver essential infrastructure, such as affordable homes, schools and surgeries, and allow local authorities to increase council tax by as much as 500% on second homes, with a stamp duty surcharge on overseas residents purchasing such properties. Stamp duty would be linked to a property’s energy rating and £1 billion would be spent to restore community policing.
The number of new homes would increase, the Affordable Home Programme would be renewed and planning rules would be changed to ensure schools, roads and surgeries are delivered ahead of housing. Brownfield development would be prioritised while the Green Belt would be improved, boosting biodiversity and making the countryside more accessible for local communities. A Tory government would hire 20,000 police officers, devoting additional resources to fighting rural crime. Fly-tipping penalties would increase.
The party would introduce a ‘rural-proofing’ process for new policies, deliver more than a million homes over a decade, use public land for low-cost housing and prioritise brownfields for developments, while protecting the Green Belt. Councils would also be empowered to tax properties that have been empty for more than a year and to regulate Airbnb-style short lets. Labour would also recruit 22,000 frontline police officers and boost resources to address rural and wildlife crime.
Most of the rest
The Green Party would build at least 100,000 energy-efficient council homes every year and integrate police forces more closely within their communities; Plaid Cymru aims to build 20,000 new energy-efficient homes in five years and recruit 1,600 more police officers; the SNP is encouraging councils in rural areas to bring empty homes into use; the Brexit party would simplify planning consent for brownfield sites and increase police numbers.
Labour would keep agricultural funding intact but gear it towards eco-friendly food production and land management. It would also work to open up farming to ‘new entrants’, ensure everyone has access to ‘healthy, nutritious, sustainably produced food’, uphold environmental regulations in all future trade relations and end the badger cull.
Funding for farming would move to a ‘public money for public goods’ system, with the current budget for agricultural support guaranteed for the duration of Parliament. The Conservatives would also encourage the public sector to buy British products and ensure that future trade agreements don’t compromise environmental, animal welfare and food standards.
Agricultural funding for larger recipients would be reduced, with savings going to support the provision of public goods such as nature restoration, tree planting and carbon storage. The production and consumption of ‘healthy, sustainable and affordable food’ would be promoted, including through public procurement. The party would also look at humane ways of controlling bovine TB and uphold environmental and animal welfare standards in future trade agreement.
The Green Party would use funds to support sustainable farming practices, the adoption of low-carbon machinery and the regeneration of hedgerows; it would also reduce the use of fungicides and pesticides (banning some altogether), support both a transition towards a plants-based diet and research to reduce livestock’s methane emissions, encourage small-scale farming, end the badger cull and ensure that future trade deals respect environmental and food standards. Plaid Cymru and the SNP would also uphold standards, with the former pledging to underpin the market for Welsh produce through public procurement and the latter seeking to repatriate rural-policy and secure agricultural funding post-Brexit. The Brexit Party would maintain funding for farmers and reduce tariffs to zero on some food imports.
The Green Party would enshrine the principle of animal sentience in law, work towards a ban on all animal testing, put an end to live exports, introduce a maximum limit of eight hours’ travel for animals, ban cages and close confinement on farms, and a create an animal cruelty register; Plaid Cymru would prevent primates being kept as pets, strengthen legislation against illegal puppy imports and and support new regulations over the online sale of pets. The SNP a will campaign to ban trophy hunting imports. The Brexit Party manifesto doesn’t mention animals.
The Tories would ensure the principle of animal sentience is recognised in law, toughen animal-cruelty sentences, ban excessively long livestock journeys for slaughter and fattening, end the smuggling of puppies, fast-track cat micro-chipping and forbid trophy hunting imports and the keeping of primates as pets.
Animal sentience would be recognised in law, new measures would tackle hare coursing, puppy smuggling and horse abandonment, and wildlife crime would become a reportable offence. The micro-chip[ping of cats would be expanded and there would be bans on live exports for slaughter and fattening, the sale of snares and glue traps, trophy hunting imports and keeping primates as pets. A Labour government would also consult with the social and private rental sectors with a view to allowing tenants to keep pets as a default.
The principle of animal sentience would be enshrined in law, with penalties for animal-cruelty offences strengthened. The party would stop illegal pet imports, establish an independent regulatory body for horse welfare and forbid the sale of real fur, the keeping of primates as pets and hunting trophy imports ‘where the hunting does not contribute to environmental protection’.