Parliament returned last week with something of a bang. The unbelievably weighty and complex 420 page Energy Bill returned from the Lords on Tuesday for further consideration known as Report Stage followed immediately by Third Reading.
Thereafter, as it was a Bill originating in the Lords, the Lords will have a final opportunity to either agree or refuse the amendments coming from the House of Commons. In the event all amendments passing back to the Lords were Government amendments, no other amendments either from myself, the various opposition parties and other Conservatives were either not selected by the Speaker, not pushed by the originator, or refused by a vote.
I had laid, with others, approaching 100 amendments to this Bill. I have to say I really don’t much care for it. I spoke robustly particularly against the future ability for the government to create criminal offences by Statutory Instrument relating to Net Zero. We will see if any final changes are possible in the Lords. I caused a Third Reading division on the Bill, comprehensively lost but I wanted my concerns duly recorded.
On Energy issues, I keep a watching eye on how the UK’s electricity is provided. Over the wonderfully hot weekend we’ve had, electricity use was fairly low at 29-30 GW, doubtless as BBQs were lit and we enjoyed some outdoor life. It was virtually windless both here and across Europe. Solar did quite well despite the ever-shortening days, peaking at 15% of electricity provision on Sunday.
Despite 30 GW of installations of onshore and offshore wind around the country, there was barely 1/30th of this potential produced, hovering around 1 GW all weekend and just a few percent of the UK’s electricity needs, electricity itself being a mere 20% of entire energy use. Burning imported pelletised wood (mainly from North America and transported across the Atlantic on diesel powered ships) accounted for approximately 5% with predominantly gas turbine produced electricity, remaining nuclear, coal would you believe, and interconnectors bringing electricity from abroad ensuring that the lights stayed on. Relying on others for guaranteed energy does seem like a fool’s errand as we’ve learnt from Putin’s Russia. It is not uncommon for Winter demand being closer to 50 GW so I am sure you can see the problem with the future energy plan of even greater reliance on renewables. It’s why I am focusing on this issue.
It was with great pride to be part of the successful official opening of Thanet Parkway station, the first new station in East Kent for 100 years. I am pleased to have been instrumental, following a Prime Minister’s Question in July 2021, in ensuring the last tranche of funding to make it happen was made available from government, else the project would likely have failed.
For some in Cliffsend the whole concept of this station is not supported. There are complaints of light pollution and excessive noise by the annunciator. I’m sure we can work together to alleviate these issues now that the concept has moved from a planner’s drawing to reality.
Others in Cliffsend are enthusiastic because of the convenience it brings and also with the knowledge that house buyers generally see a local station as a significant plus point. Others moan about the cost of £35m and that it won’t receive the footfall to make the investment worthwhile. I’m always the first, as a former Member of the Public Accounts Committee, to have concerns about costs of government projects. DWP spend on non-pension benefits now amounts to £470 million per day if big numbers of government expenditure turn your head as they do me.
President Lincoln’s use of poet John Lydgate’s phrase springs to mind:- “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” What is unique in planning terms is this: for the first time in my memory, a project being delivered that is ahead of the curve, rather than laggardly behind it. The benefits to the growing Discovery Park, the ability to serve Manston as my preferred future use as an airport, or indeed whatever emerges, and to service appropriate new development and businesses, are obvious.
The pieces of significant investment into Thanet and East Kent are falling into place. We just need to get plans for Ramsgate Port further forward, and I must say at this point, that hoping for a ferry, however nominally desirable is becoming ‘pie in the sky’. I may have concerns about energy policy, based upon our supposed 100% reliance on unreliable renewables but I’m not opposed to the concept that there is a role to play in the mix of old and new technologies to make up the jigsaw of the whole.
And so I am looking at more exciting job creating opportunities around the ‘green hub’ proposal as part of the Levelling Up £21m allocated to Ramsgate, concentrating on skills in the new energy sector which are not being met. I hope to bring together a new consortium, with even more funding to put on the table to the Thanet Levelling Up board and start to turn the page on a costly but redundant port facility.