Pomp and circumstance in the time of Covid

If I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost.
That is how I look at it – keep going, keep going come what may

I’m guessing the black Range Rover is a damn sight easier to keep clean and Covid-safe than the gold State Carriage. It was still a bit discombobulating to see The opening of Parliament and the Queens Speech yesterday looking less like a State occasion and more like the opening of a very, very grand village fete. I feel I ought to shoehorn a joke in here somewhere about the village idiot, but, quite frankly, there are so many candidates, I wouldn’t quite know where to begin.

Anyhow. Amongst the pomp and ceremony that there was – and even pared down, we seem to do it so much better than everyone else – some nuggets are worth highlighting.

The commitment to zero carbon: hooray. Big tick in the good idea box for that one. We only have one planet, and we seem hell-bent on destroying it, so anything that we can do to try and redress the eco balance is a great idea. Even if there are nations bigger than us who are ignoring the whole thing.

Quite apart from the saving the planet thing, the idea of a move to zero carbon will create plenty of opportunities for building material manufacturers, merchants and their customers. Already we have seen Bradfords and Travis Perkins appear among the construction industry names of those spear-heading the drive towards zero-carbon.

However, all these laudable aims can really only be achieved if, as well as building new homes to ever more exacting standards, we do something about the 28million energy inefficient homes. Luckily, The Construction Leadership Council has developed a handy National Retrofit Strategy all primed and ready to go. To use the common parlance, this is an ideal roadmap for helping to achieve the zero-carbon target, should the Government choose to follow it. Ah.

While we’re on the subject of housing, the planning thing also came up yesterday. For years now we have not been building houses in sufficient numbers to satisfy the demand for them. Those that are being built are all too often in the wrong places – depending on your point of view and how loudly your inner-NIMBY is shouting – and are the wrong types – flats where they should be family homes, ‘executive’ four-bedders where there is pressing need for affordable starter homes. So, the Government’s promise to update the planning system via the Planning Bill is, on paper, a good ‘un.

 However, loosening the planning shackles will only be a good thing in the longer term if care is taken to ensure that standards are maintained and improved. That zero-carbon target can’t be achieved by retrofit alone. Freeing up planning is also going to have to be taken into consideration alongside local issues as well. The recent local elections may have been something of a damp squib for the Parliamentary Labour Party and the red wall in the north, but in the Home Counties there was a quieter revolution going on. Borough after borough in true-blue Kent, Surrey and Sussex turned yellow, green and red as people put local issues above headline party politics. One seat near me saw the Conservative incumbent’s share slip from 75% last time to less than 30% of the vote on the back of an ongoing tussle over the building of 4,000 homes and a huge business park on  green belt land.

Getting a little old lady to read out what you want to achieve is one thing, but actually selling it to the masses may be something else. Boris is, it seems, riding the crest of the Covid-wave at the moment and all seems well. But we all know what happen to waves eventually.


About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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