Mr Fallon’s Merton Rule Bill – another mighty oak from Sevenoaks?

Each year twenty back bench members of the House of Commons names are drawn from all back benchers names in a ballot. The twenty lucky ones will be given some of Parliament’s time and resources to draw up a bill that might become law. Usually only the top few names in the ballot have a serious chance of seeing their bills enacted, and the remainder simply use the time to publicise things that they want to change. 

This autumn Michael Fallon, Conservative Member of Parliament for Sevenoaks won first place in the ballot. I have not run across Mr Fallon so I looked him up. He is not a radical. He believes in freedom, opposing the smoking ban, voted against ID cards, Foundation Hospitals and Student top up fees. He believes that the Trident nuclear missile should be replaced and has strongly opposed the enshrining of “gay rights” in legislation. 

It might therefore come as a surprise that when he won the ballot he decided to see if he can bring about what he as described as a modest change in the law. He looked at the Merton Rule – something that I blogged about on the 9th of November, and decided to offer a useful bit of legislation about it.  

The Merton Rule is a policy which if adopted by a local authority will require certain new planning applications to provide 10% or more of the energy to be generated on site renewables. It is an extremely useful rule which has cut carbon emissions where it has been adopted. It is also useful because it enables local councillors to make local planning decisions involving renewable on site generation of electricity and heat, which most of their constituents want them to make. 

Mr Fallon has described his suggested legislation (the Planning and Energy Bill) as “not a big bill”. He did not want to enshrine the Merton Rule in legislation – he is happy to leave that to the locally elected councils. He wanted to legally protect those councils that decided to adopt the Merton Rule from endless judicial reviews about it and give them statutory protection and authority to adopt the Merton Rule, if they chose so to do. 

Last Friday Mr Fallon’s bill passed it second reading in the House by 45 votes to nil. I asked my own MP to support it, but he wrote back that he had to be away on other business. Michael Fallon bill will now go to the committee stage and subject to any changes made there will be back in parliament on 9 May.

The government issued planning advice on Merton Rule in December which says that Councils must be ‘flexible’, whatever that means. The Government does not support Mr Fallon’s bill. I cannot understand why. I cannot understand that his bill prevents any flexibility at all, unless it is the flexibility to continue to pollute and harm the environment. I do not think we need to give that argument any further space.

The British Property Federation claims in a curious spin of logic that Mr Fallon’s bill will harm its fight against climate change by undermining the objective of making buildings greener. Well, I can simply point out that British buildings are probably among the least green in Europe. For example builders by default install the cheapest heating systems possible, not the greenest, leaving the occupants to pay very high energy bills over the buildings lifetime instead of enabling them to amortise green renewable energy cheaply when they buy, because the renewable source will then be at its cheapest to install and their mortgage will offer the cheapest loan rate available.

The BPF seems to think that wind energy (which often does not work well in densely packed urban areas) is the only form of renewable around, ignoring thermal solar and PV. The BPF claims it fully sympathises with the objectives of Mr Fallon’s bill.

I suspect that they do not want to local authorities to have the legal protection that the bill will offer – member Mr Fallon’s bill does not prescribe any particular form of renewable or require everyone to adopt the Merton Rule. Again, I do not think we have to give any further time to the BPF’s case.

The Member of Parliament for Sevenoaks has planted a healthy acorn. I hope that the other members will protect, cherish and water them until they grow into the mighty oak that the man representing Sevenoaks knows most of us want to see nutured.

One Response

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