Britain’s new nuclear power stations and other energy infrastructure projects must be designed to look beautiful to garner essential public support, the Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd, has said.
The country is set for a complete overhaul of its energy infrastructure in the next decade as new green sources of electricity such as nuclear, wind and solar power stations replace polluting coal and gas plants.
Furthermore, flood defences will need to be built to protect buildings, along with weather-resistant transport, waste and water services, as climate change makes weather conditions increasingly extreme.
With so much costly construction planned it is crucial to make sure the public is on side – by making the projects visually inspiring, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary told The Independent.
Britain’s current nuclear power stations, which are all located at coastal sites, are notorious for their ugly functionality. “People in general want public structures to look good, as well as being functional. It’s not a trivial thing, when you have a big infrastructure project that you put time, effort and money into,” Ms Rudd said.
“We’re hoping to build new nuclear plants in the UK over the next few years and I think it is a reasonable ambition to make sure that these big projects have aesthetic appeal as well to help win the public over,” added Ms Rudd, in an interview at the Thames Barrier.
Ms Rudd said that her campaign to beautify Britain’s infrastructure had been inspired by her visit to the flood barrier, which she said is being used far more than originally anticipated as climate change increases flooding.
“These big infrastructure projects – that are part of climate-change adaptation or energy generation – are an integral part of our lives and I think we should make them more attractive to the public.
“The Thames Barrier is such an extraordinary, iconic structure protecting London – I’m feeling inspired to review what I look at in the future to make sure they don’t neglect [aesthetic considerations].”
Ann Robinson, of the uSwitch price comparison website, welcomed Ms Rudd’s call to visual arms. “I think she’s absolutely right. We’re a small island and it’s important to do things in a sensitive way. Public acceptability is important and the key to that is making the infrastructure as attractive as possible.”
Ms Robinson added: “A lot of these projects can be controversial and Amber Rudd is proposing to give people more say in local developments. Against this backdrop, it’s increasingly important that projects fit in with their surroundings.”
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
1/8 Welfare payments will be slashed
One of the most controversial parts of the Conservative manifesto was to cut benefits for the working age poor by £12 bn over the next three years. But during the campaign they only said where £2 bn of these savings would come from. That leaves £10 bn still to find. Some experts think the only way they can close that gap is by means testing child benefit – with millions of families losing out
2/8 There will be tax cuts for those in work and those who die
The Tories will increase the threshold at which the 40p rate of tax becomes payable to £50,000 by 2020. They haven’t said so but it is also likely that at some point in the next five years they will abolish that 45p rate of tax altogether for the highest earners. They also want to increase the effective inheritance tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1m
3/8 There will be an in/out EU referendum in 2017
The next two years are going to be dominated by the prospect of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. First off David Cameron has the daunting task of negotiating a deal with other EU leaders an acceptable deal that he can sell to his party so he can go into the referendum campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote. This may be unachievable and it is possible that the Tories may end up arguing to leave. Opinion polls show Britain is divided on EU membership, one poll this year showed 51% said they would opt to leave compared to 49% who would vote to stay in
4/8 There will be more privatisation of the NHS
Having won the election the Tories now have a mandate to go further and faster reforming the NHS. In order to make cost savings there is likely to be greater private involvement in running services, while some smaller hospitals may lose services they currently provide like A&E and maternity units
5/8 There will be many more free schools – and traditional state schools will become a thing of the past
The Tories plans to create 500 new free schools and make 3,000 state schools become academies. They will also carry on reforming the Department of Education and remove more powers from local authorities over how schools are run
6/8 On shore wind farms will be a thing of the past and fracking will be the future
Government spending on renewable energy is under real threat now the Lib Dems are no longer in power with the Tories. Subsidies are likely to be slashed for off-shore wind farm and other green energy supplies. Meanwhile there will be generous tax break for fracking as ministers try and incentivise the industry to drill for onshore oil and gas
7/8 There maybe more free childcare – but not necessarily
In the campaign the Tories pledged to double the amount of free early education for three- and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 30. The extra hours would only be offered to working families where parents are employed for at least eight hours a week. However they have not said where the money will come from to fund the pledge
8/8 Workers' rights could be reduced
The Tories want to slash business regulation, merge regulator and cut costs. The Lib Dems stopped them from reducing the employment rights of workers in power – but these are now under threat
The furore over plans for a new plant at Hinkley Point nuclear power station is an example of how controversial some projects can be. The Government has been locked in discussions with energy company EDF for years over the size of its subsidy and no agreement is in sight.
Ms Rudd visited the Thames Barrier in Woolwich with The Independent to mark World Environment Day.
In a wide-ranging interview, she pledged to keep pressuring the Big Six energy suppliers to cut their bills and to do her best to win over climate change sceptics – both in and outside her party. Ms Rudd wrote to each of the Big Six a week ago putting pressure on them to reduce prices, which have fallen a lot less than wholesale costs.
She said reducing energy prices will be her No 1 priority in office – but that it could take some time to achieve. “I’ve got to build that relationship so the Big Six realise I’m very serious about this – about making sure that energy prices come down when they should and I wanted to put that marker down early.”
She also put a brave face on Michael Gove’s refusal to let her attend the annual UN convention on climate change in Lima last December – even though she was the climate change minister.
“I was obviously disappointed. But it was six months before the election and he was the Chief Whip. I thought it was in the nature of government. Ed Davey [the then Energy Secretary] was going – I wasn’t unhappy.”
Ms Rudd admits the Conservative Party has an issue with climate change sceptics – although she insists that Labour harbours just as many MPs who are sceptical.
“In my experience as minister I found there were just as many Labour MPs as Conservative MPs who spoke out with their doubts about it. I’m not in denial – I’m aware that some of my colleagues aren’t as committed as I and the Prime Minister are. But I’m going to be engaging with them, talking to them and hopefully winning them over,” she says.
She has set up a meeting with Lord Lawson, Britain’s most high-profile climate-change sceptic, as the first part of her campaign to win over the doubters.
“I will be having a conversation with him. I’m hoping to win him over, so great is my ambition. But we will see.
“He’s a big voice and he was a remarkable Conservative politician and Chancellor so I’m interested in what he has to say. And I hope he will be interested in what I have to say.
“He’s an intelligent man and I’d like to engage with him on what his issues are.”
Oxfam: 'Britain can wean itself off coal'
The UK could stop burning coal for its energy supply by 2023 if it took decisive measures to use energy more efficiently and to become better at storing it, a new report from Oxfam claims.
In the week that leading scientists and economists launched a global research initiative to make green energy cheaper than coal within a decade, and a day after a report from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that global warming may be speeding up, Oxfam challenged leading economies such as the UK to phase out coal-powered plants during the 2020s.
The new report claims that coal plants will cost the world more than £300bn a year by the end of the century as they fuel climate change that damages crops and buildings. It says the emissions produced by the G7 group of leading economies, including the UK, will be the biggest driver of climate change in coming decades, with Africa set to be hit particularly hard.