Cabinet Review: Theresa Villiers
Following the recent appointment of Boris Johnson's cabinet, we have launched a series of articles to assess how each sector views their new Secretary of State. Our third instalment focuses on Theresa Villiers, the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
To gauge the opinion of the sector, we spoke to Bob Jennings, one of the Principal Directors of Avocet Infinite.
1) What would you like to see Theresa Villiers focus on as environment secretary?
This is a complex question because the security of the British environment is not solely in the hands of UK: what happens elsewhere has a far greater influence than anything happening domestically. However, we can lead by example and to a limited extent we are already doing so.
It is easy to blame “greenhouse gases” such as methane and carbon dioxide for climate change, but this surely is not the whole story. We must consider the effect of population growth and the implications therein. For example, on average, each person emits some 100-120 watts of energy per hour, simply by staying alive. Exercise or any exertion results in an increased level of emission of energy.
For example, on average, each person emits some 100-120 watts of energy per hour, simply by staying alive.
In 1700 AD, the world population was about 600 million and had already started to increase rapidly. By, 1900 AD the population had risen to 1.65 billion, but by 2011 AD, the population growth had increased explosively to 7 billion. According to the latest figures, this is now expected to reach 7.7 billion in just eight years.
This exponential population growth is completely unsustainable and must be tackled on a worldwide basis. It is only due to a triumph of modern agriculture that we are still able to feed most of the world population .
On the domestic front, the key message, I believe, is to reduce the level of waste by using regulatory measures to make more packaging recyclable. The extensive use of black plastic food trays is a typical example. We should encourage the development of sustainable energy and fuels through the use of waste energy-rich materials.
Another issue is the current ease of building properties on “green field” sites. While the need for additional housing is recognised, every road, paved drive and patio leads to less land into which rain water can be absorbed and thus soak away in a longer and more controllable timescale.
While vitally important, the use of extensive drainage results in more rain water ending up in our rivers than otherwise would be the case. Priority should always be given to “brownfield” sites and “greenfield” sites used only as a last resort.
On the domestic front, the key message, I believe, is to reduce the level of waste by using regulatory measures to make more packaging recyclable.
A third topic for discussion and some planning is that of coastal erosion. Parts of the coastline are eroding badly, with the claim that nothing can be done about it. If planet Earth were ever to come to a thermodynamic equilibrium, there would be no land at all and the planet would be entirely covered by water. Volcanic activity has ensured that will not happen, but the point is still valid. Unless we take measures to prevent or at least reduce coastal erosion, the land mass of UK will decrease inexorably.
My final point is that I feel it is essential to take a more balanced view on how to move forward. Many experts have a particular axe to grind and their views will be affected by some bias and thus be unbalanced. As a scientist, I believe one should rely on proven facts and recognise that opinion is often subjective.
2) Do you think the current regulatory environment in the sector is appropriate?
There are many good aspects of the current regulatory system that work well, but as ever, things are not perfect and there is always room for improvement. I do not claim to be in any way expert in these matters, but I am very aware of instances where planning applications for perfectly good and environmentally very sound installations have been rejected on somewhat dubious grounds. A higher level of technical expertise in planning departments would be welcome.
I believe that plastic is not the devil as portrayed by many. The problem is one of people, and what they do with the plastic after use. I agree reluctantly with the recent levy on plastic bags even though many could be re-used, for example as bin liners which themselves are made of plastic.
However, I have some difficulty with charging for plastic bottles and aluminium cans. In my youth, most drinks came in glass bottles which were easy to wash and return. I would prefer to see a change towards greater use of glass, with a deposit system in place, rather than tackle the logistics of a recoverable levy on alternative packaging.
Much of the plastic on our shores does not originate from UK. An emphasis on global education should, given time, lead to a greater responsibility regarding the disposal of plastic and other materials.
I would prefer to see a change towards greater use of glass, with a deposit system in place, rather than tackle the logistics of a recoverable levy on alternative packaging.
The scourge of fly-tipping is widely recognised by the majority, yet our countryside still suffers from the action of the few. I know there is legislation in place to combat this, but it is rarely ever used.
The problem is one of detection. How do you police the whole country? I don’t like to envisage a “Big Brother” culture, but it seems that the only option other than employing vast numbers of people to enable 24/7 coverage is the more widespread use of camera surveillance equipment, which could benefit many other aspects of society.
I see light pollution as an additional area where changes in legislation could be beneficial. Some of the light from town and street lighting is lost to space, as is clearly seen by photographs taken from satellites. The UK is by no means the worst, but that is no reason for complacency. If the light were all reflected back to the ground, then much less energy would be required to provide adequate lighting.
Furthermore, legislation to enforce the mandatory use of LED technology would result in further savings in the use of electricity, with a resultant decrease in overall emissions of carbon dioxide.
There are also issues facing the general countryside, specifically the lack of hedgerows for nesting birds and other wildlife. I understand the need for large open areas of land for the production of various food crops due to the use of large automated harvesting machines, but surely there is room for compromise. Some of the hedgerows were removed on the promise of financial incentives. For many, this was regrettable and it would be good to see strong incentives to replace some of that which has been lost.