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Tim Bonner: Rishi responds to rural concerns

For some years now the Alliance has been warning that government policies on heat pumps and in particular, electric vehicles, would have a disproportionate and damaging impact on rural communities. We have also long opposed any plans to discourage people from eating British grass-fed beef and sheep. We therefore welcomed the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday that the Government would delay a ban on gas and oil boilers from 2025 to 2035, a ban on new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035 and his commitment that he will not bring in any policy that disincentivises eating red meat. 

Our concerns have been that, as far as boilers and cars are concerned, the available technology and infrastructure meant that people in rural communities would have faced eye-watering bills and immense practical difficulties. On boilers it is well understood that older houses which make up much of the rural housing stock will be far more expensive to convert because of the necessity of retrofitting insulation even before installing expensive heat pumps which are currently at the early stage of mass production. The Prime Minister also accepted our argument that the national car charging infrastructure was not in a state that we could move towards a ban on new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. It is simply not feasible to introduce a ban before people in rural areas, many of whom need to drive long distances to access basic services, can be confident that there is a practical charging network in place. 

We are also very pleased that the Government has seen through the unjustified and continuing attack on British beef and sheep farmers, the vast majority of whom are producing sustainable meat in grass-fed systems which benefit the environment and biodiversity. The attempt by some in the environmental movement to conflate domestic beef farmers with industrial feedlot production in North and South America is dishonest and damaging. Grass-fed beef and sheep products are far more sustainable than many of those which are staples of vegan and vegetarian diets.

It is important, however, to be clear that changes to how policies designed to tackle carbon emissions and global warming are introduced should not, in any way, be seen as a weakening in our resolve to tackle the global environmental issues facing us. The vast majority of people in the countryside are completely committed to action to reduce carbon emissions. Our concern is with individual policies and proposals which are both disproportionate in their impact on rural communities and sometimes questionable as to whether they would actually help solve the problems they are supposed to address. 

We hope that the principle of an effective and fair approach to reducing carbon emissions, with the interests of rural communities being fully considered, will be consistently applied by whoever is in power in Westminster over coming decades, as well as by devolved governments. Yesterday the Prime Minister addressed some of our concerns, but there are other issues such as the equitable development of solar and wind power, and the impact of carbon sequestration on rural communities which are of equal importance to the countryside.

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