HOUSE OF COMMONS
LONDON SW1A 0AA
Mr Michael Downer
Southend on Sea
Our ref: RSE14183
29th November 2010 [...or so he claims. Michael didn't receive it until 19th January.]
Dear Mr Downer,
Thank you for attending my surgery on Friday.
I strongly support renewable energy sources and there is no doubt that biofuels can be an important tool in tackling climate change. They must, however, meet strict sustainability tests. If biofuels such as palm oil are used to the detriment of the rainforest, then their use will be more damaging to the environment than an appropriate a [sic] climate change solution.
The Conservative Party consistently made this point in opposition and we were the only party to vote against introducing the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation in 2008. It was argued that a policy of targets without any enforceable safeguards threatened serious environmental damage.
The Renewable Energy Directive requires the UK to ensure that 10 per cent of energy consumed in transport comes from renewable sources by 2020, and to ensure that any biofuels used towards this target meet a number of mandatory sustainability criteria.
The Government is currently assessing how best to implement this directive and has begun discussing ideas with interested parties.
Regarding Air Passenger Duty, I believe that the previous Government’s approach was the wrong way to tackle the problems caused by greenhouse gas emissions and could make life more difficult for people and businesses already having to cope with these difficult economic times.
The Government will explore changes to the aviation tax system, including switching from a ‘per passenger’ to a ‘per plane’ duty. Any major changes will, however, be subject to public consultation. I believe that this is a sensible way to reduce emissions without restricting people’s freedom to travel.
Thank you for also raising your concerns with my recent comments in the Southend Echo regarding the grant of legal aid to campaigners opposed to the extension of the runway at Southend Airport.
The expansion of Southend Airport will be hugely beneficial to the local economy and for employment opportunities in Southend. [see http://saen.org.uk for why this is false] It should create thousands of new jobs for the area. I am aware that some people have claimed that these jobs will mainly be associated with the new industrial estate, which will be built whether the runway is extended or not.
However, I am sure you will agree that the jobs will only become available when employers move into the site, and it would be naïve to suggest that the most desirable employers would do so without our creating the best airport possible.
Of course I support democratic representation, and legal equality is the foundation of our society and culture. However, I would be careful not to associate equal legal opportunities with receipt of legal aid. This facility is designed for those who cannot afford legal representation for solving problems which contribute to social exclusion and the infringement of their basic rights. They are given this assistance due to difficult personal circumstances. The Legal Aid website gives example cases as “family breakdown, debt and eviction”.
I do not feel it is right that a minority of campaigners should be allowed to use the facility to scrutinise a procedural issue. The legal costs that will be incurred to the local authority to defend this challenge will be substantial, and so if this minority had wished to challenge the decision, they should have paid for it fully themselves. I think this would have been particularly appropriate given the majority of taxpayers in Southend support the airport’s expansion.
Regarding Trident Energy and Green Investment, I am very grateful to you for bringing this company to my attention, and I will arrange to visit their site in the near future.
Thank you once again for speaking with me.
James Duddridge MP