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A Lamborghini tractor at the gates of Downing Street

“If we don’t learn from the Dutch eco quagmire we might end up with Farmer Clarkson as PM”, warns the Times.

Jeremy Clarkson is a bit too much of a Remainer for my political tastes, but we could do a lot worse. But Robert Colvile’s article is not really about Britain’s most famous petrolhead. It is about the slow but relentless growth in the scope of a law for which nobody voted, Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the Conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora, a.k.a. the “EU Habitats Directive”.

This was designed to protect and restore rare species and conservation sites. One thing they needed protecting from was nitrogen pollution.

In November 2018 the European Court of Justice ruled (after a referral from the Netherlands) that any “plans or projects” near such sites were permissible only if there was “no reasonable scientific doubt as to the lack of adverse effects”.

In other words, before you could build a house or spread fertiliser on a field, you had to prove it would not increase nitrogen emissions. Which you couldn’t.

This ruling — known as the “Dutch case” — triggered the nutrient neutrality crisis, which is blocking an estimated 145,000 new homes in England.

But in the Netherlands the results were even more dramatic. The country’s highest court quickly suspended 18,000 construction projects and ordered drastic cuts in nitrogen emissions. Given that 46 per cent came from cow dung, MPs proposed halving the number of cattle. Which led to outraged farmers blockading roads with tractors, and the formation of a new party, the Farmer-Citizen Movement. Which is now well ahead in the polls.

As the article points out, Brexit has not prized the UK loose from these laws, although it has made it less inconceivable that one day we might be.

Above all, this story illustrates the dangers of the precautionary principle at the heart of EU law, and in particular our interpretation of it. This principle holds that before you do anything, it must be proved to be absolutely safe.

In the nitrogen ruling, the language about “no reasonable scientific doubt” set an extraordinarily high bar. One that drove Natural England to unilaterally halt the construction of 145,000 desperately needed houses across 74 council areas, because there was a risk of nitrogen from flushed lavatories running into rivers — even though planning permission had already been granted, and the homes would be responsible for only a fraction of local pollution.

What’s striking is the absolute nature of such decisions. There is no evaluation of trade-offs, no way to argue that, yes, we need to protect rivers, but also to build homes and fill bellies with crops. The Economist notes that the Netherlands’ environmental rules have imposed “wide-ranging restrictions on new economic activity”. Same here.

For many Brexit campaigners, the hostility to innovation embedded in the precautionary principle — for nitrogen emissions, read gene-editing, or AI — was a key justification for leaving. But the poison has entered our bloodstream.

34 comments to A Lamborghini tractor at the gates of Downing Street

  • Paul Marks.

    There are housing, and other, developments going up all over the place (in every town I visit or pass through) – yet I keep reading stories saying this or planning regulation or court ruling is preventing houses being built, and bits of paper (or computer records) are presented “proving” that very few houses are being built.

    Yet I see them being built everywhere. So I face a choice between believing these reports – and believing my own eyes.

    It is a bit like being told (endlessly) that it is hot and dry – yet when I go out it is cold and wet.

    Still the policies the government of the Netherlands, or rather the local branch of the international establishment, are following are indeed terrible – I agree on that point.

    I hope the establishment parties are utterly defeated in the upcoming General Election – and I hope that winning a General Election makes-a-real-difference.

    In the United Kingdom we won the independence referendum of 2016 and we won several General Elections – but in all sorts of areas of policy the officials (both government and corporate – for we are in an age of public-private partnership now) just carried on their international policies in the United Kingdom – regardless of the results of the independence referendum and several General Elections.

    It is true that Prime Minister “Liz Truss” (Elizabeth O’Leary) did challenge the international establishment on both taxation and regulation – but the lady was overwhelmed by a tidal wave of disinformation and propaganda, organised by the Bank of England and vast corporations (public-private partnership at work – and very much for a political and cultural agenda, nothing to do with making money for “Aunt Agatha” shareholders, who the vast Woke Corporations could not give a damn about).

    Suddenly the “Liz Truss budget” (tax reductions that did-not-happen), not more than 400 Billion Pounds of counter productive (yes – counter productive) Covid lockdown spending, was responsible for the economic mess.

  • Paul Marks.

    Why are houses and flats so expensive?

    Mass immigration (sorry – but it is factor, a major factor), family breakdown (mothers and fathers not living together with their children), and the Credit Money bubble.

    These are the reasons why houses and flats are so expensive. And “solutions” that do not address the real causes, are not solutions at all.

  • Paul Marks.

    As for the specific Dutch court ruling – of course it is nonsense, as all these international establishment rulings are.

    And the United Kingdom should ignore it – and all other efforts by the international establishment to set either economic or social policy.

  • bobby b

    Preparing us for the inevitable “One Child” rule.

  • Colli

    Mass immigration (sorry – but it is factor, a major factor), family breakdown

    Why is it that the number of houses built per year has not increased significantly, despite greater increase in demand for houses?

  • Bruce

    Well, the last time I looked, the total mass of the atmosphere was 1.4 x 10^21 Kilogrammes, give or take.


    Nitrogen – 78%
    Oxygen – 20%
    Argon – 1% (approx)
    Everything else, including CO2 – <1%

    So, of which "Nitrogen" do the taxpayer-funded pseudo scientists speak".

    Or, is this more of the carefully-calculated "dumbing-down” / criminal scumbaggery that is at the core of the previous scare; using images of steam and black balloons and the criminally misleading term "Carbon', when it was allegedly (and fraudulently) about Carbon DIOXIDE. (See above figures for a refresher).

  • Chester Draws

    Preparing us for the inevitable “One Child” rule.

    Thankfully, that one won’t come to pass.

    The experience of China does not suggest it was very helpful, and may end up being massively counter-productive. The average in the West of children born in the West is about 1.5 and dropping anyway.

    As unconservative as the “Conservative” Party is, they won’t introduce it. And Labour’s electoral success depends on exactly those that would actually be most affected by such a law, so they can’t back it. The Lib-Dems might buy it, but it isn’t the sort of policy that will really gain them support.

  • John

    Nitrogen in the atmosphere isn’t the issue, so the composition of air is not relavent.

    Groundwater contamination with fertilizer runoff, including nitrogen, can lead to a whole lot of bad things. Dying fish, algae blooms, etc.

    That said, the proposed rules are bat sh1t crazy stupid beyond belief, except it is so totally believable from these bat sh1t crazy @$&$#_&!!!!

    In short, I agree with you that it’s a really stupid idea, but your point is off the mark and not relavent

  • John

    One Child?

    We could start by requesting that our burgeoning immigrant population restrict themselves to just one wife. Not going to happen though is it? Here you go Sir, will this 5 bedroom taxpayer funded dwelling in London do for you or will you be exercising your human right to stay in your 4-star hotel until something meeting your exact requirements becomes available? We’ve also got a very nice 3-bed new-build flat within easy walking distance for your other family when they come over.

  • Mr Ed

    The simple answer is to redefine ‘adverse’ in terms of ‘adverse effect’: e.g. nitrate in lake = algal bloom = more CO2 fixed = less ‘climate change’ = nitrate mandate.

  • rhoda klapp

    Who introduced the precautionary principle without consideration of the possible consequences?

  • Why is it that the number of houses built per year has not increased significantly, despite greater increase in demand for houses?

    Simple. Developers cannot build houses to service demand without state permission for each & every one, because we live in a largely state planned economy. And the state makes getting that permission either impossible or at least difficult.

    It’s not a market failure, because we have nothing even vaguely resembling a free market in houses. Its also not a failure of state regulation (unless you think building more houses is actually what the state wants, which is clearly isn’t, statements to the contrary not withstanding). The regs are doing exactly what they intend to do, because the state has different objectives to would-be house buyers & the developers who’d be happy to service that demand.

  • Peter MacFarlane

    @Chester, you are quite right to say that no democratic political party would try to introduce such a measure. The same could be said of Net Zero, unlimited immigration, HS2, and many other things.

    But I am sure it has not escaped your notice that such things are enabled, enacted, and enforced by non-democratic (indeed anti-democratic) power bases in society, to which the elected bodies have most unwisely delegated their legitimate powers. Tyranny awaits, probably, but it won’t be an elected tyranny, and it won’t be undone by any democratic process. Some might think this a good thing; I disagree.

  • Paul Marks.

    Coli – at least you are admitting that houses and flats are being built, I have seen that denied. Indeed documents “proving” that houses and flats are not being built have been presented to me – as if I should believe such records and ignore my lying eyes, my eyes telling me that houses and flats are being built in-and-around every town I visit. To the great harm of these places.

    As the United Kingdom is not growing in land area, the idea that the answer to mass migration, some 600 thousand (net) last year (Mr Cameron promised 20 thousand – not 600 thousand per year) is that we can deal with the problem by building yet more houses and flats is insane – utterly insane.

    If one mentions the example of Hungary one is told that they have a “Fascist” government, which is nonsense. But Social Democratic Denmark also controls its borders – it wants to remain Denmark (not become some other country) and the population do not wish to starve to death.

    I remind people that “free migration” is not a principle that can be universalised – if it was universalised, then (for example) Israel would cease to exist (and another six million Jews would be exterminated) and (another example) Australia would become part of Indonesia – a nation that has ten times the population of Australia.

    As “free migration” can not be universalised, why should the United Kingdom, de facto, continue to follow this policy – when the people of the United Kingdom keep voting to end de facto free migration.

    If the British people are not allowed to have the policy they keep voting for – then why bother with these referendums and General Elections at all.

  • Paul Marks.

    Perhaps the idea is that a housing estate should be built on Mr Clarkson’s farm.

    The occupants of the housing estate to “pay for” their imported food and their imported manufactured goods by “money” from nothing.

    This is an insane policy – utterly insane.

    “But Paul – it is the basis of our monetary, financial and general economic system”.

    Which is an insane, utterly insane, system.

  • bobby b

    Chester Draws:

    “The experience of China does not suggest it was very helpful, and may end up being massively counter-productive.”

    If progressives are to avoid ideas that are unhelpful or counter-productive, their entire climate program goes away. I’d submit that One Child being unhelpful wouldn’t even slow them down. It’s all about control – and what’s more controlling than the One Child philosophy?

  • Dave Clemo

    ‘Why is it that the number of houses built per year has not increased significantly, despite greater increase in demand for houses?’

    One factor may be that the builder’s share price is influenced by the value of its land bank. It makes more sense for the builder to sit on an appreciating asset than build houses. If the demand for houses exceeds the supply then the prices stay high. Building more houses will deflate the price.

  • JJM

    Jeremy Clarkson is a bit too much of a Remainer for my political tastes, but we could do a lot worse.”

    The choice for PMs – Tory or Labour – has become so uninspiring now that even a retractable bollard on a London street would make a suitable candidate.

    You are right. It’s not really a question of whether Clarkson could do better as PM; it’s a question of whether he could do any worse.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    @Paul Marks, yes, I see housing being built in places such as Suffolk, and although some of it is okay from an aesthetic point of view, there is quite a lot of it. But two things can be correct: we see housing estates being built, and the fact that there is a big shortage of it where the demand exists.

    The shortage of housing cannot simply be fixed, as the immigration restrictionists would like, by stopping all illegals and significantly tightening controls. A lot of people are already here, legally, and have passports – legally. So what are those who say they are the cause of high prices going to do? Expel them, even if they are now citizens of the UK?

    In any event, a rising UK population, whatever, the cause of it, is usually a sign that a country is a popular place to live. It is a net exodus that ought to worry people. And there is a trend I read about of young, often professional and ambitious people who want start families, looking to get out. Some are going to places such as Dubai, and some are looking at Canada and the US, although all these places have downsides. Quite a lot of younger Polish immigrants and their kids are going to Poland where their take-home pay is higher and housing is cheaper. Soon, no doubt, we will be hearing of how the UK housing trade is being stymied because of all that East European “cheap labour” that people used to complain about is no longer here.

    Overall, though, the ratio of house prices to take-home pay has definitely risen over the past 40 years or so, and while central bank money printing, and some net migration accounts for some of it, as well as a shift from North to the South and London, there undoubtedly is a problem with a dearth of rental/mortgage property where it is needed. I am afraid the planning restrictions are a part of the problem, Paul, deny it though you will. The journalist Liam Halligan talks a lot of sense on the subject.

  • jgh

    There is already an exodus of the young and talented. That *net* immigration of 600,000 last year is an *actual* immigration of 1.2 *MILLION* “balanced” by 600,000 of our best *leaving*.

  • lucklucky

    The experience of China does not suggest it was very helpful

    You still thinking that the left want policy results? They want power. Does the left have a job if problems are fixed?

  • Jon eds

    One of the solutions to the housing crisis is to increase the density of our cities. As you travel out from London’s city centre on the train, you will see the height of houses falling very quickly.

    Even in the outskirts of zone two it’s probably not much more than two stories on average. This is less true in the North and West than in the South and East, but still, no shortage of dilapidated low rise housing that could be replaced with high rise buildings.

    These could be built to a high standard and made suitable for families. They manage to do it in Europe and the Far East.

    Of course, much cheaper to build on a field.

  • Snorri Godhi

    One factor may be that the builder’s share price is influenced by the value of its land bank.

    Similarly, a homeowner’s nominal worth is influenced by the nominal value of his/her house.

    Since homeowners seem to worry about their nominal worth, perhaps more than they should, governments tend to be shy about depressing house prices by increasing the housing supply.

  • Paul Marks.

    Johnathan Pearce – we can not just keep losing farmland.

    This economic model of endless migration, living off imports of food and manufactured goods “paid for” with “money” created from nothing, will not work.

    It will not work in America either – and they are vastly bigger than we are. The idea that it will work in a country the size of England (for it is England where most of the migrants go) is bonkers.

  • Paul Marks.

    “Britain had free migration in the 19th century”.

    And then if someone asked for government help they were told – “the address of the local Workhouse is….” so not many people arrived in the United Kingdom from outside. That is not true today.

    In France they had no Poor Law at all.

  • snag

    The notion that the UK is overcrowded is hard to sustain.

    As much as I agree that one can’t have unrestricted immigration with a cradle-to-grave welfare state (my preference is for the former, given the choice) the fact remains that the built area of the UK (homes, roads, factories, the lot) is less than 5%.

  • bobby b

    As I fly over the US, I’m constantly amazed that it is mostly empty land.

    But think of it as an empty sea instead, upon which we have built various life rafts. Social services, food stores, schools, museums, hospitals, housing . . .

    Those things – the life rafts – don’t exist in the empty places.

    People coming in either overfill the rafts, or they find a way to build their own.

    I would let in anyone who can build their own raft. The others, I would let in only when we figure out how to build more rafts on our own nickel. Our present rafts appear to be taking on water.

  • Snorri Godhi

    As much as I agree that one can’t have unrestricted immigration with a cradle-to-grave welfare state […]

    Allow me to hijack the above from the comment by ‘snag’:
    As much as I agree that one can’t have unrestricted immigration with a cradle-to-grave welfare state, I see a much more serious risk: the risk that one cannot have unrestricted immigration without ending up woke.

    We don’t want to turn our countries into fascist shit-holes like the UK, New York, and California.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Paul, for a classical liberal, you seem rather protectionist here on agriculture and land use for housing. If agricultural land is increasingly scarce and valuable, its price reflects that, and the cost of building on agriculture-quality land goes up vs other forms of land, such as redeveloped land, or “brownfield sites” as they are often called. Of course, it may be that if or when the UK population were to shift, or shrink (which is entirely possible, assuming general birthrate trends), then some old urban/suburban sites fall into disuse, the concrete is busted up, and the land comes back into the wild, or as farmland, golf courses, rally circuits, or whatnot.

    It is also worth pointing out that modern farming techniques, including hydroponics, GM crops, application of fertilisers, uses of drones to monitor fields, and other things, have dramatically increased crop yields and output per acre, reducing the need to put so much land under the plough. This is a reason why it is possible for people to write without mockery of the idea of “re-wilding” the land and allowing wild forests and other habitats to be re-established. It is lot easier to have the wonders of parks, nature trails and the rest of it if you have a full belly, foods of all types, etc. But guess what? The current “deep Green” movement wants to ban use of “artificial” fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides and other treatments, GM crops, fossil fuels (which are used by tractors, combine harvesters, etc), artificial irrigation of the land, dams of rivers to control floods, etc. In this environment, agricultural output will fall dramatically (see what happened a year ago in Sri Lanka, after it experimented with these ideas). There’s a reason, other things being equal, why “organic” or “natural” farming, unless it can be done at scale and with some tech interventions, tends to be more costly at the shop than more supposedly “artificial” farming.

    So the next time I read of someone objecting to planning permission for housing estates on the grounds that it takes up valuable farmland, I’d argue that if you support laissez faire capitalism and free trade, it should not matter one jot where you food comes from provided it isn’t subsidised or taxed, because what we want is the most efficient allocation of resources available in a free society, and we shouldn’t fall into the Mercantilist trap of trying to micromanage how much of England’s “green and pleasant land” is used for this or that.

    According to official government data, 8.7 per cent of UK land is used for urban purposes. If the data was the other way around, your comments about how all this migration is going to leave the UK one big town might make sense, but it is so far off the mark that it isn’t remotely credible.

    I am still a Cobdenite, Paul. Are you?

  • Mr Ed

    On the subject of economic and eco-catastrophes, and cars, it seems that a cargo ship with 3,000 electric cars (some might be ICE?) has gone up in smoke off the Netherlands and the crew had to jump into the North Sea.

    This is not the first time a huge vessel full of EVs has undergone spontaneous combustion mid-voyage. Perhaps in a millennium, scientists from a new civilisation will wonder at the residual lithium levels in the North Sea and speculate how it got there, dismissing the fantastic theories put out by some.

    More pertinently, what sort of idiot insured the vessel?

  • Mr Ed

    Seems that sadly, one crewman died in that fire, and the ship only had 25 electric cars, apparently one of which combusted, setting the rest off it seems.

  • You could use an environmental “precautionary” standard to block all immigration.

  • Paul Marks.

    Snag “the idea that the United Kingdom is overcrowded hard to sustain” – well it is “hard to sustain” , if you are blind and do not look around England (for it is England we are talking about – the mass migration is to.

    However, Snag – if you are not blind and actually use your eyes to observe many parts of England (not the “official statistics” that say few houses, and so on, are being built) – if you actually use your eyes you will see that more and more of the land is being used up. The migrants (more than 600 thousand last year alone – net) arrive in the cities, and the people who used to live in the cities move out to small tows – turning them into big towns, housing estates marching every onwards (essentially ignored in the official statistics – which pretend that the housing estates that I see every week, do-not-exist) and endless new flats (apartment blocks) in towns.

    More migrants have arrived in England in the last few years than had arrived in all of history, all the thousands of years, before that. Anyone who does not think that is problem, is wildly misguided (to put the matter mildly).

    Johnathan Pearce – “you are rather Protectionist Paul”

    We have had this conversation before Sir – and I have asked, repeatedly, for you to show me where Adam Smith or any of the great Free Trace Classical Economists (Sir Dudley North to Ludwig Von Mises – so a few centuries there) said that a people could import food, raw materials and manufactured goods (we have a trade deficit in manufactured goods as well – not just food and raw materials), and pay for it all (year-after-year) with Credit Money created from nothing.

    I am still waiting Sir – where do they (the free trade economists from Sir Dudley North to Ludwig Von Mises – including Adam Smith) say that a people can just create a lot of “money” from nothing (the shoddy trickery of government and “the City”) and use this “money” (which has no physical existence – it is not even bits of paper) to buy endless food, raw materials and manufactured goods?

    What is happening in such nations as the United States and the United Kingdom is not economics – it is more like magic spells (and I do not believe in magic).

    “We will import endless numbers of people, and finance their spending by creating money-from-nothing – thus GDP will go up”.

    Is that what Adam Smith and the others meant by Free Trade – show-me-where-they-said-that.

    The idea that Adam Smith, or any of the free trade economists from Sir Dudley North to Ludwig Von Mises would support what is happening in the United Kingdom or the United States today, is false.

  • Paul Marks.

    Leaving aside the magic spells “economic” theory of importing endless numbers of people and financing their consumption of imported goods by creating money-from-nothing (more migrants in the last few decades than in all the thousands of years of the history of these islands put together). “Hey presto! GDP has gone up because we have let in lots of migrants and we are financing a lot of their consumption (and also a lot of the consumption of the people born here) by creating “money” from nothing!” is NOT economics.

    There is also the political and constitutional point – the British people have repeatedly voted, both in the independence referendum of 2016 and in General Election after General Election, to radically reduce inward migration – yet that has not been done. Quite the opposite has been done.

    It is possible to defend the borders, as Hungary and other nations show, but there has been a choice by the establishment to ignore what the British people have repeatedly voted for. Indeed to do the opposite of what the people have repeatedly voted for.

    So either do what the people have repeatedly demanded – or stop claiming we live in a democracy.

    It is that basic – either do what the people have repeatedly demanded (radically reduce the inward migration), or stop this talk of “democracy”, “elected government responsible to the people” and all the rest of it.