The green agenda: a slippery slope to inaction

Why are 1,000 newts holding up plans to build SnOasis, the world’s first indoor winter-sports resort?

Nick Thorne

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Topics Science & Tech

For years, planning permission has been sought for an ambitious project near Ipswich in eastern England. The plan is to build SnOasis – the world’s first indoor winter-sports resort, which will include an impressive 415-metre indoor ski slope, Europe’s largest. The resort would offer 14 different winter sports, such as snowboarding, speed skating and ice climbing. It would even feature a professional standard half-pipe.

As one would expect with such a vast project, planning permission has been very difficult to obtain. The £320million project is already seven years behind schedule but earlier this year it looked as if the last hurdle had been cleared and that SnOasis could open its doors to the public by late 2014. Then the news came: permission could not be given because the developers, Onslow Suffolk Limited, had not yet been given a licence to relocate up to 1,000 protected newts.

Although opposed on environmental grounds, the project actually makes use of a redundant cement works at Mason’s Quarry, which has been abandoned since 1999. This is the sort of thing businesses are constantly encouraged to do. The site is conveniently situated and ideal for the needs of the project. Once given the go-ahead, building the resort would take three years to complete. It would create an estimated 3,500 construction jobs, stimulate the local economy, and even benefit the construction, manufacturing, tourism and winter-sports industries on a national scale.

But for the time being, everything is on hold because of the local newt community. How far the need to protect every one of the earth’s creatures go? Will developers soon need licences to move worms and snails, too? It certainly seems crazy that a project that would bring some much needed investment and tourism to East Anglia might be jeopardised due to concern for local pond life.

But there is a more important point here. Why is it that a project to build an indoor winter-sports resort has come to be seen in purely environmental terms? A quick look at the SnOasis website will give you the answer. You would expect the website to be full of exciting pictures and video clips of people skiing down slopes at full pelt, demonstrating the potential of the ski jump, and generally publicising the project on the basis of the fun and enjoyment that it would facilitate.

However, as much effort seems to be devoted to explaining how the project supports sustainable development, and how the local environment is the number one concern. The leaders of the project state that they are ‘totally committed to sustainability’. Indeed, they have devised a ‘sustainability management system’, which goes one step further than the normal ‘sustainability best practice approach’. Not only will they assess the impact on the local environment, they will even review the changing demands of the area to ensure that the level of sustainability is always kept up to date.

The project leaders even sound apologetic about having to move four million tonnes of earth during the course of construction. We are assured that green and local products will be used wherever possible, that insulation will be used to reduce the energy needed for cooling, and that the heat generated through refrigeration will be reused. There’s nothing wrong with efficient construction and endeavouring to minimise waste, but surely the main priority of the project ought to be to provide an incredible ski slope?

The desire to protect previously unheralded wildlife from major building projects has had some truly perverse outcomes elsewhere. In California, a set of new solar-powered energy plants has been approved by regulators, no doubt mindful of the need to find ways to produce renewable power. Unfortunately, this oh-so-green project is being held up by other environmentalists firing off lawsuits in an effort to save desert squirrels and bighorn sheep.

It brought to mind a speech by spiked contributor Frank Furedi at the 2011 Battle of Ideas festival in London, in which he remarked that it would be refreshing to meet a capitalist who admitted he was out to make a buck. Obviously, the SnOasis project is driven by the objective to make profits. The problem with dressing it up in the language of sustainability is that the discussion around the project becomes framed solely in environmental terms. Economic growth and development are increasingly seen as topics for the environment column, and when leaders of projects such as SnOasis do all they can to try to prove their green credentials, they only make it more difficult for their own plans to get off the ground.

Instead of a race to the bottom, in which businesses compete to come up with the project that has the least impact on the environment, companies should sell their ideas on the basis of their contribution to society, in this case creating a great leisure facility for locals. If SnOasis never gets built it will be as much down to the reticence of its own supposed champions as to the protectors of newts.

Nick Thorne is a former intern at spiked.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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Topics Science & Tech

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