Our Heritage 2040 Articles

Our Heritage 2040: A 21st Century Crystal Palace Across East Anglia

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Covid has cruelly taken tens of thousands before their time, changed the lives of millions forever and brought our economy to its knees. My heart goes out to everyone so horrifically impacted by this invisible destroyer.

We owe it to all those affected to take the opportunity to think bigger, to think differently and to build back together.

To this end I believe we have a once in several generations chance to change the way we approach agricultural production. I propose we combine new subsidized sustainable energy sources, including nuclear, to fuel significant and, at speed growth of our “under glass” agricultural and horticultural production.

You may be unaware of it but the Agriculture Bill, currently progressing through the House of Lords, provides the vehicle for this adventure; the most important piece of legislation, in this area, in at least fifty years.

We are facing a huge global challenge. If population growth reaches 10 billion by 2050 as predicted, but agricultural yield and costs in terms of water and fossil fuels are maintained at current levels more than a billion people could be facing starvation. To give as stark a context as possible; in the next four decades we will need to produce more food than has been produced in the preceding eight thousand years.

But with challenges come opportunities and I believe we have a chance, with this bill, to do something great not just for our own agricultural industry but far beyond our borders by demonstrating the benefits of high-tech sustainable farming.

I moved several amendments, focussing on how technology can be positively deployed to assist in this mission.

My “Crystal Palace” amendment:

“(c) subsidising sustainable energy for growing, under glass or other artificial covering—

cut flowers;
vegetables, and
other produce as designated by the Secretary of State.”

I believe we can achieve two clear objectives with this one amendment. Namely, to further develop our sustainable energy expertise and commercial edge in that and through that “spark fund” our “under glass” producers to enable them to further grow, at speed. In sustainable, I very much include nuclear, particularly, small modular reactor (SMR) and advanced modular reactor [AMR] technology where the UK could play a leading role with the right incentives. This subsidised energy could then be utilised to turbo charge our “under glass” production, not least of the finest of produce set out in the amendment above.

For decades, the Dutch have shown us a clean pair of clogs when it comes to these methods. They took a strategic decision and stuck to it in terms of deploying, and subsidising, their energy resources to support their fruit, veg and flower producers. They are now the second largest exporter of food, not in Europe, but in the World. We bow down to them, it is such a success story. There was no magic, it is clear how they achieved it. In our bowing though, we might choose to take the opportunity to stare at our own shoes and wonder why we didn’t take such steps.

It is no shame on our producers, we have some of the best in the world, not least our own Lord Taylor of Holbeach, by any other name, Lord Taylor of Daffodils (and Chelsea gold medal winning daffodils they are!) If we just consider that surname alone: Taylor’s tea and coffee starts my day, Taylor’s port is a fine way to end it. We have such fantastic plants women and men, Carol Klein, the epitome of excellence, engaging to all and when it comes to the very nature of nature, Monty- you are the Don.

We have outstanding producers but there was a missed opportunity by those in power at the time, when we had the power, flowing in at speed from the North Sea. Despite our oil and gas, we did not subsidise fuel for our East Anglian producers or create a sovereign wealth fund for our nation and now there is little of that national resource still around.

But, and rare this is in life, the chance has come right back to us, at this very moment in time. With this Bill and beyond, we can develop our solar, off shore wind, heat exchange, and our SMR and AMR technology both for what this will bring to us all of itself and for what it can do to turbo charge a bold new future, eternal Springs and Summers for our producers.

This fits with what we would need at any time, but never more so than now. Business’ can be built on the back of this approach, jobs created, local communities enabled, supply chains shortened, food and flower miles down, local sourcing, clarity in every element of the produce, regions levelled up, Co2 down.

In short, we have the opportunity to enable a 21st century crystal palace across East Anglia. And the exhibits in those glass palaces: the finest flowers, fruits, veg and other produce. This is in our hands. What do we need? A vision, a set of decisions and clear, consistent leadership as the Dutch showed all those decades ago. I’d be very interested to hear any views on this subject. Please do be in touch:


Lord Chris Holmes
August 2020

Chris Holmes is a Member of the House of Lords and a Paralympic Gold Medallist

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