The fuel protests in September ensured that attention was focused on Chancellor Gordon Brown's proposals on vehicle and fuel taxation (see pp 4-5 ), but the pre-Budget report also contained a raft of other measures with environmental implications.
Mr Brown stopped short of offering an equalisation of the VAT position on greenfield and brownfield land, but his speech contained a number of other tax measures designed to encourage redevelopment. These include 100% tax relief on renovating flats above shops; cutting VAT to 5% on residential conversions; and removing VAT altogether on properties that have been empty for ten years or more.
The CPA submitted revised proposals on 30 October. 1 It extended the proposed voluntary agreement from three to five years; boosted the training programme for agronomists; and promised to work on measures to protect water supplies. In addition it put forward proposals to draw up crop protection management plans for individual farms; improve the training of pesticide advisors; improve information available to farmers to encourage them to increase biodiversity; and promised a code of practice for the use of insecticides.
The CPA also responded to criticisms that the original proposals failed to contain quantified objectives and indicators by putting forward five new indicators measuring water quality, cereal field margins, the adoption of new technologies, training of agronomists and training of operators. But the CPA failed to set any targets for these indicators, nor did it make commitments to reduce pesticide applications
The proposals also fell down in that there was no commitment to phase out older, more harmful pesticides. The CPA put the cost of the revised proposals at £10 million - or £2 million a year, around the same as its original proposal. But farmers' costs have rocketed from £1.5 million a year under the old proposals to around £11.5 million.
The Government was not impressed. It threw out the CPA's offer just nine days after its submission. Environment Minister Michael Meacher said that the Government remained keen to get a voluntary agreement from the CPA: "We are pressing the CPA to come up with effective measures," he said. But "a pesticides tax is specifically not ruled out."
Despite the rhetoric, however, the recent fuel protests and the state of the farming industry mean that a pesticides tax is politically difficult.