Plastic pollution is an issue that needs to be tackled, which is why last year I signed up to the Sky Ocean Rescue ‘Pass on plastic’ campaign, inspiring people to make everyday changes to help end plastic pollution.
The government have funded a 5-year-long study to investigate the potential harm caused by microplastics in the marine environment. As a result of this study, last year the government introduced one of the world’s strongest bans on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products. Microbeads, like other microplastics, do not biodegrade and therefore accumulate in the environment.
The government are working with water companies and researchers to understand the scale of the issue, evaluate the effectiveness of treatment systems at removing microplastics and assess the impacts of microplastics in aquatic environments. Research is continuing, the UK is funding a study at the University of Plymouth into textiles and tyres which are estimated to be significant sources of microplastics in the marine environment.
Our priority will continue to be preventing plastic entering the environment in the first place and eliminating avoidable plastic waste over the lifetime of the 25 Year Environment Plan.
Climate change and net-zero
In 2018 the government published a 25 Year Environment Plan. The plan aims to protect the environment by creating richer habitats for wildlife, improving air and water quality and curbing the scourge of plastic in the world’s oceans. In the first year alone, 90% of the plan’s actions have been delivered or are being progressed. As announced by the Prime Minister in 2018, the government is currently preparing the first Environment Bill for 20 years which will place the 25 Year Environment Plan on statutory footing and put environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of government. More information about this plan can be found here.
I recently discussed the net zero target with constituents at the 'Time Is Now' event in Westminster. Most welcomed this bill however noted that the 2050 target date was too far away. However, it is important to note that we have taken advice from experts at The independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) who advised that 2050 would be an ‘appropriate UK contribution to the Paris Agreement’. A 2050 target doesn’t rule out achieving it earlier However, it’s important to set a realistic and achievable target as it is a legally-binding framework.
Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans
The governments ambition is to make cycling and walking the natural choices for short journeys, or as part of longer journeys, by 2040. To achieve this, the government require co-operation from the various government departments, agencies, third sector organisations and local authorities. The government's Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS), published in April 2017, identified £1.2 billion of funding available for cycling and walking projects over the period 2016-21.
Since then, additional funding streams have been made available including the Transforming Cities Fund, Clean Air Fund, Future High Streets Fund and Housing Infrastructure Fund. Spending on cycling and walking in England has doubled from £3.50 per head to around £7 per head in this four-year spending review period alone. Almost £2bn of funding is now projected to be invested in cycling and walking projects between 2016/17 to 2020/21. Many of the decisions on the allocation of these funds will be made by the relevant local body, in line with the governments devolution and localism agenda. The government want to let local authorities make those decisions where possible.
I feel that this is a great start and will work to bring the 2040 target forward.
Onshore Wind Farms
In 2015 I voted against the abolition of subsidies for onshore wind farms during a debate about the Onshore Wind Turbine Subsidies Abolition Bill. However, there are issues with Onshore wind farms that cannot be ignored.
Despite wind farms being one of the cheaper forms of renewable energy, they are dependent on the wind blowing at the right speed in order to reach maximum output. Wind speed is variable day to day and as a result wind farms are unable to respond to spikes in demand for power. It is important that the UK focuses on getting value for money, ensuring that money is invested in renewable power sources fit for the needs for the UK.
Although subsidies have been cut for onshore wind farms in recent years, this does not prevent new onshore wind farms being developed in areas that are suitable for wind energy. In 2015, the government announced new considerations local authorities will need to evaluate when processing applications for onshore farms. Local authorities must ensure that:
- the development site is in an area identified as suitable for wind energy development in a local or neighbourhood plan; and
- following consultation, it can be demonstrated that the planning impacts identified by affected local communities have been fully addressed and therefore the proposal has their backing
This ensures that that local people have the final say on wind farm applications and that onshore wind farms are only developed in areas fit for purpose.
I think it is important that the UK has a mix of energy supplies, which includes a baseload supply which can always be relied upon, as well as other forms of energy such as wind power. In the third quarter of 2018 the UK generated over a third of its energy from renewable sources. I hope that the UK can increase this in the coming years through further research into new renewable energy sources.
The Environment Bill
I believe that we have a duty to keep our environment intact for the next generation. In 2018 the government published a 25 Year Environment Plan. The plan aims to protect the environment by creating richer habitats for wildlife, improving air and water quality and curbing the scourge of plastic in the world’s oceans.
The plan also pledges to:
- Provide international leadership and leading by example
- Consult on setting up a new independent body to hold government to account and a new set of environmental principles to underpin policy-making
Refresh the 25 Year Environment Plan regularly to ensure that collectively we are focusing on the right priorities
In May 2019 the government published the first progress report of its landmark Environment Plan indicating that, in the first year alone, 90% of the plan’s actions have been delivered or are being progressed. As announced by the Prime Minister in 2018, the government is currently preparing the first Environment Bill for 20 years which will place the 25 Year Environment Plan on statutory footing and put environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of government.
I am in favour of fracking in principle and believe we should explore its potential as part of the UKs diverse energy supply.
Fracking and planning permission
The Government is firmly committed to ensuring that local communities are fully involved in planning decisions that affect them. Planning applications for shale development proposals require consultation with local communities, ensuring that planning concerns about potential impacts raised by local people are taken into account in the determination of such applications.
I have received a number of campaign emails on the subject "Please keep earthquake regulations rock solid".
The Government takes the safety of the public and environmental protection very seriously and is confident that we have a robust regulatory framework in place. The UK has world-class regulation to ensure that shale gas exploration can happen safely, respecting local communities and safeguarding the environment. The campaign above asks for the traffic light system in place to be reviewed. The Government has stated:
The Traffic Light System for monitoring induced seismicity was introduced after consideration of advice from three scientists, following operations at Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall site in 2011. The level of magnitude 0.5 at which operators must pause operations, was set in consultation with industry as an appropriate precautionary measure. There are no plans to review the traffic light system.
Children's Health and Air Pollution
It is important that our children are breathing clean air, free of pollution. The government’s Air Quality Grant Programme provides funding to local authorities; funding projects in local communities to tackle air pollution and reduce emissions affecting schools, businesses and residents. Local authorities have a duty to monitor and assess air quality and to take action to reduce pollution where these breach statutory limits, and are best placed to determine local priorities.
While all measures which reduce air pollution will reduce exposure of children to these harmful pollutants, some projects have elements that are specifically targeted at children. Details of further funding from the Air Quality Grant Programme, including funding specifically directed at children can be found on the Air Quality Grant Programme webpage: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/air-quality-grant-programme.
The Government has committed £3.5 billion overall to deliver actions across all sectors and achieve cleaner air for people of all ages, including all vulnerable groups such as young children. The Environment Bill will also include strong commitments to improve the air we all breathe.