Julian’s York Press Column – Protecting and renewing our environment
January 26, 2018
Amid the weekly routine of political life at Westminster and the buzz of the 24 hour news cycle, it is always encouraging to see the government setting aside the time to think long-term about the kind of country we want to hand on to the next generation.
This month saw a welcome example of this in the form of the long-awaited 25 Year Plan for the Environment launched by the Prime Minister two weeks ago, a comprehensive blueprint for preserving and improving our natural heritage over the next-quarter century.
The document sets out government proposals to protect and enhance air, water, soil, landscapes and woodland, and minimise pollution and waste. The Plan is intended to create a clear framework for government action in this area, ensuring the state can focus its energies on fulfilling these targets, for our collective benefit.
However, as always in politics, words are easy, but it’s delivering on them that counts, and I will be using my position as a member of the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, and as an independent-minded backbench MP, to keep Ministers up to the mark on this vital agenda, ensuring they deliver on the Plan’s ambitions.
Questions of environmental protection are especially important for a constituency like York Outer, a Green Belt seat composed of city suburbs and surrounding settlements. As a successful, bustling city set amidst the rolling countryside of North Yorkshire, the balance between the interests of human development and nature is often a very fine one. The welfare of our community depends on reconciling the needs of an active population with the responsibility to preserve the area’s historic character, and an initiative like this from central government is useful in helping us local residents to identify clearly how York’s environmental efforts can contribute to a wider national plan.
My general political stance has always been to support a “bottom up” approach, which puts as much power and responsibility as possible in the hands of local communities, and the environment is no exception. It is essential that the government listens to the charities and local voluntary groups who do so much to preserve our natural heritage, such as the dedicated volunteers of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust who invest their time year in year out on the upkeep of the Askham Bog, Strensall Common and Wheldrake Ings nature reserves which ring our city.
A personal priority for me has always been the scourge of plastic waste, which clogs up both the streets of York and the world’s oceans. My very first action as an elected politician was to propose a motion pushing for more plastic recycling just after my election to Harrogate Borough Council back in 2002, and I am glad to see that the 25 Year Plan takes this issue seriously, with the extension of the successful 5p plastic bag charge to customers at small shops, and a target to achieve zero avoidable plastic waste by 2042.
However, I want to see more progress as fast as possible on extending the recycling of drinks containers with a deposit return scheme for bottles. Ministers have so far only carried out a call for evidence on a ‘return and reward’ scheme, and I am lobbying the government to act decisively on this.
Preserving the quality of the 70+% of UK land that is farmed will also be crucial to realising the government’s environmental ambitions, and in this context Minister have to ensure that the rules framework is science-led and does not generate further negative impacts on nature. The unsuccessful recent attempt at EU level to restrict the use of the irreplaceable weedkiller glyphosate was alarming from this perspective.
Farmers are the primary guardians of the soil, and local landscapes will soon begin to degrade if UK producers are driven out of business through labouring under bad regulation not experienced by our global competitors. The removal of glyphosate would have forced farmers to move away from minimum tillage operations, and rely on the plough and more intensive tillage operations, resulting in greater diesel use, and generating additional carbon emissions. Clumsy regulation can therefore be a ‘false economy’ from a green perspective, and Ministers must be careful to avoid these pitfalls as they work to improve the natural environment for the benefit of all.