York Press Column: Environmental issues and York
May 16, 2018
As the focus of political debate remains fixed on pressing questions like the twists and turns of the Brexit process; it remains important to devote time to considering our management of the environment, the state of which will ultimately have significant impacts on our everyday lives.
Given my ongoing work on the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, responsible for scrutinising government actions in this area, I continue to take an active interest in the development of policies designed to safeguard our natural heritage, and to lobby Ministers when I feel more progress needs to be made.
I am roundly encouraged that the government is pressing ahead with firm measures to reduce the terrible impact of plastic waste, a major cause of pollution in our city and marine environments, both along the beaches of North Yorkshire and across the world.
In January, the government introduced one of the toughest global bans on the use of plastic microbeads in personal care products, ensuring these tiny particles will no longer be washed into our sewers and from there out into the seas. However, there remains the question of tackling microplastics in other products, particularly synthetic clothing, which can pass into the oceans when these items are laundered. I acted to raise this with the government after this was brought to my attention by two local branches of the Women’s Institute. After writing to Ministers at the Department of the Environment I was gratified to see an announcement earlier this month with the government funding an 11 month university research into their impact as a guide to further measures in this area.
The central plank in the drive against plastic waste has to be a deposit return scheme for drinks containers, to cut down on the 3 billion bottles littered, incinerated or sent to landfill each year. In March the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, announced that a scheme will be introduced later in 2018, subject to consultation. I have also done my bit to urge the government to make a firm commitment on this by tabling written parliamentary questions to the Environment Secretary on the introduction of a scheme, and on the feasibility of setting a precise date for the complete phasing out of single-use plastic bottles, in January and March.
Fly tipping also continues to be a major environmental blight, particularly on areas with picturesque landscapes in and around North Yorkshire. Our city had over 1,500 incidents of fly tipping last year, and it is important that local authorities and government do not create perverse incentives to scar the environment in this way. For instance, levying steep waste disposal charges at local tips can encourage some people to dump more of their waste, a point I raised in a parliamentary debate on this issue last month.
We also need to be more aware of how careful stewardship of our existing natural resources can realise greater environmental benefits for us all. Our region is characterised by unique upland areas like the Dales and the Moors, which can be utilised to create natural flood defences to reduce flood risk in York, and combat the carbon emissions which cause climate change.
I saw this first hand on a visit to the Yorkshire Dales National Park in April, where I had illuminating discussions with representatives of the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust, the University of Leeds, and the Dales National Park Authority. I viewed some practical examples of natural flood management techniques, including tree planting, and also visited a peat restoration project.
Yorkshire peatlands have a similar capacity to absorb carbon as the Amazon rainforest, and UK peatlands each year soak up more carbon than all of the world’s oceans put together. Peat restoration projects can therefore mitigate the effects of climate change, improve local air quality, and preserve our county’s traditional landscape at the same time. Given the fact that many British businesses currently offset their carbon funding by funding tree planting, often abroad, there is significant potential for businesses to instead invest at home in our peatlands, which could channel more funds into preserving North Yorkshire landscapes while also improving our local environment overall.