2021 has had its ups and downs politically, but when I reflect on the things that this Government has achieved over the past year, we have not done too badly at all. It is very easy to focus on the negatives and we have certainly had our downs. At the start of 2021, we all hoped it would be the year when the UK (along with the rest of the world) would turn the corner on the coronavirus pandemic which caused so much economic and social hardship for most of 2020. At the time of writing this column, the Prime Minister’s decision to give time for the boosters to work rather than impose further restrictions (as has been done by the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales) is something I really welcome. Getting our boosters is paramount for our physical and mental health – as well as economic.
One really positive and exciting success story of 2021 has been the Government’s lead on protecting the environment. Just a few weeks ago, our world leading Environment Act received Royal Assent – a turning point and an example for the rest of the world to follow. Protecting our environment and combating climate change is something I know we all care about in Hastings and Rye, and this is legislation that I am proud of being part of because it matters to all of us, now and in the future.
Through the Act, we will clean up the country’s air, restore natural habitats, increase biodiversity, reduce waste and make better use of our resources. Crucially, it will halt the decline in species by 2030, helping to reverse declines of iconic British species like the hedgehog, red squirrel and water vole. It will also require new developments to improve or create habitats for nature, and tackle illegal deforestation overseas.
In view of the issues we have suffered in Hastings and Rye with sewage flooding, I am particularly pleased that the Act will crack down on water companies that discharge sewage into rivers, waterways and coastlines. The Government has set out, via its Strategic Policy Statement to Ofwat, the water regulator, its expectation that water companies must act to reduce the harm caused by storm sewage overflows. This has also been put onto a legislative footing; if Southern Water does not act, the Government will take action against it.
The Environment Act gives us the tools - and the momentum - we need to really put nature on the road to recovery during this decade, enabling us to have more, better, bigger and connected areas of natural habitats. This will bring a range of practical benefits and crucially will bring more into contact with the wonders of the natural world, while improving wider environmental quality at the same time.
It will enable us to transition to a more circular economy, incentivising people to recycle more, encouraging businesses to create sustainable packaging, make household recycling easier and even stop the export of polluting plastic waste to developing countries. These changes will be driven by new legally binding environmental targets, and enforced by a new, independent Office for Environmental Protection which will hold government and public bodies to account on their environmental obligations.
We have hit the ground running, and a huge amount of work has been underway to put the measures in the Act into practice. The sale of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds has already been banned, the plastic bag charge has been increased to 10p and extended to all retailers and the Government has recently launched a consultation on banning single use plastic cutlery, plates and polystyrene cups, as well as recently launching a call for evidence on other problematic single use plastics – including wet wipes, which I know is something a number of constituents have emailed me about.
I wish you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2022. The future depends on what we do in the present and we must take responsibility for the future today.