“This column was originally due to be published in the South Shropshire and Bridgnorth Journals on 31st October 2019. As the House of Commons voted to hold a General Election on 12th December 2019, I decided to rewrite my column to reflect recent events. But given the importance of the contents of the Bill, and the need to do more to preserve our environment, I am posting it on my website for constituents to read.” Philip Dunne
Last weekend the Welsh Marches bore the brunt of the first big autumnal storm, when over 50 mm of rain fell in 36 hours on Friday and Saturday on already saturated ground.
South Shropshire saw the worst flooding for several years. Flood barriers were put up in Shrewsbury and Ironbridge, and both the Teme and the Clun burst their banks – the latter effectively cutting Clun in two. Many roads, including the A49 for a time, became impassable due to flood water, with waterlogged vehicles abandoned, and the rail network between Cardiff and Manchester disrupted through ballast being washed away.
This was clear evidence of the constant need to keep on top of roadside drainage, clearing and maintenance, and flood attenuation and management plans. I pay tribute to the hard work of many local firefighters and highways staff who helped rescue some stranded people and pump away dangerous flood waters.
On Monday, by coincidence, the Environment Bill was introduced to the House of Commons. I spoke in the debate, to highlight that while we cannot stop the rain falling, we can do things about it to mitigate its impact when too much arrives at once.
I very much hope to serve on the Environment Bill Committee, if re-elected and when this returns to the Commons, as I want to press the Government to do more to raise the ecological status of our rivers. 84% of which are not meeting current standards. We need to ensure all our rivers meet high water quality standards.
The Bill includes targets in a number of areas: water, air, biodiversity, resource efficiency and waste reduction, which are all essential. Some have suggested the targets are not tough enough. But it is a major step forward, and I am pleased they reflect some of the recommendations made in the pre-legislative scrutiny by the Environmental Audit Committee, on which I sit.
The government has confirmed there will be five-yearly interim milestones for these targets and that they will be reported on annually by both the Government and the new regulator, the Office for Environmental Protection. So there is a clear process to ensure targets are appropriate, and are being met.
The Bill is wide-ranging and complex, offering a world class set of measures to start to address the climate emergency we face, through a holistic approach to improving our environment. It is clear that under a new Conservative government the Environment Bill will be a huge priority and I hope to be able to play a role in scrutinising the Bill, and to support it to become law as soon as possible.