Gillians speaks on Envrionment Bill in debate

Gillian Keegan:

There is no doubt that the UK is leading the world when it comes to tackling climate change. This Bill allows the Government to map out our path to be net zero by 2050. Progress is so important, as issues such as air quality are really impacting people’s lives today.

The World Health Organisation’s advice is that annual average particulate matter should not exceed 10 micrograms per cubic meter. I was shocked to learn that we in Chichester averaged 9.09 in 2017. For those who do not know Chichester, we are a very protected area. Some 66% of the constituency is protected either via the area ​of outstanding natural beauty in the coastal area to the south or via the South Downs national park. Despite that, my constituency ranked 268th worst in the UK for air quality, so we need to do more to clean up our air.

Although I welcome the devolution of environmental protection plans, the national guidance needs to take into account the local environment. For example, Midhurst in my constituency is a small town in the heart of the South Downs. The area has poor air quality due to traffic, and it has failed indicative nitrogen oxide tests since 2015. Now the council is implementing air quality management areas, and a much-needed action plan is in place, but the levels needed to meet the requirements are too high for rural areas. Therefore, moving forward, I hope the Government will lower the thresholds required to get designation for rural areas.

 

(Intervened: Steve Brine):

One reason for the poor air quality levels in my hon. Friend’s constituency could well be the A27, which blights the lives of many people there. In a similar way, we have junction 9 of the M3 in my constituency. It seems counterintuitive to have road change plans, but having traffic flowing properly would increase air quality, because that traffic would not be sitting idling or pummelling through residential areas.

 

Gillian Keegan:

I completely agree. There are huge blockages in traffic flow on the A27 and at the junction on the M3. That needs to be sorted out. I hope the £25 billion that is being invested in road infrastructure will address both of those issues and both of those roads.

Chichester is also famous for its harbour and the Chichester Harbour Conservancy, led by Richard Craven, who does a fantastic job. However, despite its efforts there are still concerns about water quality. I therefore hope that the Secretary of State will use the powers in the Bill to work with industry to address issues such as sewage water leaching and storm drain discharge into pristine marine environments. I hope she will work with boating communities like mine to better develop a network of waste water collection sites for leisure boats, as boats releasing sewage directly into our waterways increases harmful bacteria and nitrate levels.

Chichester harbour’s importance is not just about biodiversity. Recent analysis by the RSPB shows that areas such as the harbour and Pagham nature reserve, which is also in my constituency, are massive carbon sinks, with up to 310 tonnes per hectare. Maintaining such carbon-rich natural environments to a high standard not only benefits nature but helps us to mitigate climate change.

The Bill rightly brings forward the ability of the Secretary of State to withdraw water abstraction licences in an effort to protect the natural environment after 2028. This is vital to protect biodiversity, especially in times of water shortage. I urge the Government to continue and further develop a water resource management grant scheme so that growers and farmers are less reliant on water sources from their surrounding environment, and so that as a nation we are resilient in times of drought.

The Bill brings a sense of hope. It is the foundation from which we can develop a comprehensive environmental policy that will enable us to meet our net zero target. The sooner we act, the sooner we can become a world-leading net zero economy.