Twelveheads Play Park – Pocket Parks Plus Project – Sarah Newton MP Visits

The culmination of close on 6 months hard graft down at Twelveheads came to fruition on the 31st July as our local MP, Sarah Newton and Cornwall Councillor John Dyer MBE paid a visit to see what we had been up to. A lovely sunny day which saw a number of local residents turn out and enjoy a good chat with Sarah, John and some of those who had driven this project through, in her own words our MP said:

“This is exactly what the Pocket Parks Plus initiative was aimed at providing and this is indeed a terrific example of what can be achieved by a few committed individuals from across the community – you have done a fabulous job. It is thoughtful, inspiring, has both the environment and residents at its heart, I am most impressed by the imagination of those who have made this happen. It is something for everyone and I note in particular just how much material has been recycled to make such artistic play equipment. May I therefore, on all your behalves, just say a huge thank you to everyone involved in refurbishing this area, which has so much potential.”

In truth, the project itself is not quite complete yet as we have a couple more weeks in which to build the rustic Drum Kit, repair the roof to the Community Shed, finalise the Bike Rack behind the bus shelter, screen off the area between the Shed and Toilet block and may be even install a few wooden animals behind the chain link fencing – in order to keep an eye on things! We are nearly there now though and so will be celebrating the site in all its glory with a Free Community BBQ event at 4.00pm on Saturday the 7th September. So, come along then and enjoy this space.

First published in What’s On in Chacewater.

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Supporting farming and nature

As the crops in the fields are ripened and harvested, it’s a good time to think about how important our local farmers, food and drink producers are to our local environment, economy, community and wellbeing.

It may surprise you that Cornwall Council’s Farm Estate is made up of more than 10,800 acres, or approximately 1.5% of Cornwall’s land area, and lets 91 farm units to tenant farmers, employing around 11,000 people.

Last year the Council launched a review and inquiry into the future of the estate taking evidence from 39 witnesses and made recommendations for a new Council Farms Strategy. Cllr Martyn Alvey did a great job. Residents, farmers and businesses have recently been asked their views on the plans through a public consultation.

The draft Cornwall Council Farms Strategy 2019 – 2039: Farming with Cornwall’s Nature has been developed around four key ambitions to: increase business opportunities for tenant farmers, contribute to environmental growth, provide more countryside opportunities and support people’s health and wellbeing while creating a more sustainable estate.

The strategy outlines the ways in which the Farms Estate will provide more opportunities for new entrants to farming to start their careers and support them to build their businesses.

It pledges to encourage tenant farmers using diversification methods by helping them develop their farm products to be more competitive.

To boost environmental growth the Estate plans to give greater support to tenants in expanding wildlife habitats, protecting heritage assets, managing regenerated soils, improving water quality, planting more trees and increasing sustainable energy.

It also wants to increase job and business opportunities in the countryside, encourage more people to get out into the natural world and provide supported agriculture schemes for residents and community groups to develop growing opportunities.

To help businesses’ financial and environmental sustainability, the Estate will introduce the Whole Farm Plan to set out agreements between landlord and tenant on the expected performance of farms.

We know that farming practices which benefit nature can also be highly productive for food production and support local ecosystems in our unique Cornish landscape.

I am delighted that Cornwall Council has undertaken this important work and that the strategy recognised that their Farms Estate can act as a catalyst for positive change within the farming sector to produce food for the nation and to play a part in the transition to low carbon agriculture which is critical if we are to tackle climate change.

I am pleased that the strategy recognises the importance of enabling more people and communities to get involved with growing food and enhancing and developing new ecosystems.

In addition to allotments and gardening clubs, there are many great examples of community groups such as Chyan Community Field in Penryn and the newly established Community Garden at All Saints Church in Mylor Bridge. Each provide opportunities for people to learn from each other about how to grow plants and enjoy the fruits of their labours. Each provide a beautiful haven for wildlife and humans to enjoy together. Spending time with nature is good for our health and wellbeing.

While there is funding to develop existing parks and green spaces, as well as creating new ones such as the Pocket Parks Scheme and Plastic Bag Levy, it is vital that Cornwall Council helps more groups with their expertise too.

Planting more trees is a great way to improve our natural environment, improve air quality and reduce carbon dioxide. The Woodland Trust makes free trees available to a wide range of organisations from schools and colleges, from nurseries to universities. Also, to community groups such as sports clubs, parish councils, the guides and scouts. Packs of trees are available for a range of purposes from creating a copse to planting a hedge. There is a great deal of information on their website and now is the time to think about what you might do. Trees can be ordered now for delivering and planting in November.

As a result of our historical industries of mining, wooden ship building and farming, we have fewer trees than most parts of England so a great opportunity exists for planting and restoring a canopy of trees over Cornwall.

We can all play out part in supporting our gorgeous natural environment and it is good to see this strategy and others providing opportunities for one and all.

The draft Cornwall Council’s Farms Strategy 2019 – 2039 and Cornwall Council’s Farms Strategy – Consultation Summary along with the actual survey can be found by visiting: http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/farmstrategy

First published in the Falmouth Wave August edition

Plastic Free Conference

I am grateful to Professor Peter Hopkinson, Director of the Centre for Circular Economy at the University of Exeter’s Business School, and his team for working with me on an event at the Penryn campus last Friday. 

The event brought together a group of people that included Government policy makers, local businesses, community organisations and volunteers and discussed how the south west can lead the way on transforming our approach to plastics. 

Professor Peter Hopkinson is also the lead for the Exeter Multidisciplinary Plastics Research Hub (ExeMPLaR) which received £1 million of Government funding to become one of the leading centres to reduce the devastating impact plastic pollution can have on the environment. 

The ExeMPLaR project is about creating a network of organisations to revolutionise the way we produce, recycle and utilise plastics. The global rate of plastic production and waste is accelerating at a time when we need to take radical action to reduce, reuse and recycle if we are to tackle the rising problem of plastic pollution.  

The scale of the problem was laid bare by Kevin Gaston, Professor of Biodiversity and Conservation at the University of Exeter, who talked about the eye-watering global volumes of plastic waste from areas such as plastic packaging, construction and textiles. Kevin gave the simple, single example of the plastic pen of which around 30 billion are produced each year and 1.6 billion thrown away in the United States alone. 

Joel Murray from the Defra Resources, Waste and Plastics Strategy Policy Team spoke about the UK Government’s ambitions to tackle plastic pollution and the aim that all plastic packaging placed on the UK market will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 and all avoidable plastic waste will be eliminated by 2042. Joel was keen to impress that the government cannot achieve these goals alone and that communities and organisations need to work together to make an impact. There was a similar message from Cornwall Council which has just produced the county’s first Plastic Free Cornwall Manifesto.   

The ExeMPLaR project is about redesigning the whole plastics system. The project aims to discover a set of actions that can be taken to drive practical changes that will make the greatest difference. 

The event came about following a meeting I organised earlier this year with Kirstie Edwards of Plastic Free Falmouth involving representatives of the many people in Cornwall who are involved with litter picking and beach cleaning. I want government policy to be shaped by evidence and action of what works and, here in Cornwall, the ExeMPLaR project is leading the way in redesigning the system to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic – for the benefit of our environment and our local economy. 

The ExeMPLaR project is still in the early stages but it is building a network of people across the south west who can transform the plastics system. To find out more visit the Centre for the Circular Economy: http://business-school.exeter.ac.uk/research/centres/circular/research/ 

First published in the West Briton 01/08/19

Building infrastructure to support electric vehicles

The government has outlined this week, in a public consultation on changing building regulations in England, that all new-build homes could soon be fitted with an electric car chargepoint.  The consultation comes alongside a package of announcements to support electric vehicle drivers and improve the experience of charging. 

The proposals aim to support and encourage the growing uptake of electric vehicles within the UK by ensuring that all new homes with a dedicated car parking space are built with an electric chargepoint, making charging easier, cheaper and more convenient for drivers. 

The legislation would be a world first and complements wider investment and measures that the government has put in place to ensure the UK has one of the best electric vehicle infrastructure networks in the world – as part of the £1.5 billion Road to Zero Strategy. 

The government has also set out this week that it wants to see all newly installed rapid and higher powered chargepoints provide debit or credit card payment by Spring 2020. 

With record levels of ultra-low emission vehicles on our roads, it is clear there is an appetite for cleaner, greener transport. I know many local people are thinking about making the switch and with the recent good news that Jaguar Land Rover and Mini will be building more electric cars in the UK, prices are anticipated to become more affordable. 

Cornwall has the potential to play a significant role in electric car manufacturing because of the lithium dissolved in the hot water in our tin mines. The UK has already made a major commitment to becoming a world leader in the battery industry through its £274 million investment in the Faraday Battery Challenge and earlier investments through the Automotive Propulsion Centre. 

Cornish Lithium and partners have recently been funded to develop a UK supply chain to support the expansion of the U.K. battery industry. 

Home charging provides the most convenient and low-cost option for consumers – you can simply plug your car in to charge overnight as you would a mobile phone. 

The government has already taken steps to ensure that existing homes are electric vehicle ready by providing up to £500 off the costs of installing a chargepoint at home. Having supported the installation of almost 100,000 domestic chargepoints through grant support schemes, the government has also announced that it is consulting on requirements that all new private chargepoints use ‘smart’ technology. 

This means an electric vehicle would charge at different times of the day in response to signals, such as electricity tariff information. This would encourage off-peak charging, keeping costs down for consumers and better managing renewable energy generation. 

These measures are part of wider action from government to support the automotive industry, and the Prime Minister confirmed this week that Jaguar Land Rover will receive a £500 million loan guarantee from government export credit agency UK Export Finance. This will support the company’s design and manufacture of the next generation of electric vehicles and its export activities. 

First published in the West Briton 18/07/19

My Domestic Energy Efficiency Bill

Committing ourselves to net zero carbon by 2050 means delivering a core Conservative value and a key manifesto pledge, to leave the environment in better condition than we found it for future generations. It is not only the right thing to do but has the potential to unite the nation in a common purpose. People of all ages and businesses from right across the U.K. support government action. 

As the crucible of the first industrial revolution it is right to maintain our leadership and endeavour to be the first major economy to transition to the hi-tech and carbon free fourth industrial revolution. While growing our economy, the U.K. is already amongst the leading economies in reducing our carbon emissions. 

This bold ambition requires a clear vision and carefully thought through plans to enable people, business and places to transition, and make the most of the opportunities that arise. In practical terms it means delivering the Clean Growth Strategy, a part of the Industrial Strategy, launched in 2017 and updated in 2018. 

While significant progress has been made, especially with consultations and evidence gathering, we now need to publish plans to give the clarity and certainty that businesses need to commit investment to deliver innovation and change to the goods and services that they provide. People want to know how they can make changes over time to play their part in this national endeavour. 

My 10 Minute Rule asks the government to publish a plan for meeting the domestic energy efficiency targets in the Clean Growth Strategy; to make provision for the monitoring of performance against milestones in the plan and to establish an advisory body for the implementation of the plan. Home insulation may not capture the imagination as a standard bearer for the fourth industrial revolution in the way that electric cars and autonomous vehicles do, but it will make a huge contribution to our reduction in emissions from heating our homes. 

As Antoinette Sandbach, the MP for Eddisbury, reported at a recent session of PMQs, enabling every home to be insulated to EPC band C would save the equivalent of six Hinkley Point nuclear power stations. We will, of course, need this electricity to power our electric cars. Energy saving is just as important as generating carbon free and renewable energy. 

There will be a huge impact on the quality of people’s lives too. Nearly half of my constituents live off the mains gas grid resulting in higher energy bills. Like the majority of people in the U.K., they live in homes with low levels of insulation and energy efficiency measures. It has been estimated that reaching EPC band C would save low income families between £200 and £400 a year. Average wages in Cornwall, while rising, remain significantly below the England average too and so we have high levels of fuel poverty. 

There are more benefits to living in an energy efficient home than keeping warm. Over the last nine years I have worked with Public Health Cornwall on an innovative partnership that has brought together businesses, Cornwall Council, health, care and emergency service professionals and many voluntary sector organisations to help people out of fuel poverty. It has been funded by a mixture of public funding, ECO and voluntary donations. Over 20,000 people have been helped to live in warm homes. In addition, independent evaluation shows that the Winter Wellness Partnership has prevented more than 800 hospital admissions and helped 348 households remain in work or make progress towards work. 

In Cornwall, over time we have shown that working with people on installing energy efficiency measures improves people’s health and wellbeing as well as the environment. Learning from this work and much more across the country, we need to turbo charge our action on homes energy efficiency and I hope my 10 Rule Motion will be the catalyst.

First published in the House magazine 13/06/19 

On climate change, the Treasury needs to count the cost of not acting

Through the pioneering Climate Change Act, through its G7-leading emission reductions and its successful innovation in clean technology, Britain can rightly claim to have been a leader in climate change ever since Margaret Thatcher called for a United Nations treaty 30 years ago. The scientific evidence base has developed significantly since then with commensurate commitment to take action. It’s essential that policy makers are guided by evidence – and it is now clear that the U.K. needs to move towards net zero emissions by 2050. As Isabella Lövin, Sweden’s Deputy Prime Minister, said last year, a nation cannot claim since the Paris Agreement to be a climate change leader if it does not have a net zero target.

If the arguments against taking action now seem familiar, that may be because we have been here before. A decade ago, to be precise, when the UK Parliament approved the world-leading Climate Change Act, some claimed that the move would will damage the economy, that other country would reduce its emissions, and that energy bills would go through the roof.

None of this happened. What occurred instead was a British success story. We grew our economy, and cut our carbon emissions by more than any other G7 nation. Employment is at record levels. Energy bills have gone down for a decade. Internationally, British leadership helped forge the Paris Agreement – the first time all nations agreed to curb their greenhouse gas emissions – and nation after nation is passing climate change legislation modelled on the UK Act. In fact, decarbonisation has proved so much cheaper than anticipated that cutting our emissions to zero is now forecast to cost the same as the 80 per cent cut was forecast to cost a decade ago.

The Treasury’s old orthodoxies need reconsidering. The Governor of the Bank of England has warned of the risks of climate change to our financial system. Now is not the time to delay, but proceed with carefully considered cross-government planning to reach net zero by 2050. All delay will do is to postpone Ministers making a decision that it will inevitably make anyway – inevitably because the scientific and political cases are unarguable. And by delaying, it will make implementation harder and more expensive. Business likes clarity; which is exactly why the CBI is urging government to make a decision now.

Yes, there will be challenges. But they are being met. To take one example; the Treasury officials warn that net zero means significant changes for farmers. Howeve,r the NFU has already set itself the ambition of getting to net zero agriculture – and by 2040, not 2050. Steel, aluminium, shipping – in all of the “difficult’ areas we find companies such as Maersk, Rio Tinto, Vattenfall and our own Liberty Steel stepping up with commitment and innovation.

Meanwhile, the Government recently took delivery of a comprehensive and detailed report from its statutory and expert advisors, the Committee on Climate Change. It concludes that the evidence for moving to a net zero economy by 2050 is overwhelming. It lays out how that can be done, shows the cost is eminently affordable, and demonstrates that the transition is more feasible and more affordable if we start now.

Politically, the risks of vacillating are huge. Net zero is already Labour Party policy. If the Prime Minister allows her plans to be diluted this week, the Conservatives will hand yet another electoral advantage to Jeremy Corbyn.

The appetite for action to reach net zero is huge amongst businesses and people of all ages. Leaving the environment in a better condition for the next generation is a core Conservative value. That is why alongside the CBI and NFU, scientists, a clear majority of MPs, faith leaders and doctors are among those constituencies calling for target to be urgently set.

Of course taxpayers’ money should be spent wisely. In reality, many solutions already exist and we must move forward in implementing them. Next week, I will introduce a 10 Minute Rule Motion, outlining the opportunities of a well thought through National Home Insulation Plan that would reduce emissions and save people on low incomes about £400 a year by upgrading their energy efficiency measures. As I have seen from Cornwall’s Winter Wellness programme, enabling people to live in warm homes improves their health and wellbeing, including supporting participation in education and employment. The models Treasury officials use need a more comprehensive set of measures to reflect the costs and savings of taxpayer investment.

We understand that the Treasury is concerned that a net zero target means a near-term increase in public expenditure. The UK already has to meet legally-binding carbon targets out to 2032, and those targets will not change. The Industrial Strategy’s Clean Growth programme of activity sets out the economic benefits. The Environment Bill and Agriculture Bill too. The Treasury’s economic modelling needs to look at a wider range of impacts, improved productivity, employment and exports as well as reduced NHS costs from cleaner air are some obvious ones.

Let’s be a bold Britain – we were the crucible of the first industrial revolution, let’s lead the fourth, high tech, clean growth industrial revolution. The Prime Minister is a great public servant and legislating for net zero emissions would be the best legacy she could achieve.

First published on Conservative Home 10/06/19

Sarah Newton: On climate change, the Treasury needs to count the cost of not acting

We can all be empowered to help tackle climate change

The harrowing scenes from David Attenborough’s ‘Our Planet’ documentary series clearly show the impacts humans are having on the natural world. While the scale of the global challenge facing humanity can feel overwhelming, the latest data shows a record 80 percent of British people are concerned about climate change and support taking action to tackle it. As a Member of Parliament, I meet many constituents of all ages and backgrounds who want to do more. 

Scientists from around the world have shown that we need to reach net zero emissions of harmful greenhouse gases by 2050. They warn that inaction risks the world reaching tipping points at 2°C warming that will see the melting of permafrost releasing greenhouse gases that have been stored for millennia. Furthermore, they say this will severely impact our food, water and air quality.  

The Government’s independent advisors, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), have recently published a report showing that it is entirely possible for the UK to reach net zero emissions by 2050 if we act now.  

This will require a rethink for many policies across Government to enable our public services, businesses, communities and people reduce harmful emissions. That is the task before politicians now. Work by leading businesses, engineers and the Bank of England has shown we can do this without wrecking our economy. In fact, if we carefully manage the transition there are opportunities to develop new technologies, products and services.  

Many of my constituents also want to know what they can do. 60 percent of the emissions reductions outlined by the CCC involve some societal or behavioural changes, so it’s vitally important to build on people’s interest in this challenge and involve and empower them to make a difference on an individual level too.   

In 2009, my constituent Luci Isaacson and her organisation, Climate Vision, set up the 10 Pledge Challenge working with ten local community leaders and people to reduce their emissions. Over four months, 3,000 tonnes of CO2 was saved. I learnt a lot about what changes we can all make to help. These choices don’t always need to be big and expensive like investing in an electric vehicle, although the total cost of ownership for an EV is now cost competitive, and they’re on their way to being cheaper up front too. I have recently retaken the pledges and they were relatively simple things that we can all do, like switching energy provider, walking more often and eating more local in-season produce.  

In fact research shows that more than half of us would be happy to reduce our energy use, avoid using cars or try to minimise food waste. It’s not just about helping tackle climate change – simple steps can also save us money, make us feel healthier and contribute to our local economy too. They don’t have to make life more difficult, as some sceptics would have us believe. I want to make sure that everyone has the right information at their fingertips to make informed choices.  

As the Government considers its response to the CCC and sets out policies to reach net zero, I want to ensure that we can make informed choices, by encouraging businesses to provide relevant information, transparently setting out where their products come from, how they got here, and their impact on the environment. For example, in addition to improvements to country of origin labelling, supermarkets could show how beef or lamb was reared, for example 100% grass fed. More than half of people say they would spend more on a sustainable product, but knowing what to choose isn’t always made easy. Information is power, and labelling has an important role to play.  

Leaving the EU gives us the opportunity to reassess what information we expect businesses to provide on labels, as it previously fell under their jurisdiction. One of the most debated examples of this is plastic packaging, and making sure it’s clear what is recyclable, biodegradable and compostable. At the moment there is no legal definition for these terms, and a recent study by the University of Plymouth found that so-called ‘biodegradable’ shopping bags could still hold a load of shopping after three years in the marine environment. This can’t be right. If consumers are making the switch to buy supposedly more sustainable products, even at an increased price, then they must have confidence in what they are purchasing. 

In Parliament I set the challenge for every MP to take on the 10 Pledges, as leaders of their communities to encourage everyone who wants to play their part to make a difference. However, I know that we can’t expect anyone to do this without knowing how, and our job as policymakers is to give them those informed choices. It’s time to step up to the greatest challenge that we will face in our lifetimes to tackle climate change – internationally we can lead the world forward, nationally we must set a net zero target to end our contribution to global emissions, and individually we should empower people to make more environmentally friendly choices. 

First published in the Falmouth Wave June edition