I intend to speak briefly, as I am conscious that there will be a large number of extremely high-quality maiden speeches this afternoon. I wish to raise a very niche subject while my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is still in her place. I feel privileged to be called so early in the debate, following only the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State.
I want to pick up briefly on some of the comments that the Secretary of State made about the generation of clean energy. I urge her to ensure that, when we are generating green energy, it must be properly green. She also spoke of new technologies. I absolutely agree; there are many new technologies coming forward that will enable us to generate power and deal with waste in much greener ways, but we must scrutinise them incredibly carefully, to ensure we do not make mistakes that will be around for many generations to come.
I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s comments and the policies included in Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech. I particularly welcome the introduction of a landmark environment Bill, the introduction of an Office for Environmental Protection and the personal commitment of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to chair a new Cabinet Committee on Climate Change. The environment Bill will cement our position as a world leader on air quality, biodiversity and plastics reduction; I know I am correct on that because I am quoting directly from the Conservative research department brief—something that I would commend to all new Conservative Members.
Those three points are of particular interest to us in Romsey and Southampton North, and now I come to the niche comments that I wish to make. Members may have heard me raise with the Prime Minister last week the fact that US company Wheelabrator is planning to build, under national infrastructure rules, a giant incinerator in my constituency to burn commercial waste, between the beautiful, picturesque Test Valley villages of Longparish and Barton Stacey. Notionally, it will generate energy from waste, but it is in fact many miles from any connection to the national grid, and significantly, it is not close to a demand for that energy. It is within a few miles of an area of outstanding natural beauty and the South Downs national park. It is proposed to be twice the size of Winchester cathedral, but, of course, devoid of any of the architectural merit of that building. It will be in excess of 40 metres high, with chimneys that are 80 metres high. The plan is to locate it adjacent to the River Dever, which is known the world over for its fantastic fly fishing and is a tributary of the River Test. The incinerator will be situated above the aquifer and will be pumping pollution into the atmosphere, putting the biodiversity of this precious area at risk.
My asks of the Secretary of State today are wholly in line with her and my aspirations for a reduction in carbon emissions, enabling us to meet our net zero target and supporting her goal of better air quality, and totally in keeping with the aim to reduce waste, including plastics. We simply cannot keep looking to incineration as a solution to landfill. It is not good enough, and it is not green enough.
I turn to relatively recent history. Rebecca Long Bailey mentioned the Treasury’s October 2018 Budget, which stated:
“the government wants to maximise the amount of waste sent to recycling instead of incineration and landfill. Should wider policies not deliver the government’s waste ambitions in the future, it will consider the introduction of a tax on the incineration of waste, in conjunction with landfill tax, taking account of the possible impacts on local authorities.”
I know that my friends at Hampshire County Council would wish to emphasise the point that we have to be cognisant of the needs of local authorities, but the proposal in my constituency is not a local authority project; it is a massive commercial venture.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments about businesses being held to account for their actions. This commercial venture seeks to make money by putting pollutants into the atmosphere. It pays no heed to the specific qualities of the landscape or local biodiversity. I want to put on record the determination of local residents to oppose the project by whatever means necessary, and would especially mention the brilliant campaigners of Keep Test Valley Beautiful. I urge the Secretary of State to ensure that we hold to our commitments to improve air quality, reduce waste and protect our precious environmental diversity.