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Environment Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:05 pm on 26th February 2020.

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Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Labour, Putney 6:05 pm, 26th February 2020

I absolutely agree with cycling campaigners across the country who are asking for this. I know this Bill has an annual reporting mechanism on air quality, but I would like it to include this so that our roads become safer and to make it easier to store our bikes as well—two things that are absolutely essential to increasing cycling in the country.

The second area is Heathrow airport. Tomorrow the Court of Appeal is due to rule on a legal challenge to plans to build a third runway at Heathrow airport. The expansion of Heathrow is fundamentally at odds with the aims of this Bill. The two are completely incompatible, and expansion cannot go ahead. An expanded Heathrow will increase the UK’s carbon emissions by between 8 megatonnes and 9 megatonnes of CO2 per year, with much of it being dumped on green spaces such as Putney Heath in my constituency. It will dwarf a huge number of other carbon reduction areas that we might consider and that might be introduced by councils across this country.

Heathrow expansion will worsen air pollution levels in Putney. The Government have accepted that it would have a “significant negative” effect on air quality, and they have provided no evidence to show how Heathrow can both expand and comply with legal limits at the same time. It will also result in jobs being drawn away from other regions by 2031. According to analysis by the New Economics Foundation of the Department for Transport’s own data, jobs would be drawn away from regions—for example, 2,360 jobs would be drawn away from Bristol, 1,600 from Solihull, and 1,300 from Manchester. This is not just a London issue and problem. Heathrow expansion will result in an additional 260,000 flights per year, which is not compatible with the climate crisis we face. I therefore implore the Minister to intervene and reverse the Government’s decision to allow the expansion to proceed, and to use the Bill to legislate against all airport expansions that cannot clearly demonstrate that environmental targets will be met.

My third point is that the Bill must strengthen, rather than dilute, the European Union environmental framework that it replaces. The EU possesses one of the most comprehensive and effective environmental legal frame- works in existence. Currently, 80% of our environmental laws come from the European Union, and those laws have brought many benefits, such as a 94% drop in sulphur dioxide emissions by 2011. We were losing 15% of our protected sites a year, but thanks to EU regulation that is now down to 1%. More than 90% of UK beaches are now considered clean enough to bathe off. My constituents in Putney are concerned that the Bill will water down the protections that the EU has given us, and I have been inundated with emails about that. The Bill must include a straightforward and substantive commitment to the non-regression of environmental law.

My fourth point is that the Bill does not go far enough to protect our oceans. Right now, 93% of fish populations are overfished, and only 1% are properly protected. Next month is a huge opportunity to take action at the Global Ocean Treaty negotiations, and I implore a senior Minister to attend those negotiations and set ambitious targets—I would like to know whether that is being planned.

Communities in Putney experience some of the most acute environmental problems facing the UK. They suffer from some of the highest levels of air pollution in the country, and they will be some of the biggest losers following an expanded Heathrow. They cannot afford to have environmental standards go any lower. For that reason, I believe that the Bill fails them, and I implore the Secretary of State to do better. This long-awaited Bill is just not good enough—it is not good enough to say that it is okay. It will not tackle the climate emergency. It must include targets and more resourcing for local councils, and it must go further and faster on air pollution and carbon reduction. Only then will it be worthy of the label “world leading” on environmental action.