Thank you for contacting me as part of CPRE’s General Election campaign.
It is vital that Britain’s beautiful countryside is protected for future generations –not just for its valuable landscapes, habitats and wildlife but for the communities, business and the jobs it supports. We are backing rural businesses and helping people who live there access the infrastructure they need. We have given farmers certainty by guaranteeing the same level of funding as is currently provided by the Common Agricultural Policy until the end of the next Parliament. Continuing to protect the countryside will ensure rural communities, and the businesses they support, are able to grow so that more people can look forward to a secure, stable future. We want to see a living, working countryside where people have the same opportunities as those living in our towns and cities.
In recent years we have strengthened protections for the Green Belt so people can continue to enjoy these important spaces. The National Planning Policy Framework requires local authorities to protect the Green Belt and most new development is classed as inappropriate on the Green Belt and should not be permitted unless in very special circumstances. We are also committed to providing stronger protections for our ancient woodland.
The UK has a strong track record on the environment and we are committed to being the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. That’s why the Government has been clear that it wishes to provide the maximum certainty upon our departure from the EU and the Great Repeal Bill will convert EU law into domestic law on the day we leave the EU. This means that the environmental protections that are enjoyed under EU law in the UK will continue to be available in UK law after we have left the European Union. Our manifesto also commits us to producing a 25 Year Environment Plan which will chart how we will improve our environment as we leave the EU and take control of our environmental legislation again.
We have given rural communities certainty about Brexit and are guaranteeing the same level of funding as is currently available under the Common Agricultural Policy until the end of the next Parliament. This will help farmers and food producers continue to produce their world-class food as well as continuing the valuable work they do for the environment through schemes such as Countryside Stewardship. This is particularly important when 70 per cent of our land is farmed. We are also committed to planting 11 million trees across the country, further enhancing our habitats and landscapes.
I am proud of our record on helping the rural economy grow –and we need to lock in and build on our progress. Economic growth is up and businesses have the confidence to invest in research and development. We have cut red tape for farmers and reduced the number of farm inspections, helping farmers save time and money. We have opened up over 600 new markets across the globe for British food and drink companies and in 2016 UK food and drink exports grew by nearly 10 per cent, hitting the £20 billion mark for the first time.
We are ensuring rural communities have the infrastructure needed to create jobs and thrive. By the end of this year, 19 out of 20 premises will have access to superfast broadband and our Universal Service Obligation will ensure that by 2020 every home and business in Britain has access to high speed broadband. We are investing £250 million to repair 1.3 million more potholes across the country, on top of the almost 1 million already filled. Between 2015 and 2021, we are spending £2.5 billion on 1,500 flood defence schemes to give 300,000 more homes better protection from flooding.
The British countryside is, in my view, the most beautiful in the world but it continues to be blighted by litter and fly-tipping. Our recently-launched Litter Strategy will tackle this anti-social behaviour by building an anti-littering culture, making it easier for people to dispose of rubbish and hitting litter louts in the pocket. Our plan is ambitious and we’ve set out a range of measures, including enforcement through introducing on the spot fines for owners of vehicles that litter is thrown from, consulting on increased penalties for people who litter and recommending that offenders on community sentences help councils to clear up litter and fly-tipped waste. This builds on the powers we have given councils to issue £400 fixed penalty notices for fly-tipping. The Litter Strategy also establishes a new expert group to provide independent advice to the Government on dealing with the worst kinds of litter, including plastic bottles, cigarette ends and fast food packaging. As its first task, Ministers have asked the group to explore the evidence for deposit return schemes.
We continue to invest in sustainable transport and the benefits it can bring to the economy and environment. Since 2011, we have committed more than £2 billion to increase the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles and support greener transport schemes. We have invested over £200 million in cycling and more than £600 million to deliver transport projects across 77 local authorities through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund. Only this year, we have published our Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy which has the ‘ambition to make cycling and walking a natural choice for shorter journeys or as part of longer journeys’.
The Government believes that shale has a potential role in driving growth in the economy, pushing down prices, increasing energy security and helping with the transition to a low carbon economy. We will therefore develop a shale industry in Britain but we will only be able to do this if we maintain public confidence and uphold rigorous environmental protections. The Government intends to establish a new Shale Environmental Regulator, taking on the functions of the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to uphold our strong environmental standards and provide clear governance and accountability.
Thank you once again for taking the time to contact me.