From Paul Maynard MP <[email protected]>
Subject Paul Maynard MP's Letter from Westminster
Date November 2, 2021 1:05 PM
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Read my latest update on COP26 and the environment.

Dear Resident,


The world has gathered in Glasgow for COP26 this week. We look on, a bit bemused perhaps, as to what all this will actually add up to. The detail might pass us by, with deadlines decades hence – perhaps all we observe are campaigners glue-ing themselves to road surfaces whilst motorists play bagpipes, passively aggressively, close up to their faces.

We are aware that the weather is changing, both locally and globally. Once in a hundred year downpours in the Fylde are now occurring every other year or so. We hear Government talking of ‘net zero’, and stopping petrol car sales by 2035, or replacing gas boilers, at a time when energy prices are soaring. So we see some connection in our daily lives and bank balances – but why are we the ones, it seems, paying for it when the likes of China are intending to keep increasing their carbon output until 2030? It’s a fair question.

We hear warnings that climate change is leading to mass migration as desertification on the edge of the Sahara renders agricultural existence unviable. Or that new wars will break out as nations argue over scarce water sources – Ethiopia’s Chinese-funded Grand Renaissance Dam on one branch of the Nile is vehemently opposed by Sudan and Egypt. Is this just scaremongering?

I take a view as a Conservative that we are there to conserve what is good about the natural environment around us, and move and evolve in a sensible and proportionate manner away from what is bad and damaging for that natural environment, whether here or elsewhere. (And if you are about to send a reply asking ‘What about sewage’ I have added the latest vote explainer in the box below). Indeed, as a Catholic, I point doubters to Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si which puts environmental protection within a strong moral framework.

We do need to avoid kneejerk responses in favour of fact-based policy. Just because Greta Thunberg shouts, doesn’t mean we need to take ill thought through decisions so as to be seen to be doing something.
We inherit the world as we find it and should seek to leave it a better place. But we must also deal with things as they are, not as we wish them to be – we can’t live in a pretend world where technology allows us to do things we can’t. Just as there’s no magic money tree, so there’s no magic infinite energy source yet. Nor can we undo decisions made over decades that have let us with less energy security than we might now wish for.
I’m not sure I have all the answers any more than the next person, but I do think we need to ask the questions, and if the answers are awkward, work to provide better answers.

Most importantly, what can we do? And is it quite as straightforward as it might seem?

If you walk into a coffee shop, you can sometimes be bewildered by the range of milks on offer. Oat? Almond? Soya? Coconut? Rice? Plain old dairy? There are good reasons for a wider choice – many are now dairy intolerant. But others are moving away from animal milk because they choose to be vegan, or because they think it better for the environment since ‘agriculture’ has now been fingered by environmentalists as a major cause of global warming.

But all these choices point to a much wider dilemma. Prefer soya – booming soya prices are leading to deforestation of the Amazon to meet global demand? Almond? 80% of almonds come from California. Growing them requires massive amounts of water, in a state which has experienced a long drought, and where changing land use has meant devastating wildfires on an annual base as the landscape dries out thanks to that intensive farming. Think of the ‘food miles’ both soya and almond, not to mention rice and coconuts involve. So maybe cow’s milk has something going for it after all? Is anyone to blame for it all becoming so bewildering?

Those are consumer choices. The cost is not really a consideration. The energy we use to heat our homes most certainly is a cost consideration as gas prices soar. And if the costs of tackling this global problem fall too much on us as consumers, Governments can’t be surprised if sentiment swings against such changes. We hear talk of gas boilers eventually being replaced by heat pumps. But the cost seems enormous, the amount of energy required to maintain a home’s heat far higher, and the fact that hydrogen-powered is not too far away, perhaps making all the fuss about heat pumps pointless. What are we to think?

One point I make is that new products always become cheaper over time as costs fall the more are made and the more technological development improves their effectiveness. And a deadline of 2035 will see the sort of gradual shift we are seeing now with electric cars.

But we can’t predict tipping points such as when electric cars will make more sense than petrol or diesel, or when hydrogen is ready as the next big energy source. We have heard a lot about hydrogen being that magic infinite source of energy of late. But it isn’t. Hydrogen has to be manufactured – it doesn’t lie underground like coal or oil. And making hydrogen right now actually requires those same fossil fuels – although less damaging methods on a significant scale are coming very soon. Hydrogen as a potential energy source has been around fifty years or so – but no one has quite made it all add up. But we’re getting there.

One day, renewables like solar and wind will be the largest part of the answer. But no-one has yet developed, on a large scale, the battery storage needed to store that energy for when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind blow. And all these batteries, whether for cars or energy, rely upon the mining of rare earths for their manufacture. These are found in inaccessible locations like central Africa, or politically difficult areas like China. And, no more than fossil fuels, one day they will run out. If renewable energy is converted to hydrogen though, it can be stored without needing batteries once the technology is perfected.

I don’t particularly want to open a new coal mine in Cumbria or start a new oil field in the North Sea. I want new energy sources to render them uneconomic and unnecessary. But the timings won’t align – we will probably need a bridge to a non-fossil fuel world, as we’re not quite there yet. Yes, it could be tidal – but that can’t supply 100% of our needs. Scandinavia relies on HEP yet has had a drought this year which has hurt that reliance.

One example of a solution is that it is argued we need the West Cumbria Coal Mine to keep our steel industry going – but a Swedish firm has recently started producing ‘green steel’ using low-carbon forms of hydrogen. But what would we do in the meantime?

The alternative could be sudden power outages as the grid fails to supply sufficient energy to cope with demand when millions switch the kettle on as the credits roll on Coronation Street. Our electricity grid is an awkward beast – it has to provide exactly the amount of power needed, as there nowhere for the excess to go. Indeed, we sometimes have to pay for companies to use energy that is not needed just to take it out of the grid.

One immediate and relatively straightforward measure we could take, with very few consequences for us, would be to ban so-called ‘bottom trawling’ which happens around the world, and involves dredging for seafood of all sorts along the sea bottom, dislodging the seam of carbon dioxide contained there, and releasing it into the atmosphere. Indeed, constructing wind turbines in the North Sea is also a form of bottom trawling, which releases as much carbon each year as the aviation industry, which so many green campaigners want to bring to a halt. But I don’t get hundreds of emails on that one …

To me the answer lies in allowing companies in the private sector to develop technologies that work. Some will fail, some will change the world. Some of these might be existing fossil fuel companies – I don’t mind who, and they have the deep pockets to make it a success. I’m nervous of the Government doing it all, using our money, but there will be occasions such as with nuclear where only Government can make things happen.

To go to the fundamentals:

“Aged 17, I joined the Conservative Party because I believed in the free market, in Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand, and the quiet, patient but unstoppable power of price in regulating demand and stimulating supply. I believed that if you’re short of applicants for a job you raise the wage. I laughed at government attempts to control prices as a way of keeping down inflation. I knew you couldn’t buck the market. I did also know, as Adam Smith knew, that it’s not quite as simple as that. Conservatives accept that government has a role in ensuring free and fair competition, in underwriting standards, discouraging exploitation, protecting the environment, and sometimes in easing the shock of transition when market corrections in goods and labour bear too sharply on citizens”.

Although written by a Times columnist a few weeks ago, I couldn’t put it better myself (other than that I was 15 and not 17). But, underneath it all, a Conservative believes in the huge and in the end final power of supply and demand as accelerator or brake. And that self-regulating mechanism is what will help us answer all those questions above.

Yours faithfully,

Paul Maynard MP
01253 473071

Thank you for raising the issue of storm sewage overspills due to recent heavy rain.

As your email indicates, this issue has been high on the agenda after the controversy over recent votes on the Environment Bill. It is perhaps worth nothing that no-one is advocating the dumping of raw sewage. There is a disagreement between the Government setting out a clear set of milestones for how to achieve this, versus a political campaign whose primary target is to achieve state ownership of water utilities, and a subsequent campaign by those unreconciled to Brexit who argue that sewage discharge is a consequence. Locally and nationally, that is simply not true. Indeed, the multi-million project at Anchorsholme Park was designed to significantly reduce such occurrences – and only having two sewage incidents in the last year is far fewer than we had before that pumping station was constructed.

It may help if I explain some of the background. In short, section 141a of amendment 45 of the Environment Bill sought to place a new duty on sewerage undertakers in England and Wales to demonstrate progressive reductions in the harm caused by discharges of untreated sewage. This would not have stopped – and will not stop - the immediate dumping of raw sewage, as some may have been led to believe it will.

The amendment sounds admirable, and indeed is something I support in principle. But the trouble is that the amendment came with no plan as to how this can be delivered and no impact assessment whatsoever.

Some might argue that a plan is not essential, that one can be formulated afterwards. I would be sympathetic to this point of view if we were talking about a simple, inexpensive endeavour - but in eliminating storm overflows, we are talking about transforming a system which has operated since the Victorian Era, the preliminary cost of which is estimated to be up to £60 billion. Before we embarked on something of that size – a HS2 scale project - we should at least understand how we would do so.

The Government’s view was that it would have been irresponsible to have inserted this section in the Bill given that it was not backed by a detailed plan and thorough impact assessment. It would have been the equivalent of signing a blank check on behalf of billpayers.

However, I was pleased to support of the other amendments to the Environment Bill relating to storm overflows (including the rest of Amendment 45).

One of these amendments places a legal duty on government to publish a plan by 1 September next year to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows. A separate amendment will also place a duty on government to publish a report on the ‘mechanics’ of eliminating overflows entirely (also due before 1 September next year).

This is absolutely essential, as it will provide Parliament and the public with up-front, clear and comprehensive information on the cost and impact of eliminating storm overflows. Between the Government plan on storm overflows and the new elimination report, we will fully understand precisely how we can best tackle storm overflows.

So while setting out lofty aspirations is all well and good, what we really need to do is the long, detailed, practical work required to understand how we can deliver on these ambitions. It is not glamorous or headline-grabbing. But it is the effective action we need to deliver for local residents.

Please do not think that the Environment Bill only legislates for the production of plans on tackling storm overflows, however vital these no doubt are. I was pleased to support amendments to the Bill which take firm and immediate action to tackle storm overflows in the short-term. This includes:

• A new duty on water companies and the Environment Agency to publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis.

• A new duty on water companies to publish near real time information (within 1 hour) of the commencement of an overflow, its location and when it ceases.
• A new duty on water companies to continuously monitor the water quality upstream and downstream of a storm overflow and of sewage disposal works.

• A new duty on water companies to produce comprehensive statutory Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans setting out how the company will manage and develop its networks, and how storm overflows will be addressed through these plans.

Outside of the Bill, Ministers have made their expectations crystal clear in DEFRA’s draft Strategic Policy Statement to Ofwat. For the first time, the Government will be telling the industry’s financial regulator that it expects water companies to take steps to “significantly reduce storm overflows”, and that it expects funding to be approved for them to do so.

Ministers will also undertake a review of legislation which would require Sustainable Drainage Systems to be constructed to ministerial standards on new developments, reducing the pressure on the sewage system.

All of these measures are informed by the work of the Storm Overflows Task Force, which Defra established in August 2020 to bring together key stakeholders from the water industry, environmental NGOs, regulators, and Government in order to drive progress in reducing sewage discharges. The Taskforce has agreed a goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows.

I hope this information is helpful and reassures you that any suggestion that MPs are not taking firm action on storm overflows is false. The Government has voted in favour of taking a range of immediate steps to address storm overflows, together with a legal duty on government to produce detailed and costed plans for reducing and eliminating storm overflows entirely.

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