Protecting the climate and our natural world are two of the most pressing challenges we face be that here in Fylde, nationally or internationally.
Over the twelve years of Conservative led Government, the United Kingdom has made real progress towards this goal. Indeed, our commitment to the environment and nature was at the heart of our hosting last year’s COP26 in Glasgow. There is a legally binding commitment to reach net zero by 2050 and I welcome the Government's Net Zero Strategy which outlines an innovative vision for a low carbon economic future, powered by domestic energy sources.
I am aware that there are concerns about the impact of the Government’s announcement of plans to establish Investment Zones across our country. This will involve liberalising planning frameworks to create new Investment Zones for commercial use and housing, seeking to drive growth by lowering taxes and encourage rapid development and business investment.
At Blackpool Airport and Warton, Fylde is already home to two enterprise zones and the Government has identified Lancashire as a likely location for a new Investment Zone. I look forward to working with the County Council and Government to see how the new Investment Zones can similarly succeed in bringing jobs and investment to the County and to Fylde.
I am reassured that Investment Zones will only be chosen following a rapid Expression of Interest process open to everyone, and after local consent is confirmed. Our local communities in Fylde will have the opportunity to voice their concerns, to work with the Government to set out their own visions and find ways of driving growth while limiting any environmental impacts.
Fylde is home to some of most fertile and productive agricultural land in the country. The agricultural industry is a key local employer and I meet regularly with our local farmers to discuss the challenges they face.
From these conversations, I understand how we are at a hugely important moment for agriculture in this country.
Farmers know first-hand how serious the effects of climate change can be, whether it is heavy rain and flooding in winter, or extreme heat and drought in summer. Both have a massive impact on their ability to produce food and, in turn, their incomes.
It would be wrong to accuse them of damaging our environment. On the contrary, farmers are experienced custodians of our countryside and have been for many hundreds of years. Nobody understands the importance of protecting wildlife while managing efficient farmland better than them.
That said, we must not lose sight of the fact that the primary purpose of agriculture is to produce food. As with energy, the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine has disrupted the global supply chain and increased food prices, especially wheat, and we have all felt the squeeze as a result. Fylde produced food can help plug this gap and feed the nation.
At a time when the importance of domestic food security is at the fore of our thinking, the message from our farmers is clear; they want to be supported and trusted by the Government to focus on producing food and to continue to manage our countryside.
My ministerial colleagues and I want to support the choices that individual farmers make for their farms, boost food production and agricultural productivity. Now that we are outside of the European Union, the UK is free from the Common Agricultural Policy. The Government was elected on a manifesto which pledged to maintain the budget for farming but spend it in a way that does better for farming and nature.
To that end, I have made it clear to Government that they must give farmers greater clarity how the new set of subsidy schemes will function. This will bolster Fylde’s rural economy and support communities across the country.
The Government has already set out its vision tackle biodiversity loss, climate change, waste and pollution of the air, water and land through the Environment Act 2021. This is a core part of Ministers’ commitment to leave the environment in a better state than we found it and is supported by the powerful package of new policies and tools in the Act. Biodiversity net gain, Local Nature Recovery Strategies and a strengthened biodiversity duty on public authorities will work together to drive action, to create or restore rich habitats that enable wildlife to recover and thrive, while conservation covenants will help secure habitat for the long term.
Finally, the Government is investing over £750 million in the Nature for Climate Fund and is expanding on the 364,000 football pitches of priority habitat which has been created or restored since 2010 through the establishment of the Nature Recovery Network. This is all part of the programme of work to deliver our international commitments domestically under the 25 Year Environment Plan.
Plans such as this means provides space for both our environmental commitments and an efficient agricultural sector which satisfies as much of our domestic demand as possible.
In the wider international context, I know that the UK is committed to playing a leading role in developing an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework to be adopted at COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity. As part of this framework, I am aware that the UK is championing the target to protect at least 30 per cent of the land and of the ocean globally by 2030.