"I have given up something slightly different for lent this year – and have joined a group of Conservative MPs in Parliament giving up single use plastics. I have started by carrying around my reusable water bottle, which fits into my handbag, so I can make sure I don't buy any unnecessary drinks in plastic bottles. As Environment Minister, I have been working with a number of different organisations to try and increase the number of places where you can fill up your water bottle. Most coffee shops will do it for you if you ask but I am also trying to get more refill points into railway stations, airports and other transport hubs. We all know from watching Blue Planet 2 what damage single use plastics can do to our environment and it is my aim to reduce the use of plastics as part of the Government's 25 year Environment Plan.
Sticking with the environmental theme, it is almost time for the Great British Spring Clean, which is taking place over the weekend of the 2 – 4 March 2018. Last year's event was a nationwide triumph and I am sure this year will be just the same. As the Litter Minister my message is not to drop it in the first place but these big community cleans are a great way of bringing people together to tidy up our towns and villages. So far there are events organised in Felixstowe and Dunwich. You can find out more or register you own clean at - http://www.keepbritaintidy.org/get-involved/support-our-campaigns/great-british-spring-clean
The latest Ofsted report into Felixstowe Academy is damning. It declares it as an 'Inadequate' school and placed it into 'Special Measures'. It notes that outcomes for pupils are below the government's floor standards; that there is a culture of bullying at the school; that too many pupils are persistently absent; and that the support provided by the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) has been ineffective in helping the school to improve. It is time for AET to go. We need to get new arrangements in place as quickly as possible, so the school can have a fresh start under new leadership for the benefit of the children of Felixstowe. I am escalating this within the Department of Education and am meeting the Regional Commissioner to accelerate changes for the school. To this end, I have started a Parliamentary Petition calling on AET to go. You can add your voice to the petition here –
"I'm delighted that the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling recently gave the go-ahead for track upgrades at the Ely North rail junction, which once completed will expand capacity right across East Anglia, meaning fewer delays for passengers and opportunities to get more freight on to the railway – crucial for the Port of Felixstowe. The railway junction at Ely, which connects East Anglia to London, has become a busy bottleneck forcing trains to wait for others to pass. Railway improvements need to happen at Ely in order to free up capacity on the rest of line – meaning more freight from the Port of Felixstowe can go via rail instead of road. Chris also visited the port to formally opened the new container yard.
Talking of the Port one of the reasons why Felixstowe won Port Operator of the Year 2017 is because of their commitment to the environment and reducing Co2 emissions. As Environment Minister, I was therefore delighted to announce the winner of the Port's Environmental Award recently, which this year went to the Glove Use Reduction Project. In the week after the Government published the 25 Year Environment Plan focussed on reducing waste, I'm delighted that here in Felixstowe we already have a company committed to taking a more thoughtful approach to the use of resources.
I have been campaigning to improve our ambulance service ever since I became your MP – and had been liaising with Ambulance Service for them to come to Parliament in March to give MPs an update on their turnaround plan. However, following the concerning dossier of response time delays I have requested a far more urgent meeting so MPs can understand the present challenges and hold the ambulance service to account. I welcome the intervention made by the Health Minister last week who has ordered a risk summit to review the recent performance of the service.
65 years ago this week - on the 31st January 1953 - the North Sea flood caused massive devastation to the East Coast. 50 people lost their lives in Suffolk as the storm gouged sand dunes in Thorpeness, breached the seawall at Aldeburgh, flooded the train station in Woodbridge and breached sea defences at Felixstowe with further impacts up and down the coast at Shingle Street, Orford and Bawdsey. I attended a service at St John's Church in Felixstowe at the weekend where I heard very moving personal testimonies from the survivors. It is important we remember those who died and recognise the courage shown by those that carried out the rescue. Since that fateful night a lot of work has been done to improve the protection along our coastline with major investment in our coastal defences and early warning systems."
"Last week the Prime Minister formally launched the Government's 25 Year Environment Plan – which outlines steps for a cleaner, greener Britain – with avoidable plastic waste eliminated by the end of 2042. In my capacity as Environment Minister, it is a plan my colleagues and I have been working on for some time and I'm grateful to the Prime Minister for reappointing me last week, which will enable me to press on and help implement the plan. I am also incredibly proud of the global leadership the Prime Minister is showing to tackle this important issue.
Waste is choking our oceans, despoiling our landscapes, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and scarring our habitats. During the recent Great British Beach Clean Up– I saw first-hand in Aldeburgh the amount of litter that blights our landscape. The Marine Conservation Society found 718 pieces of litter for every 100 metre stretch of beach surveyed and of this, rubbish from food and drink made up at least one fifth. Which is why our plan outlines proposals to reduce our use of the plastics which contribute to pollution and also includes broader steps to encourage recycling and the more thoughtful use of resources.
Our plan will extend the hugely successful 5p carrier bag charge to all retailers in England; encourage supermarkets to introduce plastic-free aisles to give consumers the choice to make greener decisions; and promote the use of less damaging plastic packaging. The plan will also inject new funding into plastics innovation through a bid into the government's £7 billion research and development pot; encourage industry to take more responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products; and government will also look at how the tax system or charges could further reduce the amount of waste we create. A call for evidence on how to reduce the use of single-use plastics will begin next month.
It is the Government's mission to leave our environment in a better state than we found it – but improving the environment will take individual as well as collective action – our plan will guide each and all of us to do what is right."
"Happy New Year! 2017 was certainly eventful and 2018 promises as much, though probably no elections this year! We commemorate two totemic events - 100 years since the end of the Great War and of women getting the vote. Key to achieving women getting the vote was Millicent Fawcett who was born and raised in Aldeburgh, part of the great Garrett family. She is to be immortalised with a statue in Parliament Square this year - the first statue there of a woman. The Royal Mint are commemorating this with the issuing of a special 50 pence coin.
Looking ahead for the year, moving into phase two of Brexit negotiations is key to our future prosperity. Frictionless trade is vital for consumers and businesses. I am grateful to Felixstowe Port for their advice and thoughts on how to make this happen in practice, which I am sharing with fellow ministers. The success of Felixstowe Port post-Brexit is an important strategic issue that affects not only the port itself but the many local businesses throughout Suffolk and beyond, whose business relies on it.
Locally, I would hope we move onto the third and final stage of EDF's consultation on Sizewell C. I expect EDF to have done a significant amount of work since Stage 2, especially in relation to improvements to the road network. I did not support their reserve park and ride site at Woodbridge in Stage 2 and I hope this will have been dropped for Stage 3."
The disappointing decision by Lloyds to close branches in Suffolk Coastal has led to heightened anxiety in other towns in my constituency. Following my petition several years ago Barclays gave me assurances that they had no intention of closing any of their branches in Suffolk Coastal. Despite this their Saxmundham branch closed last year so it is important we get some long term commitment
So I have again sought reassurance from Barclays Bank that they remain committed to Aldeburgh, Halesworth and Southwold, and that HSBC are committed to continuing to operate a branch in Saxmundham – all of which are the last bank standing in these market towns. I am pleased to say that HSBC have already replied saying that their branch restructuring programme is completed, so Saxmundham is safe.
A reminder during Storm Eleanor hitting power supplies locally that 105 is the contact point if you are suffering disruption. Their online site www.ukpowernetworks.co.uk has more information."
"2017 will be documented as one of the most interesting political years of the 21st Century. An unexpected election with a result that no-one expected at the outset. The Prime Minister gained 2.3m more votes than the Conservatives gained in 2015, the highest share of the vote since 1983 but still went backwards in terms of the overall number of MPs as the minor parties were squeezed. The issue that has dominated the agenda at Westminster this year has been Brexit. Earlier this month the Prime Minister secured an historic agreement with the European Union, which brings to an end the first phase of Brexit negotiations. The agreement secured the rights of the three million EU citizens living here and the million British citizens living in the EU; represented a fair settlement in terms of money; and maintains the common travel area within the island of Ireland. Now the first phase of Brexit has been agreed we can move on to detailed negotiations on other issues, including our future trade deal. This is of significant importance to our part of the country and crucial for Felixstowe as we need to ensure we can continue to trade freely through the port.
As we prepare to leave the EU, my department is focussing on how we maintain and enhance our natural environment through our 25 year Environment Plan and the future of our fisheries – which will continue to place science based fisheries management at the very heart. Due to the Government's commitment to sustainable fishing and the subsequent recovery in fish stocks my departmental colleague, George Eustice came back from Brussels recently with an increased quota for North Sea Cod, Haddock and Monkfish. A festive fillip for our fishermen.
Continuing the fisheries theme - I'm delighted that the Oyster Inn in Butley has been awarded a £25k grant from the Prince's Countryside Fund. The pub was awarded the grant to support the provision of essential village services – with the unused barn buildings due to be converted to provide a village shop. This will complement the community function room, cinema and micro-brewery that opened earlier this year. If you haven't visited since the Oyster re-opened then I would encourage you to check it out – as I would any of our local pubs over the Christmas period.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all Coastal Scene readers a happy and peaceful Christmas and a prosperous New Year. I hope you have a great time with family and friends"
"Woods Lane has now reopened – and whilst I welcome the fact that residents will get a months respite during the Christmas period - it is due to close again in January which will be hugely frustrating for all concerned. During the November closure, I met Deputy Leader of Suffolk County Council, Cllr Jane Storey, to discuss the impact on local residents and further potential mitigation for the second closure. Clearly assumptions have been made by council officers about what working hours would be deemed acceptable without asking the residents. There is an opportunity to change this for the second phase and the County Council are working with the developer on this. I understand if residents on Woods Lane themselves and those directly affected were not content for 24/7 working but with longer working hours we should be able to shorten the second closure. The key point I raised with Cllr Storey though was about the need to assess transport infrastructure for the future. The roads into Melton, Woodbridge and the peninsula from the A12 are clearly at capacity and will need to be addressed.
There is not much festive cheer coming from Lloyds Bank who announced they intend to close both their Southwold and Halesworth bank branches. Their decision is especially disappointing considering the commitments previously made to me made to me. I have asked for more information about their mobile banking service – which they have promised will service both Halesworth and Southwold - to get clarity on where and how often it will operate. I have also asked whether they are able to keep the ATMs open.
Winter is now upon us and thanks to the Coastal Scene's sister paper the EADT – their Surviving Winter Campaign is firmly on the agenda. Early on in being MP for Suffolk Coastal, I raised the profile and need for help of residents off the gas grid. Fuel poverty is considerably higher for those who don't have mains gas to warm their home. To help prevent this the Cold Weather Priority Scheme has been introduced to identify people who may be susceptible to colder conditions and who are off the gas-grid. The scheme enables fuel suppliers to take pro-active steps to get fuel to you during times of fuel shortages or extreme cold weather. You can sign up for the CWP initiative if there are one or more residents aged 75 years or over in your household or there are one or more residents known to be chronically sick or registered disabled. For more information go to - http://www.coldweatherpriority.co.uk"
"This week in Parliament the Chancellor delivered a Budget which lays the foundations for a Britain fit for the future. It was a balanced approach that continues to reduce the deficit and pay off our debt (still £65,000 per household) while supporting families by increasing the National Living Wage, cutting income tax, freezing fuel duty and investing in public services we value. From April, the personal allowance will rise to £11,850, meaning the typical basic rate tax payer will be £1,075 a year better off compared to 2010 with a higher rate rise to £46,350. At the same time the National Living Wage will also rise by 4.4 per cent to £7.83, meaning full-time workers are £2,000 better off since it was introduced.
The careful management of the economy means that the Chancellor was able to find an additional £2.8bn for our NHS. £350 million immediately to allow trusts to plan for this winter; £1.6 billion in 2018-19, with the balance in 19-20, taking the extra resource into the NHS next year to £3.75 billion in total.
As we approach Small Business Saturday on the 2nd December, I was particularly pleased with the Chancellor's announcement on business rates – bringing forward the planned changes to uprating from RPI to CPI, worth £2.3bn to businesses over the next five years; a shorter revaluation period from 5 years to 3, which will reduce the size of future changes; and extending the £1,000 rates discount for pubs. Crucially, the Chancellor also announced progress on making our business tax system fairer with measures focussed on our digital economy and a commitment to find solutions on this internationally. This is a point many small business owners in Suffolk made to me earlier this year when the latest revaluations kicked in.
For young people - we are getting rid of stamp duty on all house purchases up to £300,000, benefitting those who are working hard to get on the housing ladder and we're introducing a new 26 – 30 rail card, giving 4.5 million more young people a third off their rail fares.
The Chancellor also committed to a package of measures, which are forecast to raise an additional £4.8bn on top of the £160bn we have already raised for public services by clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion. Opposition parties often talk about tough action on this but their previous record doesn't bear it out. We are getting on and doing it."
"As the first ever female Member of Parliament for Suffolk, I'm proud to announce that the first ever female statue will be erected in Parliament Square next year. The statue will recognise the life of one of Suffolk's most famous daughter's, Millicent Garrett-Fawcett, pioneer of women's suffrage. Millicent who was born and lived in Aldeburgh was the great-grand daughter of Richard Garrett, who founded the agricultural machinery manufacturing plant in Leiston, preserved today in the Long Shop museum and her sister, of course, was Elizabeth Garrett-Anderson, the first female doctor in Britain. The statue will mark the centenary of voting rights being extended to women under the Representation of the People Act 1918 and the ability for women to stand for Parliament for the first time under the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918. To mark the centenary the Government has announced a £5 million fund for projects to raise awareness of this crucial milestone and to inspire people to play their part in building a diverse political system for the future. Considering our heritage I would be delighted if local groups in Suffolk could prepare bids. I'll write again on how to apply when the fund officially opens.
As I referred to in my last column, the Woods Lane road closure began this week. I know this has been frustrating for local residents and I continue to work on this issue to ensure the significant disruption is mitigated as much as is possible. Following the public meeting last week, Cllr Nicoll has been following up with local residents about whether a working day longer than 10 hours can be tolerated – and I know the house builder is looking in to the possibility of 24hr working in the second phase which would shorten disruption. I have a meeting in Endeavour House today (Friday), where I hope to receive answers to some outstanding questions and issues.
This weekend the country will come together in remembrance. This year I will be in Aldeburgh before heading up to Halesworth for their service of remembrance later in the day. Remembrance Sunday is an opportunity not only to remember those who died for our freedom but also to show our gratitude to our serving men and women who do so much to keep us safe. My heartfelt thanks to them all."
"I share the frustration of many local residents regarding the closure of Woods Lane in Melton in November and from January to mid-April next year. I appreciate the disruption will be significant and I have been working with local councillors and Suffolk County Council on addressing this.
Housing developer Bloor Homes have applied for the road closure after they bought the site from Christchurch Land & Estates Ltd, who obtained the planning permission. The closure is to connect the new housing development to the water and sewerage network which runs under the centre of Woods Lane and to make transport improvements as required by the planning consent.
I have expressed my concerns to Suffolk County Council and Bloor Homes directly, posing several questions on behalf of constituents. I questioned whether a one-way or traffic light system could be applied. For both phases of construction, it does not allow enough space for vehicles to safely pass but of course, access will be granted for those residents and businesses which only have entrances on Woods Lane to be accommodated. Bloor have also agreed to allow access to emergency vehicles both during the day when workmen are on site and at night.
I questioned Suffolk County Council on the length of the closure but they assure me this is a reasonable time to complete such substantial works. I still have not got to the bottom of exactly the basis of the agreement but I now understand that the county council has agreed with Bloor Homes that they make it a seven day a week operation with an extended working day of at least ten hours. I am liaising with the County Council on how this will be monitored.
I have also asked the County about reprogramming the lights at the crossroads of the A1152 and Melton Road to help traffic coming from the diverted Woodbridge route. I've been assured that the intelligent traffic control system should be able to adapt to the changing patterns. However, a County Council engineer will attend the site for the first day to ensure this is working.
There is also the opportunity to use this time to install all utilities to the development and I have already alerted BT Openreach.
I know this is frustrating for local residents and I will continue to work on this issue on behalf of constituents to ensure the significant disruption is mitigated as much as is possible."
"It's been a fortnight of incredible news for animal welfare' – that was the reaction of the UKs most well-known animal welfare charity, the RSPCA, to two pieces of Government action last week. Firstly, we will shortly publish draft legislation to increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty, from six months to five years – giving courts the powers they have called for to punish the most abhorrent acts and deter other offenders. Secondly, the Environment Secretary and my departmental colleague, Michael Gove, announced plans for a full ban on the sale of ivory. Just over a year ago, I attended a ministerial convention on illegal wildlife trade. After that conference, I visited Kruger National Park in South Africa and saw the carcasses of slaughtered rhinos as well as the rhinos that rangers were protecting. Last week we heard that around 20,000 elephants a year are still being slaughtered because of the ivory trade. Our ban will put the UK front and centre of global efforts to end this and we will continue to press other countries to close their markets. My department have just started a 12 week consultation on the detail of the ban, to which we will respond early next year.
Earlier this week the Prime Minister published her unprecedented audit of public sector services. The audit reveals how your race affects the way you interact with public services and your employment prospects. I wrote last year about how if you're a white working class boy from coastal towns like ours, you are much less likely to go to university than any other group. The government is determined to make this a country that works for everyone and this audit is an important part of making that a reality. The message is simple: if these disparities cannot be explained then they must be changed.
Finally, two important consultations are set to close at the end of this month. The first is on the Suffolk Energy Gateway, the new road proposed to by-pass the four villages along the A12. The second is on Suffolk Coastal's review of their Local Plan. Residents are being given the chance to have their say on the options for the distribution for future development. I would urge readers to read these carefully and have their say."
Thank you for visiting my website. It is my privilege to serve as your Member of Parliament for Suffolk Coastal. Please do get in touch using the contact form or email me (details below).
Sign the petition to remove the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) from the management of Felixstowe Academy so the school can have a fresh start under new leadership for the benefit of pupils.
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