Protecting our environment and addressing the climate emergency is the most important issue facing us. All the other challenges will count for little if we fail to provide a sustainable planet for future generations.
I have been campaigning for stronger action on climate change since being elected as an MP. In 2013 I worked with the Green Alliance to promote community energy production (see below), for example, and I joined with former Labour leader Ed Miliband MP to push the Government to make the zero carbon emissions target, agreed at the Paris climate talks, legally binding in the UK; they promised to do this but have not yet done so, and I continue to press on it. I signed an Early-Day Motion which called on the Government to declare a UK-Wide Climate Emergency, and supported Labour’s motion to declare a climate emergency which was agreed by Parliament.
In the recent debate on Johnson’s Queen’s Speech, I raised the climate emergency as a top concern and criticised the absence of measures to address it, also challenging their rhetoric that the UK is ‘world-leading’ on the issue. I pressed the former Energy Minister on the ambitious targets the world should adopt on carbon emissions and how she intended to work towards this at this year’s international Climate Change Conference, COP26 – and I pressed Ministers to follow Europe’s lead on decarbonising steel production before the conference. We must also provide support to the countries most affected by climate change, on which I have questioned the Government.
The Government have cut subsidies for renewables, while also incentivising carbon-emitting fracking until the moratorium announced in November. I have long opposed fracking and pressed the previous Prime Minister to drop Government support for it and invest in renewables instead. I also raised the effective ban on onshore wind in a Prime Minister’s Question, and have pressed Ministers on supporting solar power and using hydrogen storage for surplus renewable energy.
I have challenged Ministers on the weakness of their Environment Bill and on whether they will keep pace with EU environmental policies, arguing that the vote to leave is not a vote to forget our commitments to tackle climate change. As part of the Shadow Brexit team I sought to maintain the environmental regulations secured within the EU together with tough enforcement mechanisms, and will continue to push for high standards and strong enforcement mechanisms in the Environment Bill which will take over the roles of EU Law and the European Commission.
I have made the case locally too; arguing for local green policies and organising public events with Sheffield Climate Alliance as part of my annual community consultation, the Big Conversation, and making the point that proper investment in local transport is key to reducing carbon emissions. I have also supported the Youth Strikes, attending some of the rallies and speaking publicly to support the school students’ action.
As well as pressing for action, I support practical initiatives and campaigns that will make a difference. I worked with the Green Alliance in a cross-party project to promote community energy (see here) and am a member of Sheffield Renewables. I have supported Climate Change Ambassadors, worked with the Sheffield Climate Alliance and Hope For The Future, as well as backing campaigners for a Carbon Neutral University. I’ve met with constituents who’ve come to Westminster to lobby on the climate emergency and with others backing Extinction Rebellion protests.
I met with local activists on behalf of CAFOD and wrote to Minister Alok Sharma on preparations for COP26 following lobbying from constituents.
Other Environmental Issues
I’ve supported Sheffield Council in taking action to improve air quality locally, which requires significant funding from central Government, and their Clean Air plan. Plastic waste is another of my concerns; I’ve backed campaigns to address this, and spoken in Parliament on the complexity of the issue and the need to get it right. I also supported a Private Member’s Bill which would reduce flood risks.
I have challenged Government consistently to invest more in railways, especially given the regional inequalities in funding which see Yorkshire receiving much less than London and the North-West, and have slammed unfair fare increases which hit commuters hard.
I have pressed the Government for better connectivity between Northern cities, calling for half-hour centre to centre journeys between Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester, and highlighting the situation with late-running services. After timetable changes reduced the number of peak London-Sheffield services to make space for a local London services, I challenged Ministers, and pressed Transport Secretary Chris Grayling again when it wasn’t addressed. I also co-ordinated representation from Sheffield MPs in calling on the Government to abandon plans to scrap the direct rail link between Sheffield and Manchester Airport. Read more here.
I consistently pressed for track improvements and electrification of the Midland Mainline between London and Sheffield, and I was outraged by the Government’s betrayal of promises when they cancelled the electrification of the Midland Mainline to Sheffield and have urged them to think again, especially after I exposed the real cost to the environment.
I challenged Government ministers and Network Rail on repeated delays to the tram-train system between Sheffield and Rotherham, which is now running. I held a parliamentary debate on pedestrian access to railways stations and secured a subsequent meeting at which Government Ministers scrapped the plans to limit access to Sheffield station bridge.
HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail
We need significant investment in our rail network, especially in the north, to enable the rail network to provide for the growing number of rail users, improve services, reduce travel times and cut carbon emissions. As well as supporting HS2, which is focused on north-south connectivity to London, we also need improved connectivity within the north.
So, as well as pressing the Government to remember the northern economy in their reconsideration of HS2, I called for the Chancellor to support Transport for the North’s strategic plan, which includes Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) and other strategic projects and would massively cut journey times with Manchester and Leeds – creating a real northern powerhouse between our three cities and helping to rebalance the economy away from London and the south-east.
I consistently campaigned for the HS2 station to be located in the city centre, and not at Meadowhall as originally proposed, as combining it in one central station is more accessible, makes economic sense and connects with NPR services. So I was pleased when HS2 bosses accepted this case.
Bus services are primarily a matter for local Councillors, but many bus-related issues are raised with me. I challenged the Government on fares and the decline in journey numbers, which was raised with me in the Big Conversation, I spoke in a debate to make the argument that proper investment in bus services is a crucial part of decarbonising transport, and I strongly back Labour’s proposal to give cities more power over local transport.
I’ve campaigned to save bus services and pressed constituents concerns on local routes and backed calls for a fare freeze for students – passing on many comments about bus services on to my colleague Clive Betts MP for consideration as part of the review into bus services which he led. I strongly back Labour’s proposal to give cities more power over local transport as a step to taking bus services back under public control.
In response to the problems created by the pandemic, I wrote to the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urging him to commit to maintaining funding for bus and light rail services in Sheffield.
Cycling and walking
Like many people in Sheffield I am a recreational cyclist and walker and take a close interest in the issues. I am a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cycling and have written to Ministers to support Cycling UK’s campaign for proper investment in cycling and walking. I’ve also backed the ‘Get Britain Cycling’ cross-party report in a parliamentary debate, urged the Government to make all cities fit for cycling by investing in infrastructure, supported the ‘Living Streets’ campaign, which makes it safer and easier for older people to get around the local neighbourhood on foot, and supported local ‘walking buses’ which take primary school children from their homes to their schools on foot.
We have a national problem with air quality, and Sheffield is one of 22 UK towns and cities that have been exceeding NO2 limits. Sheffield Council agreed a Clean Air Plan in November 2018, which went out for consultation the following July. This includes a Clean Air Zone to reduce the number of polluting vehicles, with charges for older models of buses, taxis, lorries and LGVs, to come into force in 2021, but it is subject to approval by and funding from central Government. The plan also includes funding to support the drivers that are most exposed to the charging zone will be vital to achieve our clean air ambitions.
The Council have also introduced anti-idling zones around the 20 most polluted schools to provide a targeted intervention there and I’ve backed moves to close roads outside schools at drop-off and pick-up times.
I’ve challenged the Government on providing enough funding for councils to address the issue and am keeping in touch with our Council to see what more I can do to help.
This is a selection of my work on these issues. Please get in touch if you want to find out more.