It is great to have the opportunity to provide an article for the Totteridge Residents’ Association virtual Yearbook.
I want first to pass on my heartfelt sympathies to any of you who have experienced illness or bereavement due to Covid-19.
I want to express my deep gratitude to all NHS and social care workers. They have done a heroic job in battling the virus. We have also seen an incredible collective effort by the general public. As a result of their hard work and sacrifice, many lives have been saved.
To try to mitigate the economic damage caused by the Covid shutdown the Government is providing a massive package of help to protect jobs, wages, and businesses. There has been nothing on this scale in our peacetime history and it has been providing crucial support for thousands of people in Barnet.
At an early stage in the crisis I made the case in Parliament for help for self-employed people and I welcomed the programme subsequently announced for these workers which is one of the most generous in the world.
I also made the point strongly in Parliament that these support programmes must actually get the money out to the people who need it. I have been working to help constituents try to get the help they need.
Turning to non-Covid issues, the 12 months since my last article for the TRA Yearbook has seen some dramatic events in my life as your local MP.
When the Prime Minister called the general election for 12th December last year, a number of pollsters and commentators speculated that I would not be able to defend the constituency with only a slim majority for 353 from the 2017 poll.
But after a gruelling six week campaign, carried out in the depths of winter in the dark and rain, I was absolutely delighted when the folk of Chipping Barnet decided to re-elect me to Westminster to serve as their MP for the fifth time. I feel deeply honoured to represent this place which I love and which is my home.
Just a few months before that election, the political wheel of fortune had turned suddenly in my favour when Boris invited me to join his new Government as the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
I was honoured to accept this opportunity to serve for a second time in high political office. It has been an incredible privilege for me to be asked to join the Cabinet by two Prime Ministers, first David Cameron, and then Boris Johnson.
Although my Cabinet come-back was relatively short-lived, I believe I can look back on a record of achievement as Environment Secretary. Under my leadership, the Government put forward radical new legislation on fisheries, farming and the environment.
Leaving the deeply flawed Common Agricultural Policy will allow us to implement a fresh approach to help our farmers deliver crucial environmental and animal welfare goals. Our new system of farm support to replace the CAP is one of the most important environmental reforms for decades.
This Government was elected on a manifesto with more far reaching commitments on the environment than any ever before in history. The world-leading Environment Bill I put forward to Parliament will embed environmental targets and principles at the heart of Government decision-making. That will help us clean up the air we breathe, protect nature and biodiversity, and tackle the scourge of plastics pollution and waste.
£3.5b has been committed to tackling harmful emissions from transport because there are too many people whose lives are shortened by air pollution, including in Barnet.
And after spending so many weeks cooped up indoors, I think we perhaps all appreciate even more than we did before the importance of spending time in natural spaces.
During my spell at DEFRA, I secured a commitment from the Government to a massive increase in tree planting. The election last year must have been the first one where there was a bidding war between the parties on tree planting!
And we will not stand by and let the tragedy of plastics pollution in our oceans continue. Working with overseas territories, we are on track to protect over 4 million square kilometres of the world’s oceans by the end of this year. No other nation is doing more to address what is a defining issue of our time.
We want this to be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it. And during the shutdown, I was incredibly grateful that I had wonderful natural open spaces on my doorstep. These fields and woods and pathways would long ago have been bulldozed to make way for housing development, were it not for green belt protection rules.
So taking my daily exercise in places like Totteridge Fields, Darlands, Barnet Gate Wood, and Moat Mount have made me more determined than ever to protect our green spaces in Barnet, like the fields at Whalebones which are under imminent threat from developers.
And I continue to campaign robustly against over-development. It feels as if I am fighting on many fronts on this issue. The Mayor of London’s plan to build blocks of flats over tube station car parks is particularly appalling but the latest proposals for the gasworks site in New Barnet are also unacceptable.
I accept we need new homes but building high density, high rise development in low-rise suburban Barnet will put intolerable pressure on infrastructure and public services and severely damage our local environment. It will always be my mission to protect the open, airy, leafy nature of our suburb from predation by developers.
Finally, I want to assure TRA members that despite the Covid emergency, my determination to pursue the local causes they support is as strong as ever. So I continue to back our excellent local schools; to fight for our fair share of the 20,000 new police officers now being recruited; to get the best NHS services for our community; to hold the Mayor to account on tube and bus services; and to campaign to help our struggling high streets. Sadly, the Covid outbreak will have an impact for many months and years to come and I will always speak up strongly on behalf of my constituents as we slowly recover from this crisis.