My article for this week's Herald and Post...
Last week I had the pleasure of meeting lots of East Hants residents at my public meeting in Alton. This was a fantastic opportunity to hear directly from you about the issues that matter most in your communities.
Public meetings are an important part of local democracy and are there for you to hold me, as your elected representative, directly to account.
What always amazes me at these meetings is the diversity of opinion on national and local politics. At a previous meeting in Bordon, we spent most of the meeting discussing international development. Last week, we covered a wide variety of topics, from obesity to lithium batteries to Brexit.
And for the person standing at the front of the room, you never really know what’s going to come up.
Last week’s opening question was about climate change. Specifically, how can we better use alternative power sources, such as wind technology.
We had a long discussion about the benefits of large-scale onshore wind farms, akin to the farms you see in the United States, versus individual wind turbines on the side of a motorway (which is often what people think of when you mention wind power). There was also some support for nuclear power in the room and a suggestion to look further at the benefits of hydroelectric power.
We also chatted about the need for a large-scale programme on buildings’ insulation, like the progress that is being made on decarbonising the vehicle fleet through the development of electric vehicles.
The next subject was taxes on so called ‘bad food’ following a newspaper article that day about how much of the NHS budget is devoted to obesity and its effects. In my time at the Treasury, the sugar tax on soft drinks was one of the taxes in my portfolio.
We have seen a change in buying behaviour since the tax was introduced. As an example, Coke Zero is now often the lead product for Coca-Cola.
And research by Cambridge University earlier this year, showed that the levy on the soft drinks industry is having an impact on levels of childhood obesity.
Another subject was housing, and I was asked for an update on the proposals to reform the planning system, which I submitted a formal response to earlier in the year. As many of you will know, we have a unique situation in East Hants with the South Downs National Park covering a large part of our region. I think I’m right in saying that there is only one other constituency in the country in the same boat as us.
What this means in practice is that East Hants is subject to a housing target where there is a sizeable landscape protection in place. So, we’re having to fit our houses into a much smaller geographical area. What I’m pushing for is an alternative target for our region that takes our unique circumstances into account.
I was genuinely delighted to see such a large turnout last week and to have the chance to meet some new and old faces before and after the meeting. It was great to see the passion for issues and current affairs alive and well in Alton. I will be hosting another meeting in Petersfield soon so please do check this site for details.