New year, same virus playing havoc with our daily lives. Though there are some glimmers of hope on the horizon with the vaccine, our immediate reality is one of little change since last year. Armchair activism remains, quite literally, the modus operandi.
MPs are shortly to return to Parliament after briefly being recalled both to ratify the EU deal and to sign off on new lockdown restrictions. It is unclear at this point whether there will be a hybrid Parliament with remote participation to align with the stay-at-home message but, whatever the case, there will still be a parliamentary agenda which we will be paying attention to.
We expect the Environment Bill to return around the end of this month and we are working with MPs and peers to highlight the concerns of CLA members, such as the removal of water abstraction licences without compensation, and the exclusion of heritage from the Bill, which risks driving funding and protections away.
We will continue to lobby strongly for the creation of a rural homes decarbonisation strategy. With a consultation from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy underway, it is vital that the government understands how rural properties use energy and how they can meet required standards. A one-size fits all approach does not work and too often ignores rural.
The recent announcement from the Chancellor to reduce broadband funding from £5 bn to £1.2bn and abandon the 100% coverage commitment is disappointing for rural areas which are still waiting for a decent connection. With the UK in its third lockdown and 11 months in (and counting) of Zoom meetings, a decent broadband connection has never been more important and this disregard for the rural economy is one of the core reasons it lags behind in productivity to its urban counterparts.
It can be hard to stay optimistic right now, but 2021 may yet deliver for us all.