We all want to provide our children with the best start in life and this includes school provision. I’ve made ensuring we get the schools we need in Taunton Deane a priority since being elected. And so, I am thrilled that the Department for Education have recently announced that Selworthy Special School in Taunton, which educates children of primary school age with learning disabilities, will receive a full upgrade through the Government’s School Rebuilding Programme.
This welcome opportunity has arisen on the back of the reinforced autoclaved concrete (RAAC) issue. This material has been used in some of the buildings at Selworthy and in the autumn I invited the Minister responsible for this area, Baroness Barran, to see the impact first hand and to assess options for the way forward. It was a welcome opportunity to bring the whole site into sharp focus and following detailed analysis, including of portable buildings on the site, it has been agreed that a new school, purpose designed premises, is appropriate and the scheme is now in the upgrade programme. I now look forward to continuing to work with the superb Oak Partnership Trust team at Selworthy on the new project with the aim of establishing the new build on the site adjacent to the recently completed secondary school.
In other news, it’s been a positive week for the environment and farming. In my capacity as Environment Minister I launched the start of mandatory biodiversity net gain. Basically, now, all major housing developments are required to deliver at least a 10% benefit for nature. In doing so, England becomes the first country in the world to make Biodiversity Net Gain a legal requirement which will help us create greener places in which to live and support nature and wildlife. This is just one measure amongst a raft of initiatives the Government has introduced in our plan to restore and protect nature, improving our environment. In fact, since 2010 we have restored an area for nature the size of Dorset, banned micro plastics and set ambitious targets to halt biodiversity decline and a target for no one to live further than a 15-minute walk to a green or blue (water) space with actions underway to enable this.
Our farmers are critical to managing our environment sustainably and our new Environmental Land Management scheme will pay them to take measures in this respect. I was proud to attend the annual Nation Farmers Union conference in Birmingham this week together with farmers from all over the country including this area. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak addressed the conference reiterating the Government’s commitment to spending £2.4 billion to support our farmers nationally. (Since last April over £7.5m of this support has been invested right here in Taunton Deane together with millions more going to nature restoration projects and peat restoration from the Nature for Climate Fund.)
Building on this, the Prime Minister announced our largest ever grant offer investing in farm resilience and productivity for farmers worth £427 million and covering areas including robotics, automation and rooftop solar. There was also emphasis on food security with an annual UK-wide Food Security Index announced and new rules to make sure farmers always get fair prices for their products as well as cuts to planning red tape to aid farmers in growing their businesses. This confirms our clear plan for our all-important farmers, who are custodians of our countryside and are producing some of the best food in the world.
Finally, I welcome the Attorney General’s decision to refer to the Court of Appeal the sentence imposed against Valdo Calocane on the grounds of it, in her view, being ‘unduly lenient.’ Student Barnaby Webber who lived in Taunton was amongst those who tragically lost their lives in this horrific attack. This is the right decision, and I am grateful to the Attorney General for her swift assessment of this tragic case. The impact this has had on all of the families and friends affected is unimaginable. I hope that when this reaches the Court of Appeal, it will provide the appropriate justice that they have been calling for.