Derby & Derbyshire Minerals Plan: Response to Consultation

Below is my response to the recent Derby & Derbyshire Minerals Plan which Derbyshire County Council ran. We should hear next steps in the coming months.

Response to consultation
Derbyshire County Council (DCC) has invited comments on the draft Derbyshire and Derby Minerals Local Plan which it published in March 2022 and which is intended to replace the existing framework in place since 2001. As the Member of Parliament for North East Derbyshire, I have received representations from local residents on the Plan and so offer comments both (i) from my own perspective and (ii) to summarise the views of those residents who have raised this matter with me.

As DCC is aware, this draft Plan is of particular interest to the North East Derbyshire constituency given its recent history with a planning application which could have led to drilling for shale gas on Bramley Moor, close to the village of Marsh Lane. My views on fracking are well known and, given they are not directly relevant to this consultation, I will not extensively repeat them here other than to re-confirm my strong opposition to the practice in North East Derbyshire and my continuing support for the Government’s existing policy of a moratorium in England.

Thankfully, the planning permission to explore for shale gas at Bramley Moor expired in 2021 and so there is no immediate likelihood of fracking returning; nonetheless, and given that this Plan is likely to be in place for many years, many residents want to ensure that this document has the strongest possible protections in the (unlikely and unwanted) event that future hypothetical situations arise where it may be considered again. Consequently, and whilst other forms of mineral extraction are undoubtedly very important and require careful consideration, I will focus this response on the fracking element of the document, given North East Derbyshire’s background and interest in it since 2016.

Consequently, and with regards to any hypothetical and unlikely applications for shale gas, I seek to make the following broad points:

1 That you retain and strengthen existing proposals in draft policy SP17, particularly around the siting of activity and the need to justify volume;
2 That, in addition, consideration be given to the clearer inclusion of ‘set back’ distances where all phases related to fracking (exploration, appraisal and production) could only occur well away from homes and public infrastructure;
3 That strong consideration is given to a clearer statement on the cumulative impact of future fracking applications;
4 That, also in addition, the Plan should consider how applications for pipelines running to and from shale gas sites might be dealt with, and;
5 That the document also considers the utility of Environmental Impact Assessments and that additional considerations are included with regards to location.

Before addressing each of those points in turn, I want to firstly strongly welcome the decision of the County Council to bring forward a new Minerals Plan to replace the existing, aged framework. The current Plan was of limited use when considering the Bramley Moor application between 2017 and 2019, not least because it was written prior to the practice existing. This made assessment of the application extremely difficult for all involved. A clearer, more up-to-date framework should be considered a step forward.

Policy SP17
I strongly welcome the inclusion of the following proposals in this draft policy:

1 The requirement that exploration sites and associated infrastructure are sited in “the least sensitive location”;
2 That applicants must demonstrate no adverse impact on the underlying geological structure;
3 That any activity must be temporary;
4 That all sites must be restored, and;
5 That any applications for production must be “justified” in terms of volume.

Each of these proposals are welcome and are a step forward from the current framework.

In addition, I would ask that the County Council consider the following points:

1 That, in relation to the sensitivity of locations, proposals for production should also satisfy the same proposed criteria as related to exploration. There is no meaningful difference in terms of impact between exploration and production so the principle of some element of exploration only happening in the “least sensitive location” should also be applicable to production – not least because production would last significantly longer. Paragraph 11.22 later in the document already does not appear to discriminate between the two and I would request that the County Council aligns the wording of policy SP17 to reflect this paragraph;
2 That non-core activities (such as processing) should be assumed to not automatically need to be done on site, particularly if that site would not normally be used for industrial activity of any other kind;
3 That the point identified in paragraph 8.2.53 regarding the potential impact of vehicle movements (and which requires locations to be where there is good access to suitable road networks) should be upgraded to a formal requirement within the draft policy itself, and;

4 That there should be a clearer framework within the draft policy of what would (and wouldn’t) be considered justifiable in terms of numbers of wells in any future production phase.

The inclusion of set-back distances
I strongly support the principle of specific set-back distances for hydraulic fracturing (in any phase) from other sensitive land uses – and would consequently recommend its inclusion into the Minerals Plan as a specific policy.

I recognise that the Plan contains some reference to this in draft policy DM1 stating that “where appropriate separation distances between a development and other land uses may be applied”. This is also supported within paragraph 11.25. Whilst these statement are welcome, other Councils have offered more specific guidance in terms of presumed distances (including a stated assumption against proposals within 500 metres of residential buildings without “robust demonstrat[ion] … [of how] … an unacceptable degree of adverse impact can be avoided” in the North Yorkshire Minerals Plan) and I would strongly advocate for similar specificity to be included in the Derbyshire Minerals Plan.

The consideration of previous mineral workings
Given the issues visible in previous attempts to fracking elsewhere in England, I strongly support the statement in paragraph 11.21 that any potential fracking applications should clearly establish the extent of geological faulting.

The intensity of activity
I welcome policy DM14 and its stated aim to take into account the cumulative impacts of individual developments. I would support the strengthening of this approach along the lines of the North Yorkshire Plan which makes statements not just on the impacts of individual developments but also on well pad density. The reality is that, if fracking was ever to occur at scale in the United Kingdom, then areas with proven reserves would likely see extensive industrial activity to support extraction. Whilst a fundamental principle of general planning policy is that all applications should be dealt with on their merits (or demerits), it would be artificial not to recognise the likely density questions which would follow in such a circumstance. I would support clear statements within the Derbyshire plan along the lines of that of the North Yorkshire document – both in terms of recognising the need for “appropriate balance” in paragraph 5.98 and in policy M17 which includes a specific need to assess well pad density against “unacceptable cumulative impact”.

The handling of pipeline proposals
The document refers to the need to give consideration to the appropriate transportation elements of any minerals extraction location and, broadly, I would support the need for careful review, as outlined in policy DM3. Whilst some references are made to pipelines, I would ask if the document could be clearer in this regard, both:

1 in terms of how a planning application might be handled for a pipeline which crossed many miles of land (potentially covering many different owners) and,
2 given the extended length of time that exploration and production is likely to cover, that clear proposals are outlined at the outset of any application about the assumed long-term future transportation plan for the site.

It should not be the case that initial applications, particularly for production, are dealt with and then a subsequent application is submitted for a pipeline to avoid the need for cumulative impacts to be considered. Clear transportation plans should be submitted at the point of initial application with a presumption against future variation without a clear need.

Other points for consideration
In addition, I would also ask that the Council consider the following points:

1 That consideration is given to the importance of Environmental Impact Assessments during exploration phases in the future, and
2 In addition to the welcome statements in policy DM11, that the Council consider extending policy DM4 regarding the need to sensitively to locate and design any proposals in the Peak District National Park also to cover those locations in / near conservation areas, the Green Belt, special protection areas, Ramsar sites, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and Areas of Outstanding National Beauty. I would also support the inclusion of a 3.5km visual sensitivity zone around National Parks or Areas of Outstanding National Beauty, as included within policy M16 of the North Yorkshire Minerals Plan.


Yesterday, MPs voted on the so-called ‘Plan B’ restrictions for coronavirus given the national situation at the current time.

We were asked to vote three times in the end – (i) on whether to make facemasks requirements in most (but not all) indoor settings, (ii) to require vaccination to work in the health service and (iii) to require either a test or confirmation of vaccination status to enter larger events. The regulations on facemasks and larger venues automatically expire after 6 weeks. After much consideration, I voted to agree with all of the proposals.

There are no easy answers on coronavirus are difficult but, having listened to the constituency (which is split in terms of its view on these matters), I try to apply the following three principles in making decisions –

  1. That I hugely dislike state intervention in these areas of daily life and would not dream of doing it outside of an extraordinary event. I do, though, accept that the pandemic is such an event and, temporarily, we may need to make rules which I don’t like – but which I accept may be proportionate to get us through these difficult times.
  2. That I accept that, given the speed with which the virus moves, there are going to be times when decisions need to be made without the fullest evidence base – I wish it wasn’t the case but that’s just the reality.
  3. That this can’t go on forever, that coronavirus is here to stay, that we have to learn to live with it and that we go back to normal as soon as we possibly can – but, equally, that isn’t the same as saying that Government has no role, temporarily, to smooth the path to get us back to normal and to reduce obvious risk during that journey (particularly if the risks are particularly high).

Omicron is a particularly difficult one. It is a textbook example of (2). We are essentially being asked to make decisions now, weeks before the impact of omicron is visible at the point where it matters – in the hospitals, in ICU and worse.

Some people tell me that I shouldn’t make any decisions – that effectively we should just accept whatever omicron throws at us. That is indeed a strategy but, to me, it seems disproportionate and very risky to me to simply allow the virus to take its course and just hope that everything will be alright. In the event that calculation is even slightly out given the large number of people who already have / are about to get omicron, I imagine the number of people who were saying that in a few weeks’ time will significantly drop.

Others tell me we shouldn’t make decisions until we have a clearer evidence base. Normally, I would agree with this. Yet, the problem with omicron is that we do have a pretty clear consensus that it is very transmissible whilst not knowing what it’s impact is further down the line. If it is very transmissible and if it is spreading very rapidly, that means you could have a very large number of people with omicron before you know its impact. That’s a pretty high risk.

Others point to a particular person (or a report or a study) which concludes that omicron may be less dangerous than delta. If that’s the case, that’s brilliant – but we don’t have definitive and comprehensive data that this is the correct position (yet). The whole point of the scientific method is that we get a range of investigations and then, after a period of time, we see all of the contributions converge on a particular broad viewpoint. On omicron, we just don’t have enough contributions yet – and, until we do, I can’t take a single doctor in South Africa’s viewpoint as gospel, I’m afraid (much as I hope it might be correct). Even the study which came out of South Africa yesterday from the health company (which looks like really good news potentially) needs quite a few additional ones before we can have confidence we can build policy off of it. (And, just as a side note, just to stand still in terms of illness, we do need omicron to be significantly less dangerous in order to offset it probably being significantly more transmissible. If fewer people get ill from this variant, that’s great. Yet, if many, many more people get the virus at once, that’s still a problem in the short-term.)

Overall, the key decider for me was this: we just don’t know. And until we get more certainty, I am not opposed to being cautious.

And, we will get to revisit the facemasks and entry requirement changes shortly: the restrictions expire in 6 weeks so let’s see what happens in the next few weeks on data. If there isn’t a substantial problem, we can see how we start removing restrictions again (just like we did this year when the risk fell). And if there is, then at least we may buy ourselves a little more time with changes such as these. (And for the avoidance of doubt: I would much rather the former than the latter).

Ultimately, I can’t guarantee you that we aren’t facing a potentially serious issue in the coming weeks nor wish away the implications of that problem if indeed there are some (nor can I absolutely guarantee you that there won’t be further challenges – much as I wish there won’t be). Yet, I don’t know right now whether there is or there isn’t and the question tonight was about the situation here and now. Buying ourselves a bit more breathing space seems like a relatively proportionate and sensible approach to me.

Finally, it is worth just highlighting the complete difference between 2021 and 2020 (thus far) – if only as a sign that we have made progress against this virus. During Autumn 2020, North East Derbyshire had at various points been (i) in a 4 week national lockdown, (ii) Tier 2 restrictions for 2 weeks +, (iii) Tier 3 restrictions for a month, (iv) no household mixing, (v), rule of six outdoors, (vi) pubs and bars closed, (vii) a requirement to work from home, (viii) leisure centres closed, (ix) no leisure centre classes, (x) advice not to leave your local area, (x) no communal worship, (xi) elite sport behind close doors, (xii) no events, (xii) limits on outdoor event capacity, (xiii) limits on funeral attendance, (xiv) social distancing,(xv) no weddings other than by exception, (xvi) compulsory facemasks and (xvii) social isolation from close contacts with positive cases.

Over a similar period in 2021, we’ve mainly had no restrictions at all or, from now, the requirement to wear a mask and do testing as a minimum. Even after the vote yesterday, life continues more or less as normal.

I know everyone is tired and frustrated and just wants to get back to normal life (as do I) but it is easy to lose sight of the fact we are making progress against this virus. And, no matter what omicron throws at us, in time we will continue to do so.

Planning: Where we are and the choice to come

Planning has been one of the largest local issues, by far, that residents have raised with me since my election in 2017.  The blunt reason is that, for many years in our area, far more houses have been built than should have happened and decisions weren’t taken early enough to prevent that.

There’s obviously been lots of discussion around planning in recent months, particularly with the Inspector’s final report and my letter to the Department for Communities requesting further changes. 

As a result, many residents have asked for a clear, up-to-date explanation of where we are and what happens next, so I wanted to write this post to provide my best understanding.

What’s the ultimate problem on planning in North East Derbyshire?

The core issues on planning in North East Derbyshire all stem from a period between c2008 and 2018, when the previous District Council, voted out of office in 2019, made two key mistakes:

  1. they didn’t put in place a Local Plan (the document which says how an area will development in the future) in a timely fashion – meaning that North East Derbyshire’s planning rules became old, less enforceable, and less capable of fighting off speculative planning applications which might otherwise have been rejected – and;
  2. they then eventually proposed a draft Local Plan (which would put in place that new framework), which had too many houses and wanted to build them in the wrong places (including in the Green Belt) to try to hit that target.

As a result, we have effectively been hit with a double whammy of problems that have built up over the course of a decade.  Too many speculative planning applications have got through in recent years that really shouldn’t have done (by my count, it’s at least 1,000 houses which have either been built, or are approved and are about to be).  On top of that, when efforts finally (and belatedly) got underway to put this Plan in place, back in 2017, the initial document contained the wrong proposals and just wasn’t where most of us would have started. 

This all culminated in 2018, when North East Derbyshire was one of just fifteen Councils in the entire country which the Government said were failing from a planning perspective because they hadn’t sorted out their Local Plan.  It really was a complete mess.

What have we been trying to do in order to rectify it since 2019?

Our strategy over recent years has been two-fold: (1), try to fight off inappropriate planning applications wherever they pop up and, (2), to try to improve the sub-optimal draft Local Plan, as part of the long process it necessarily has to go through, in advance of the Council’s ultimate decision on whether to adopt it.

On (1), we’ve won some of these and been less successful on others.  Proposals have been fought off, so far, to build hundreds of houses in North Wingfield (Little Morton Road) as well as a possible additional development in Wingerworth (Swathwick Lane).  And, along with your Councillors, I’ve distributed tens of thousands of leaflets, held meetings, spoken at an appeal, and tried, where I can, to help fight off the worst of these excessive applications.

Additionally, I’ve tried to help the new Council, voted into office in 2019, improve the draft Local Plan so that (1) it contains more appropriate proposals to enable (2) it to be adopted to reduce the likelihood of future speculative development happening.

So, where is the Local Plan at the moment?

It’s at the end of a very long, four-year process, from the initial draft to, now, the cusp of a final decision being made on it.

The most recent stage happened in July 2021 when an independent Planning Inspector confirmed that she had deemed it “sound” – i.e. that it aligns with national planning policy.  That was the end of an 8-stage process of drafting, reviewing, consulting, changing and amending – a process which was started under the old District Council and has been continued under the current one.

What was wrong with the Plan at the start?

The two major issues with the Local Plan draft, offered in early 2017 by the then District Council, were the following:

  • That the Council loaded a target for housebuilding up to 2034 that was higher than necessary.  They decided that the District should take 6,600 houses when they could likely have agreed something which was less.
  • That, as a consequence, the Council required building on multiple Green Belt sites in Dronfield, Eckington and Killamarsh – which many of us do not think were actually needed.

So, has the plan been fixed?

In part.

On the first issue of the target being too high, the sheer number of speculative applications that have gotten through in recent years (wrongly, in my view) mean that this target is likely to be hit anyway.  So, in a way, that issue has receded in importance.

On the second point of the Green Belt sites, we’ve also made some good progress, too.  We have managed, thanks to the fantastic work and campaigning of local residents, to remove over 600 proposed houses from the draft Plan in their entirety in Coal Aston, Dronfield and Eckington.  That is real progress and I’m hugely pleased we have managed to take this significant step forward.

However, four sites (two in Dronfield and two in Killamarsh) remain, and the focus over the last two years has been on convincing the independent Planning Inspector to take these remaining sites out.  The consultation which many of you got involved in last Winter was the final real chance to do that.  You can see my submission here: to Inspector – Winter 2021.pdf

Unfortunately, the Planning Inspector confirmed in July that she wasn’t taking any more sites out.  So, we have a draft Plan which is better than it was but is still problematic on these remaining Green Belt sites.

So, if the Plan contains Green Belt sites we don’t like, why not just remove them from that Plan?

We absolutely wish we could.

Yet, the Local Plan process – which all Councils across the country have to go through – has specific stages where the Council has clear control over what is in it.  There are also stages where the Council can’t just change the document as it wishes.  Instead, it requires the approval of an independent Planning Inspector before any changes can be made. 

The primary time when a Council influences what goes in the Plan is at the start – they get to write the first draft.  After that, they can’t just change easily things without the approval of the Planning Inspector. 

From North East Derbyshire’s perspective, the initial draft was proposed under the old District Council four years ago – that was our major chance to get this right.  Since then, the new District Council has been trying (as we all have) to convince the Inspector to make changes to this Plan since 2019.  We’ve managed to get some (the removal of some of the Green Belt sites), but not all, of what we want.

So why not just bin it and start again?

This was looked at extensively when the new Council took over in 2019.

The challenge with this approach would mean that the Council would have to go back and start the whole process again.  And, because it is so long ago that the process started, the evidence base would need to be redone, followed by the long process of review and consultation and then, ultimately, the Inspector would have to decide whether the new version was sound.  That’s a good 2 – 4 years to do.

The one benefit of being relatively late in the process of trying to adopt a Local Plan has meant that North East Derbyshire has had a small amount of protection against speculative planning applications in the last year or so.  Effectively, because the Plan was getting towards the end stage, the Council was telegraphing its intentions that new rules were coming soon – meaning that any planning application submitted had to have regard for them, even though they weren’t yet adopted.  That has meant that the worse excesses of speculative development have been stopped in recent months.

So, if we binned the Plan off and started again, we would be back to having very little protection at all whilst a new Plan was attempted to be put in.  Most likely, we would likely see a tsunami of speculative planning applications as a result.  There is a high chance that many of these Green Belt sites we are trying to protect would get built on anyway in the interim.  And, at the same time, more speculative green fields and Green Belt sites would get built on, as open season came to North East Derbyshire for more years to come.

So, why won’t the Inspector make the changes we want?

It’s a very fair question.  I personally think she should have made these changes and I’m hugely disappointed she didn’t.  It’s hugely frustrating that she didn’t take these remaining Green Belt sites out – there was a clear logic to doing so in my view.

I can’t speak for the Inspector – and she doesn’t have to provide any explanation (and didn’t in this case) – so we don’t absolutely know why she made the choice she did.  It is likely her position will be that North East Derbyshire has been failing for years at planning (true), that North East Derbyshire proposed a plan in 2017 (true) and that significant changes at the later stages of this process are not really what usually happens.  It’s all hugely frustrating and again goes back to the problems created in that 2008 – 2018 period.

So, what’s left to try?

The Inspector has now delivered a Plan which she says the District Council can adopt (good – as it allows a framework reduce the chance of speculative building for the coming years) but which still contains some Green Belt (bad – because we still think this is unnecessary to be built on).  The Council will have to make a choice in the coming months about whether it adopts the plan or not.

In the interim, we are trying one last thing to improve the Plan.  As your MP, I can formally request that the Department for Communities reviews the Plan to see if they are willing to make these last Green Belt changes that we would like.  I will be honest with you and say that it is unlikely to be successful – as they will likely say that our District shouldn’t have proposed them in the first place – but I’m trying anyway and want to leave no stone unturned.

If the Department does remove them, then I think the draft Plan becomes relatively uncontroversial and most Councillors will adopt it.  If not, there is obviously a very difficult choice to make in the coming months:

  • to adopt a Plan which contains Green Belt, but where we have tried every single option to improve it and have no recourse left, or;
  • to start again (if the Government will even allow us given how deficient our area has been on planning for many years – which isn’t guaranteed) and run the risk of building on the Green Belt and green fields anyway during the period whilst the Plan goes in.

Is this all the Government’s fault?

Well, not really in my view.  The Government does say that Councils should build more houses but it leaves Councils to propose where the houses should be built.  In doing so, however, it has a reasonable expectation that Councils will take responsible decisions in a timely manner.  If they do that, they get substantial control over what happens and they are able to avoid problems.  If they don’t (as happened in North East Derbyshire up to 2019), they get themselves into a whole heap of trouble.  Burying heads in sand, as happened in our area before 2019, is the primary cause of the problems we are dealing with now – and that burying of heads has a very long hangover for those now trying to do the responsible thing and dig us out of the hole that we are in.

But hasn’t the Government loosened all the planning rules anyway?

No, that hasn’t happened.  There has been a lot of discussion about a consultation which concluded last year which talked about how the UK’s broken planning system needs to be reformed.  You can read my detailed responses here: for the Future Consultation Response.pdf and Housing need consultation.pdf (  The Government does want more houses to be built but, fundamentally, reform doesn’t and shouldn’t automatically mean a free for all – which is the point I made in my consultation responses.

Either way, it isn’t that pertinent to this discussion about North East Derbyshire’s local plan right now.  The Government hasn’t yet announced what they are doing as a result of last year’s consultations (so we don’t have any details on their future proposals) and, whatever those proposals are, they would affect future local plan cycles, not now.  For North East Derbyshire, depending upon what happens to this Local Plan, that is c.5 – 7 years away – so is not pertinent to the discussion we are having now.

So, where next?

First, we wait to see if the Department for Communities are willing to amend the Plan and remove the Green Belt. If they are, great.  If not, a difficult decision awaits our District Councillors.

Whatever they choose, it’s important that residents realise the difficulties and complexities of the situation we are in – hence the purpose of this note.  Working with your new District Councillor team we have tried absolutely everything to improve this Plan since 2019.  Maybe we will manage it at this late stage.  If we don’t, though, we did everything we could to try.  Individual Councillors will need to take their own decisions about what they think is right about where to go next.

Whatever happens with the Plan, the process around individual planning applications remains the same.  If an applicant wants to make an application at any time, they can do so.  And, if significant applications come forward which residents don’t like, my office will still be here to support, help and  assist.  All sites, whether they are in the Local Plan or not, have to go through a formal planning application process.  Inclusion in the Local Plan does, of course, make them more likely but we can still try to influence where we are able to do so.  I would continue to try to fight Green Belt applications where residents wanted us to, even if the decisions made on the Local Plan five or ten years ago make that very difficult.

As ever, there are no easy decisions on planning. Yet, we didn’t need to be here and it is infuriating that we are.  Decisions taken a decade ago, with little consultation at the time, have created the circumstances which we are in now and the current efforts are trying to make the best of a bad situation.  Along with your District Council, we will keep trying to improve this Plan, right up until the last moment.  And whatever happens, I hope that this note explains the reasons why we are where are and what was attempted, over many years, to try to improve the situation from the challenges created a decade ago.

Delay to loosening of restrictions

Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced a 4-week delay in full coronavirus restrictions being lifted.  A number of residents have been in touch with questions on the detail and the reasons behind the decision, and I wanted to try to answer some of them below.

The delay is obviously not welcome at all; I had hoped it wouldn’t be needed and I know there will be real impact on some businesses and sectors.  I share the frustration and weariness of many, and the absolute desire just to get back to normal.  The Prime Minister set out the broad reasons yesterday and many of you will already have likely decided whether you think the approach is proportionate given the risk.  Working out that risk, and its likely impact, is a tremendously difficult one given that (i) coronavirus moves fast, (ii) decisions must be taken early to avoid potential exponential growth and exponential impacts and (iii) that we (still) have an imperfect evidence base about coronavirus (not least, at the moment, about what exactly the Indian / Delta variant does or doesn’t do).  Much as the media likes to try to boil it down to clear cut judgements, the last year has taught us that this isn’t how coronavirus works.  Ultimately, decisions do have to be taken and, when they are, they will be taken on the best understanding of where we are, accepting some level of uncertainty and in the absolute knowledge that there will be real impacts.  I need to review more but, broadly, I do see the logic of what is being done here, even if I wish it wasn’t necessary.

So, here is my best understanding of yesterday’s announcement:

What’s been announced?

Back in February, the Government set out its roadmap for exiting lockdown and said it would unlock in four stages.  Steps 1 – 3 were completed on time in March, April and May.

Step 4 – the removal of all legal limits on gatherings (allowing hospitality to get back to full capacity), the re-opening of nightclubs, the return of larger events (beyond the trial ones already being held) and the removal of limits on weddings – was due on or after 21st June.

Yesterday, the Government said it was delaying most of Step 4 until 19th July.

Will this affect any of the loosening that has already happened?

No.  There is no plan to tighten any rules.  Everything we can do today will remain.  The announcement only affect what was supposed to happen next week, not what has already happened.

So, are there any changes at all happening on 21st June?

Yes, whilst the removal of limits on gatherings aren’t being lifted, there are still few areas where loosening will happen:

  • Number limits on gatherings at weddings / life events will be loosened
  • Care home residents will no longer have isolate for 14 days after they return from visits out
  • Schools will be able to organise out-of-school residential visits for bubbles

What’s the reason for not going ahead?

The primary reason is the emergence of the Indian variant (which is thought to be about 60% more transmissible than previous variants).  That means, without controls, it gets around much more quickly than previous strains do – and, when it does that it, inevitably, finds those who are more vulnerable or who can get ill from it.  To reduce that, the Government says it needs a few more weeks to vaccinate more people so that we are closer to the “herd immunity” point where so many people have been vaccinated in the community that it is more difficult Indian strain to get around. 

But aren’t we pretty much vaccinated – so what would a few more weeks give us?

It’s true that we have one of the most advanced vaccination programmes in the world – 41 million first doses and nearly 30 million second doses.  The progress we have made has been incredible and we should be hugely proud.

Even with all of this progress, though, the truth is we haven’t finished yet.  The UK has a population of around 70 million and somewhere between 50 and 55 million people are eligible to be vaccinated (removing children, those who can’t have vaccines etc.)  And, as of now:

  • about 10 million adults haven’t yet had first doses (mainly young people who have only just been, or will soon be, made eligible)
  • a further 3.5 million people have had their first dose but haven’t yet built up antibodies from it (as it takes up to 21 days)
  • about 25 million people haven’t had second doses yet

If you apply the rate at which we have been vaccinating recently, then another 4 weeks allows around 4 million more people to get their first dose and another 7 million to have their second dose – and the Government has said it is going to try to go even faster between now and mid July.  Whether you are in favour of the lockdown or not, that is a pretty chunky additional part of the population which will have some form of protection / enhanced protection within a month.

Aren’t the goalposts just being changed?

The Government would say that it isn’t – they would say huge progress has been made but that there is a benefit in waiting another month to get millions more vaccinations out and reduce the amount of transmission as a result.  It goes back to that hugely difficult balance that needs to be struck and the recognition that there are impacts either way.

It’s worth noting that no-one – the Government or the scientists – are saying that something has fundamentally changed here.  Everyone still thinks the vaccination programme is the way out of this and (thankfully) that the vaccinations still are very effective against the Indian variant.  They just want a little more time to vaccinate.

But … (i) there’s no problem in the hospitals currently.  Why are we doing this?

That’s true.  Thankfully, whilst there has been a small increase in recent days, the number of people in hospital is very low – just over 1,000 people compared to 40,000 at one point in the Winter.

Yet, throughout on coronavirus, the issue has never been what is happening today but what could happen in 2 – 6 weeks’ time.  Decisions have to be taken well in advance of problems being visible in hospital because by the time that happens then you have another 2 – 6 week lead-in time to be able to resolve it.

And that’s why you have to bring in models and estimates of what could happen.  There has obviously been lots of debate on models, and their utility and accuracy, in recent months but, ultimately, it’s the best (or least worst) way of making decisions in the absence of just waiting to see what happens (and having to deal with the impact of that). We should always be careful about models (and we shouldn’t always assume that the worst case is going to happen, as the media often sensationalise) but we do have to make decisions based on what could happen in hospitals, not on what is happening now.

But … (ii) we’ve vaccinated so many people – shouldn’t that mean it’s all ok?

We’re doing fantastically on this and we are almost at the place where every adult who wants the vaccination can have it.  That’s one of the reasons for the delay – so that, by 19th July, every adult who wants a vaccination will have been offered a first dose.

But … (iii) there’s no credible route to a zero covid Britain – so what’s going on?

We’re not trying to do zero covid.  In my view, any scientist or commentator who goes on television to advocate it, should be ignored.  We’ve got to live with this virus and there will be cases over the Summer, Winter and beyond.  This delay is about broadening the vaccination programme rather than pretending we can stop transmission.

Couldn’t we have stopped this by closing the border?

Not really, in my view.  Unless we are basically going to close our borders completely for an undetermined period, then new variants will eventually get here and spread – and the only question is how quickly that will happen.  And, given our integration with European food and medicine supply chains, it would be impossible to really close our borders without impacts on food supply and the like.  Even countries that have tried to close their borders haven’t been able to eliminate it entirely.

On the Indian variant, we know retrospectively that the first case in the UK was around 22nd February.  The Indian Government didn’t even announce its existence until mid-March.  Border controls never stop but, instead, only slow the transmission of variants around the world – as we can see now as the variant is becoming dominant all over the world.  It’s now 50% in Canada, 40% in Portugal, 60% in Russia, 10% in America etc.  Unless you close your borders to everywhere, borders are about slowing, not stopping, the transmission of variant.

Viruses mutate naturally – how can we keep doing this and what are we trying to achieve?

Yes, absolutely right.  We shouldn’t get too worried about variants in general but, instead, only when they cause a problem – their transmissibility or their ability to evade the vaccine, for example.  And, even for the first one, once we are all vaccinated that should become less of an issue, too. 

So far, the key thing is that none of the major variants have caused a problem from a vaccine efficacy perspective – and hopefully that will continue.

How many people in hospital have been vaccinated?  What’s the age demographic of the people vaccinated?  How many have co-morbidities?  How many have refused to be vaccinated?

Scientists are still working through all of this.  Most people in hospital hadn’t been vaccinated and, unlike other waves, more younger people are being admitted.  The emerging view is that the vaccines are still very effective but that getting both doses is needed to offer maximum protection.

Won’t things just be moved again in July?

We very much hope not – and the Prime Minister was pretty clear yesterday that the difference between the 21st June and 19th July was that the first was a “not before date” whereas the 19th July is now seen as a “terminus”.  There are no guarantees here but, as best we know now, 19th July is feasible and achievable – and I personally very much want it to happen.

Don’t the Government just like all of these controls and want to keep them in place?

No, I can tell you, absolutely honestly, that isn’t the case.  We all want everyone to get back to normal as quickly as possible – and the first three unlockings should demonstrate the desire for this to happen.  The challenge, as ever, remains that balance between lives and livelihoods. 

Coronavirus: the latest position

Further to the tier change today, here is my best understanding of the reasons and what our data looks like locally:

How are tiering decisions currently being made?

The decisions are still based on the five assessments that we’ve talked about before – (i) overall positive test rates in the community, (ii) positive test rates in those ‘at risk’ (ie over 60s), (iii) proportion of people testing positive, (iv) trend of increase / decrease in positive test rates and (v) impact on local health capacity.  As before, there are no specific thresholds on each of these – they are all looked at in the round before a decision is taken.

At the same time, it looks like the risk associated with this new strain of coronavirus means the experts are being much more cautious in general.  This new strain means that rates can get out of control really quickly (London went up from 270 to 590 in just a week, as an example). 

Context: the current situation across England

When I last wrote a note in mid December, England had an overall positive test rate of 195 and rising.  Based on 24/12 data, the overall positive test rate in England is now 408 and still rising.

In mid December, there were 18,038 people in hospital who had tested positive and 1,326 people on mechanical ventilation.  There are now 23,771 people in hospital (as of 28/12) – something which is going up by c900 people a day and is higher than during the first phase in Spring.  1,847 people are on mechanical ventilation. 

In terms of death rates, 612 people sadly passed away the day before I wrote my last note.  Yesterday, 981 deaths were reported (which is a few hundred higher than usual so we will have to see whether that is an unfortunate one off or the start of a more worrying trend).

So, whatever way you look at this, the situation has deteriorated significantly since the middle of December across the country.  There is a real risk around the overwhelming of the health service if rates continue to increase in the way they are (with this new strain being particularly dangerous for that).

What are our rates locally?

Taking Derbyshire as a whole, the overall number of positive tests has gone up from 160 to 224 in the last couple of weeks (+ 41%).  The other indicators are also trending the wrong direction.

At the Royal, things still remain difficult but haven’t yet deteriorated massively (thankfully).  The number of people on mechanical ventilation is 9 and has stubbornly stuck around that number for the last month.  The number of people testing positive in the Royal is starting to move up again – from the late 20s to the late 30s.  Whilst it is positive that hospitalisations haven’t shot up, our objective was to reduce the number of people in hospital to prevent any future surges exceeding capacity.  We haven’t managed to do that, I’m afraid.

And, on a district-by-district basis we are seeing problems across the county – including surges again in both Chesterfield and North East Derbyshire:

 24/12 ratesChange since last note 
  Number change% change
Amber Valley186+ 15+ 9%
Bolsover231+ 0No  change
Chesterfield185+ 51+ 38%
Derby267+ 75+ 39%
Derbyshire Dales166+ 93+ 127%
Erewash184+ 63+ 52%
High Peak159+ 28+ 17%
North East Derbyshire205+ 87+ 74%
South Derbyshire277+ 64+ 30%

So, why have we been put in tier 4?

I’m afraid it is due to the deterioration in our numbers shown above.  And, as the new variant gets nearer, the experts want to suppress the virus more so that we are ready for the pressure it is likely to place on the Royal and elsewhere. 

Why is Sheffield and South Yorkshire in tier 3 and we are in tier 4?

Using overall positive test rates, Derbyshire has a positive test rate of 224 currently.  South Yorkshire, which usually is taken together as a unit, is lower than this.  Sheffield, in particular, is significantly lower than Derbyshire – at 175. 

Ultimately, if we accept the principle of tiering, then we must accept that different areas will be in different tiers.  South Yorkshire is currently lower than us so it is reasonable they are in a lower tier – just like it was reasonable that Derbyshire was in a lower tier than South Yorkshire when the roles were reversed in some of October / early November.

In the last day, some residents have told me that it would be better for us to group with South Yorkshire, rather than Derbyshire.  Whilst it (very temporarily) looks as though Sheffield is doing better than us currently, I really would be careful before we make that case – Sheffield and South Yorkshire usually have higher rates than Derbyshire. 

Can I travel to a tier 3 area?

Whilst we must all stay at home as much as possible, you can still travel into tier 3 for work, education, caring, for your support bubble, for your childcare bubble, to seek medical help or to provide emergency assistance. 

We have much lower case rates than the south of England – why are we now in the same tier?

75% + of the country is now in tier 4.  This ranges from areas such as Redcar with case rates at 125 to bits of London and Essex which are over 1,000.  We’ve got to focus on trying to control the virus rather than seeing this as some kind of league where we compare one area with another.

There are 18 other areas (ranging from Gloucestershire to Manchester, Bolton to the New Forest), who have case rates lower than Derbyshire who have been placed in tier 4 – presumably for the same reasons (trends, geography, susceptibility to the new variant) as us.  Derbyshire is not being treated unfairly.

Is this new strain with us?

The assumption is yes – but that it will take a little time to show up in the figures.  It has been moving up the country over recent weeks and, eventually, displaces the other variants and becomes the dominant variant which is transmitted between people.  As a result, more people unfortunately are hospitalised – exactly what we are trying to protect against.

Why not just ask the vulnerable to shield and let everyone else live their lives?

It’s a good idea in principle but nowhere in the world has managed to make this work so far.  When rates of positivity go up in the parts of the population not at risk they inevitably end up with rates going up in the more vulnerable parts of the population, too.  It just isn’t practical.

Why not just do a full complete lockdown?

Throughout all of this, the desire is to try to avoid national restrictions.  We can’t rule out further national restrictions (although I hope they can be avoided) but we should try to avoid them where we can.  Tiering is a long way away from perfect but it’s better than the alternative.

Ultimately, however frustrating it is, there is no lever that Government can pull in terms of how this virus transmits.  Instead it can – as it is trying to do – respond to the circumstances in front of us and keep to the overall strategy of keeping this as low as possible until the vaccine gets out there.

If Andy Burnham was our MP, we wouldn’t be in tier 4

I’m afraid that’s not true: Greater Manchester went into Tier 4 yesterday, too.

Restrictions don’t work – so why are we keeping doing them?

Restrictions may be hugely frustrating (as they are) but they do work.  This virus has a natural R rate of around 2.5.  At the moment we are managing, through social distancing and the restrictions, to keep it closer to 1.  There are times over the last nine months when it has been below 1 and times (like now) when it is above 1 and further actions are necessary.  Yet, if we had done nothing, we would demonstrably be in a much worse position than we are now with many millions more people having got the virus than has done so. 

Would a different unit have meant anything else for us?

As residents know, my preference is that we are dealt with as a North Derbyshire unit, rather than a Derbyshire one.  Again, though, I’m not sure a North Derbyshire unit would have made much of a difference in this latest decision – the North Derbyshire rate is a little lower than Derbyshire (around 210 rather than 224).  Most areas at around 210 also went into tier 4, too.

So, what happens now?

Nothing has changed in the overall strategy – keep the virus as low as possible until the vaccine solves the issue.  I’ve been on calls for most of today on the proposals for ramping up vaccinations in Derbyshire and it still should allow restrictions to fall away in 2021. 

It will take some weeks but look out for vaccinations doing two things – (i) that the overall number of people getting coronavirus starts to reduce and (ii) the correlation between cases and hospitalisations breaks down and hospitals stop being under pressure.  That will take a little time but it will allow us to still get back to normal in 2021.

Coronavirus: What the latest data says

Later today, the Government will announce the latest decision on tiers for England and, in advance, I said I would set out the latest position for residents to be able to review.

Back at the end of November, Derbyshire was placed in tier 3 based on high numbers of cases and a high number of people in hospital. At the time, both of those numbers were reducing but they hadn’t reduced quickly enough to get into tier 2.

There are five tests which the experts are using to make a decision on which tier to put an area in:

• Overall positive test rates in the entire community;
• Positive test rates specifically in the more ‘at risk’ section of the community;
• Proportion of people testing positive;
• Trend of increase / decrease in positive test rates, and;
• Impact on local health capacity

Note on data
Just a quick couple of points on the data I am going to refer to –

1) There are no absolute, published thresholds for where an area has to be in order to be in tier 1, tier 2 and tier 3. Instead, the experts look at all of the indicators and come to a decision.

2) It may also be that the Government is more or less cautious at different times based on what they think is coming up or where the overall situation is in the country. Christmas, and the increase in mixing (and, therefore, likely increase in coronavirus transmission) is a big factor in the considerations for the next couple of weeks – we are expecting rises everywhere for a time in January.

3) There is always a lag in terms of data being available. This means that I need to use data from around 11th December to give you an idea of the current position. When making comparisons with what was happening at the last tier review (on 25th November), I will compare with the data which was available at the time (so again a few days earlier – 21st November or thereabouts).

4) Some of the data isn’t published regularly so I can’t include it at this stage. I have a meeting later today (Thursday) where I expect to receive more and will publish it then.

Context: the current situation across England
At the last tiering decision, England had an overall positive test rate of around 200 and it was reducing each day. By the beginning of December, rates had dropped to around 150. In recent days, however, that has started to climb again quickly. It is now at 195 as of 11th December and rising.

There were 17,084 people in hospital with coronavirus on 25th November and the numbers were reducing by around 200 – 300 a day. As of yesterday, there were 18,038 people in hospital and rising. (Note: this is the number of people who are testing positive in hospital, not necessarily the number of people who are ill – but it is a useful indicator nonetheless). The number of people on mechanical ventilation was 1,480 on 25th November (and reducing) and is now 1,326 (15th December) (and rising).

In terms of death rates in England, 479 deaths were announced on the day prior to the last tiering decision. 612 deaths were announced yesterday.

Unit of assessment: Derbyshire vs North Derbyshire – does it matter?
At the last tiering decision, the whole county of Derbyshire was used as the unit for our area. As a consequence, Derbyshire entered tier 3 (along with Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire nearby).

As many residents may know, since the return to tiering, I have argued that using a whole county approach is very blunt and I would prefer a smaller North Derbyshire unit to be used which better reflects natural boundaries. Individual district by district approaches (such as North East Derbyshire or Chesterfield) are too small as the rules get very confusing and lots of people cross the borders daily for work, leisure and life.

As it happened, at the last decision on tiering, the unit was pretty academic as any reasonable configuration of unit for all area – Derbyshire, North Derbyshire, Greater Chesterfield or the Sheffield City Region – all had rates which would have placed us in tier 3.

I have, and will continue, to make the case that a North Derbyshire unit should be used in the future.

So, what do the comparisons look like at the moment? Well, taking overall positive test rates, there still isn’t much of a difference between Derbyshire and North Derbyshire – and, in fact, a North Derbyshire unit is actually slightly higher than the county as a whole when looking at positive tests (whole county unit is 156 vs the average of Chesterfield / Bolsover / North East Derbyshire being 161). So, again, for the purposes of making a tier decision, the unit is going to be pretty academic. For ease of comparison, therefore, I will refer to Derbyshire as a whole to give you the data below.

Derbyshire: Positive test rates
At the last decision point, overall positive test rates in Derbyshire were around 220 and falling. They are now at 156 and rising.

Derbyshire: Positive test rates for more vulnerable communities
I am awaiting up-to-date figures on this (and expect to receive more later today) but the trends tend to follow the overall population, with a lag. I will update more on this later.

Derbyshire: proportion of people testing positive
The number of people testing positive will likely be rising based on the overall positive rates given that the amount of testing for those symptomatic remains pretty static and mass population testing in the county does not start until Monday. I will update more on this later.

Derbyshire: trend rates
There is a clear rise across Derbyshire in positive tests and, over the last seven days, county rates are up by 20%.

Underneath that number is quite a lot of variation. Looking at individual district-by-district rates:

District / Borough 11th Dec rate Change from 5th Dec (number) Change from 5th Dec (percentage)
Amber Valley 171 + 13 + 8%
Bolsover 231 + 66 + 40%
Chesterfield 134 + 1 No change
Derby 192 + 45 + 31%
Derbyshire Dales 73 – 6 – 7%
Erewash 121 – 6 – 5%
High Peak 136 + 41 + 43%
North East Derbyshire 118 + 11 + 10%
South Derbyshire 253 + 101 + 66%

Impact on the local health capacity
The number of patients in critical care in Chesterfield Royal tends to follow a similar trend line to the overall positive test rates, albeit several weeks behind.

A few weeks ago, there were around 13 – 18 people in critical care in the Royal at any one time. By the beginning of last week, when I had my last catch up with the Chief Executive, that had dropped to 9. This was positive although it remained the case that a substantial number of beds in critical care were being taken up at any one time by coronavirus patients.

Based on data issued two days ago, the number of patients in the Royal is now increasing again and is back up to 12.

Coronavirus Tiering Restrictions: Background Information on the data

Since the announcement of restrictions this morning, residents have asked a number of questions about the decision to put Derbyshire into Tier 3.  I had many of the same questions and have spent much of today working through the detail, meeting with Ministers and understanding the reasoning. Here are the answers to the key questions as I understand them.

In this note, I’m going to refer to some of the datasets that the Government is publishing. Ultimately, it is some of this data which is driving the decisions being made.  I realise that there is an extensive debate about the data itself and some people have questions and concerns. I accept that it isn’t perfect and can be mischaracterised or overemphasised (and if you want to have that discussion join me every Tuesday to debate further – get in touch by email for details).  Nonetheless, it is one of the inputs for making this decision and, for the purposes of answering some of the questions raised about why we are in tier 3, I am going to refer to it.

From my own personal perspective, of course I don’t want us to be in tier 3.  I have argued for the past week to go into tier 2, although I recognised that the data being used meant that the case wasn’t strong for doing so.  When the opportunity next arises, if the numbers are in the right place, I will of course fight to get us down in tier 2 and then, in time as it is possible, for tier 1.  Yet, the numbers have to be in the right place – and they don’t seem to be quite yet.

Why have we gone into tier 3?

Along with around one third of the country, we have gone into tier 3 because our county is one of the areas of the UK with higher rates of coronavirus.  Whilst it is true our rate is falling, it remains much higher than just a few weeks ago.

The decision was made by a committee (Covid-O) and the county as a whole is based on a range of different factors:

  • Cases in all age groups
  • Cases in over 60s
  • Rates by which cases are rising or falling
  • % who have tested positive for coronavirus
  • Pressure on the NHS in the areas

Ministers have published data on the country as a whole here: PowerPoint Presentation (  Slides 10 to 16 are the relevant slides for the East Midlands.  The summary is the following:

  • Derbyshire’s case rate remains high at around 275 (both city and county) whereas most of the areas that have gone into tier 2 have a case rate of less than 200 (slide 11)
  • Hospitalisations in the East Midlands are starting to level off but are still the highest in months (around 3,400 people were in hospital as of two days ago) (slide 15) (important to note that a subset will be seriously ill)
  • Death rates in the East Midlands remain high (slide 16) (the data in the grey area is incomplete and so will be revised upwards)

So, whilst we have made a lot of progress, we aren’t yet in the place where the numbers justify tier 2. 

Who has gone into what tier?

Almost all areas have gone into either tiers 2 or 3 at this time given the prevalence of the virus. 

Derbyshire has moved into tier 3 along with most of the East Midlands (other than Rutland and Northamptonshire) and South Yorkshire.

We’ve gone through national lockdown and yet, after all this time, we have ended up in a higher tier than we went in – why?

As I highlighted above, several datasets are being reviewed before a decision is made.  Yet, the best indicator throughout this has been positive tests rates in an area – and I will use the graph I put up on Facebook every week about positive tests in Chesterfield and North East Derbyshire to highlight the issue that we have.

Both North East Derbyshire and Chesterfield’s coronavirus numbers were incredibly low between June and late September but began to increase in early October.  In mid-October, discussions began about moving us up a tier (to tier 2) and this happened when our 7-day averages for positive tests were between 100 and 150 (the box labelled “2” in the graph above).  After that, cases in both Chesterfield and North East Derbyshire continued to rise quickly and peaked at just short of 400 in late October.  We know that decisions made about coronavirus often take weeks to filter through into the statistics (because the virus takes a number of days to become visible, to make people ill, for tests to come back etc.) so it wasn’t unusual that the rates continued to climb for sometime after we went into tier 2.

At the end of October, the Government announced that all areas would move into national restrictions from early November (where the box is labelled “N” in the graph above).  By that point, we were still at around 350 – 400 cases in our area and, if national restrictions hadn’t come in, we would almost certainly have been put in tier 3.

Since early November, our area has, thankfully been on a downward trajectory and cases have dropped from nearly 400 to around 220.  That is great news but, despite the substantial drop, the number of cases remains high – and higher than is deemed comfortable.  So, although we have made lots of progress and rates continue to drop, we are not yet back into a clear “tier 2” zone.

We are lower than the national average but have still gone into tier 3 – why?

That’s because most areas with rates near to the national average have gone into tier 3. 

Our rates are falling but we are in tier 3 – why?

It’s because they are falling from a very high base and, for now, they still remain high in absolute terms.

Why are we in Tier 3 and London isn’t?

The short answer to this one is that we have a higher rate than London – and, despite some of the misinformation on social media, Derbyshire has been consistently been higher than London for a number of weeks.  The average number of positive tests on a 7-day period in London has been between 150 and 200 since the beginning of the month.  In Derbyshire (excluding the city), it has been more than double that at points and, although we making real progress and the gap has narrowed, it’s still higher than the capital.

The North is being treated unfairly – why?

It’s not. I know there are lots of comments going around on social media (some using some pretty misleading data) about what’s happening.

The approach being used is based on the numbers and the blunt reality is, unfortunately, that rates are higher in the North and some of the Midlands than in the South. My experience of Government is that it tries hard to be fair to all parts of the country and I think we have made good progress in getting our share in the last three years.

And, looking at the numbers underneath these decisions on coronavirus tiers, I cannot see any unfairness here. Where areas have high rates of coronavirus, they have generally gone into higher tiers – irrespective of whether they are in the North, South or Midlands. Similarly, where there are lower rates, they have gone into the lower tiers – irrespective of where they are. That’s why, along with us, Kent, Slough, Bristol and Medway are in tier 3. And it’s why, York, North Yorkshire, Warrington, Cheshire, Cumbria and Rutland are all in tier 2, despite not being in the South.

Why are we being dealt with on a county, rather than District basis?

This is a very fair question. Yesterday, the whole county of Derbyshire was taken as a single unit in order to make the decision about tiering. I don’t agree with that approach.

Different units have been used at different points in the pandemic (ranging from individual Districts to groups of Districts to whole counties to regions and then, as is happening currently, nationwide). There is no “right” answer here although my personal view is that we should avoid country and regional restrictions as they are, most of the time, too broad. Equally, I think individual towns or villages are probably too small for us to set different rules. I think it would become pretty unmanageable, quickly, if Ashover had different rules to Clay Cross which had different rules to North Wingfield.

That said, I do think that county is too big a unit to use yesterday – and I argued against it. Dronfield is very different from Swadlincote or Ashbourne from Ashover and I think it could, in theory, mean that one part of Derbyshire is kept in a higher tier than it should be in the future.

As it happens, though, looking at the numbers yesterday, it was unlikely that a smaller or different unit would have resulted in a different outcome. North East Derbyshire District and Chesterfield Borough remain above 200, a combination of North East Derbyshire + Chesterfield + Bolsover is higher (because Bolsover has an average of around 300 and so drives up the numbers). And, if we were to make the case we were part of Sheffield, we would have been in tier 3 aswell I’m afraid.

I think a “North Derbyshire” unit of some sort would be the best to use and I will continue to make the case in the coming weeks for that.

But parts, particularly rural parts, of North East Derbyshire are very low – so why can’t they be exempt?

This tiering decision has been taken on a county basis, rather than on individual Districts.  My own personal view is that the county is too big an area to use and I would personally prefer us to go back to a smaller unit (perhaps a North Derbyshire area or equivalent).  I have highlighted that multiple times to the East Midlands teams, the Department and the Minister.

I’m afraid, though, there are issues across our area and there isn’t any area, even rural, where there aren’t issues.  Here are figures from a few days ago which break down rates across North East Derbyshire:

  • Arkwright & Temple Normanton: 350 (13/11), 123 (20/11)
  • Dronfield Woodhouse & Holmesfield: 343 (13/11), 179 (20/11)
  • Clay Cross: 294 (13/11), 612 (20/11)
  • North Wingfield & Pilsley: 292 (13/11), 217 (20/11)
  • Ashover & New Tupton: 284 (13/11), 232 (20/11)
  • Eckington West & Coal Aston: 252 (13/11), 45 (20/11)
  • Dronfield South & Gosforth Lane: 230 (13/11), 176 (20/11)
  • Dronfield Town & Unstone: 225 (13/11), 146 (20/11)
  • Wingerworth & Holymoorside: 216 (13/11), 201 (20/11)
  • New Whittington, Hollingwood & Barrow Hill: 216 (13/11), 292 (20/11)
  • Grassmoor & Holmewood: 201 (13/11), 241 (20/11)
  • Staveley & Norbriggs: 189 (13/11), 101 (20/11)

The good news is that rates do seem to be coming down in more areas than going up (with some exceptions) although data, at this relatively low level, does tend to bounce about a bit.

And, whilst there is some variation in different parts of North East Derbyshire (and I accept that these configurations aren’t brilliant in terms of separating out easily the rural versus non-rural parts of the constituency), even with the general reduction in rates in most places it remains the case that villages and towns in very close proximity to each other have high positive test rates.

So, what does this mean – are we still in lockdown?

No; from next Wednesday morning, restrictions will be loosened in North East Derbyshire and Chesterfield.  Shops will re-open.  Gyms will return.  Churches will allow communal worship again.  Life will take a step back closer to normal.

What is true is that there will still be significant restrictions on what we do and, in particular, on some businesses, particularly hospitality.  I’ve spent much of the last few days talking to businesses about this and recognise the acute difficulty this is going to cause over the next few weeks.  I hope those businesses will continue to make use of all of the support that the Government has offered and will look at where they can still operate in the current restrictions.  Hopefully, if our numbers continue to trend in the right direction, we can get into a lower tier in the coming weeks and allow hospitality (and other sectors) some freedom.

Where do we go from here and how do we get out?

These tiers, subject to a parliamentary vote, will come into force next Wednesday morning.  They will be reviewed again in two weeks’ time and, if the numbers are in the right place, I will be the first to make a clear case to get us down a tier.

Bluntly, we need all of the indicators listed above to be in a better place to make a case to reduce the tier next time or in January. Positive test numbers need to be lower as do number of people in hospital. All of these numbers can be influenced by what we do (although, I accept, it takes some time for the results of your efforts to feed through). Please keep going and doing everything you can to reduce the transmission and prevalence of the virus.

And, the ultimate solution will be the vaccine and mass testing which will come in the New Year / Spring.

Why don’t you just vote against the tiering system and us going into tier 3?

I know lots of people are frustrated about where we are and I share that frustration, too.  I wish we weren’t here and I want this virus to go away and let us get back to a normal life – and it will, hopefully soon.  Yet, in the meantime I have a judgement to make, listening to constituents, about what to do.  Whilst I don’t like any of this, I do accept there is a problem and I do accept that it is reasonable and proportionate to, on a temporary basis until 2021 when the vaccine is available, make changes to how we live our lives. 

I’m afraid I respectfully disagree with those who believe that coronavirus either (i) isn’t harmful (it is) or (ii) that it can be dealt with solely by personal choice (I absolutely wish it could but I’m afraid the last few months have shown us the contrary).  I’ve spoken about this in Parliament on several occasions: Covid-19: 28 Sep 2020: House of Commons debates – TheyWorkForYou and Covid-19: 11 Nov 2020: House of Commons debates – TheyWorkForYou

So, given a vaccine is coming, I accept that the Government does have a role to play and that some restrictions (temporarily) are proportionate.  As a result, and given there is no clear cut alternative with an acceptable level of risk, I will support further measures being taken (particularly restrictions that take us away from national, blanket restrictions).  I know many of you agree and thank you for your support and feedback.  Some of you are implacably opposed to restrictions of any sort and we have spent many hours, over many weeks, discussing and debating those points.  I respect your position and I hope that you respect mine.  Some of you remain unsure and, if that is you, I have a weekly meeting to help and to talk this all through on a Tuesday – please email if you want to join.

Why don’t we just stop testing if this causing so many issues?

It won’ solve the problem, I’m afraid. Stopping testing will reduce any chance of us getting on top of the issue (and will disregard the progress we have made in recent weeks). Also, it wouldn’t help us with the tiering assessment because stopping testing won’t stop the virus transmitting (in fact it would probably make it worse) and the data on hospital admissions would still, eventually, show a problem and prevent a re-evaluation.

What will you do next?

I’ll continue to make the case for North Derbyshire to come out of tier 3 at the earliest opportunity.  I’ll also continue to highlight issues that I see with the rules – in the last few weeks, I have highlighted concerns about churches, swimming, tennis, gyms golf and we have had some success on those.  I will also continue to highlight the concerns of hospitality given the very profound impact on what the sector.

Will this affect Christmas?

No – Christmas is being dealt with by a different set of temporary rules.  From 23rd to 27th December, whatever tier we happen to be in then, there will be special Christmas rules across the country which will allow us all to mix with up to three households.  As I understand it, no tiering decision will change that.  You can find out more about Christmas here: Making a Christmas bubble with friends and family – GOV.UK (

The Trade Bill – busting some myths

A number of residents have been in touch in recent days regarding the votes last Monday on the trade bill and the (mis)representations of that vote which they may have seen on social media and in the press.  Given the level of interest, and those misrepresentations, I wanted to offer some more detail about what happened and why certain MPs, including myself, voted in the way we did.

Apparently, according to some reports and some of the emails I received, on Monday night, I:

  • put the NHS on the table in a future trade deal;
  • agreed that food standards could be significantly lowered in a future trade deal;
  • agreed that animal welfare standards could be significantly lowered in a future trade deal, and;
  • to top if off, voted to stop Parliament having a say on any future trade deal.

If it is true, that was quite the night on Monday that we had.  Look at what those terrible Tories have done again: swiping the nice food on my plate, trying to be mean to animals, removing my free health care and kowtowing to [insert world leader who people don’t like here].

The problem, though, is that none of the statements above are true.

None of them.

They might make punchy headlines or attention grabbing social media posts but every single one of those statements are false.  And it just highlights one of the problems with how some people, organisations and ideological groups twist, mislead and misrepresent – and it needs to stop.

Here’s some of the (many) reasons and problems why all of the commentary is wrong.  The explanations may not conveniently fit on a tweet or a pithy Facebook headline but that is often the issues – the misrepresentation can fit in a sentence whilst the actual, true explanation takes longer to explain:

Problem #1: The bill wasn’t even about future trade deals at all

What’s the thing that connects all of these accusations together?  That all of them are about future trade deals.

And the first problem on that is that the bill on Monday wasn’t even about future trade deals.

That bill, the Trade Bill, was not about deals that we may strike with America, Australia, India or any other country in the future.  It wasn’t about what things might or might not be acceptable, what our strategy is on or how we build closer relationships around the world over the long-term.

Instead, it was about something much more mundane than that; tidying up our legislative framework in readiness for when we leave the European Union transition period at the end of the year.  A lot of Parliament’s work currently is to ensure that we have functioning legal frameworks in the future, particularly as we take back control and powers from the EU.  It was, in the parliamentary parlance, a “continuity bill” – i.e. making sure we can continue to do what we are largely already doing after the transition period, rather than particularly change it at this stage.

So, the actual issues we were dealing with were not the NHS, food standards or animal welfare but, instead, the following:

  • making sure that we roll over existing trade deals, signed by the EU on our behalf in previous years, so we still have those relationships as an independent nation state;
  • making sure we are still part of a global agreement (the Agreement on Government Procurement) that we are currently members of through the EU but which we need to join independently as we take back powers over trade;
  • creating a UK Trade Remedies Authority to replace what the EU does for us today in case any country around the world starts competing unfairly, and;
  • allowing HMRC to collect and share data on trade in the future.

So when some MPs, mainly in the Labour and Green parties, tried to propose amendments dealing with how we negotiate future deals to a bill which doesn’t primarily deal with them, we didn’t agree them.  That seems pretty sensible to me – if a bill is about something else, we need to focus on that, particularly when the issues brought up are being dealt with elsewhere and by other means.

Problem #2: We’ve already confirmed that we will protect the NHS

And on that very point, completely separate to this argument this week, the UK Government has repeatedly already confirmed our approach on the NHS.  Here’s some examples:

“The NHS will not be on the table” (UK’s negotiating mandate for a US-UK free trade agreement, p.5)

“The Government has been clear that when we are negotiating trade agreements, we will protect the National Health Service (NHS)” (UK’s negotiating mandate for an Australia-UK free trade agreement, p.5)

“The Government has been clear that when we are negotiating free trade agreements, we will protect the National Health Service (NHS)” (UK’s negotiating mandate for a New Zealand-UK free trade agreement, p.5)

“The Government has been clear that when we are negotiating trade agreements, we will protect the National Health Service (NHS).  Our objectives reinforce this.” (UK’s negotiating mandate for a Japan-UK free trade agreement, p.5)

“The NHS is not on the table.  The price the NHS pays for drugs is not on the table.” (Secretary of State for International Trade, House of Commons, 17 June 2020)

And there are literally dozens of other confirmations, too.  The Government has made its policy really clear here.

At the same time, I would just caution constituents about the direction that some people seem to want to push the wider debate here.  We can be quite clear that the NHS is not going to be sold off (as we have been) whilst still, at the same time, be willing to take ideas from other countries and work with them where it is in our interests.  I want to find out how other countries are doing things that we can learn from, how we can improve treatments to make more people in the UK better and how we can learn from research, development and treatments being developed elsewhere.  We must not shut our borders like some ideologically-driven shrill voices seem to be suggest and I don’t want to be an MP that says to people in North East Derbyshire that makes it harder for them to have treatment, to benefit from other research or slows down access a new drug just because it was developed outside of the United Kingdom.  That won’t help anyone in the long-term and could, instead, do some real harm.  We can absolutely ensure that the NHS is not for sale whilst still wanting to cooperate with other countries in the future.

Problems #3 and #4: We’ve already confirmed that we will have high food and welfare standards

Equally, on food and animal welfare standards, the same points apply as the NHS.  We have confirmed in all of the mandates we have set out for negotiations underway with other countries that we seek high food and animal welfare standards.  You can find dozens of confirmations in those documents and in statements to Parliament by Ministers.

Problem #5: Beware of unintended consequences

Another problem is that some of the proposals put forward in Parliament on Monday night had potentially significant unintended consequences.  Even if put aside my issue that this bill wasn’t about future trade deals for a minute, and even if I had been willing in principle to legislate on a subject which wasn’t part of the scope of the laws we were debated, I still wouldn’t have voted for some of these proposals given the way they were written and the potential implications they had.

Take, for example, one of the proposals that some MPs wanted to be added to the Trade Bill: new clause 11.  That clause states very clearly that agricultural goods would not be allowed to enter the UK in future unless they were produced to standards “as high as, or higher than, standards which at the time of import applied under UK law” relating to animal health and welfare, protection of the environment, food safety, hygiene and traceability, and plant health.

That amendment looks innocuous and acceptable at first glance.  Yet, it actually has the potential to have huge implications for our existing trading relationships, never mind the ones we might or might not strike in the future.

If the UK passes a law which says that the production of agricultural goods absolutely everywhere in the world must be at the level of what the UK decides then we aren’t actually dealing with potential future trade but, instead, potentially impacting the trade which we already do – and which no-one has raised an issue about and which were negotiated on our behalf by the EU.  The Minister on Monday evening in the Commons highlighted the potential unforeseen consequence as part of a slightly broader point here:

“the Opposition think they are talking about chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef, but are they actually able to look people in the eye and say that cocoa from the Ivory Coast has been produced to at least as high environmental standards as in the UK?  Are they able to say that beans from Egypt are being produced to at least as high labour standards?  Are they able to say that tea from Sri Lanka comes with the same high labour standards?  I think they are putting a lot of this country’s existing trade at risk.”

Problem #6:  Parliament already has the ability to scrutinise future trade deals

Contrary to some of the statements and myths, it simply isn’t true that Parliament doesn’t have the ability to scrutinise or vote on future trade deals when it comes forward.  Parliament already is able to review, scrutinise, vote on and, for all intents and purposes, stop the implementation of trade deals should they wish through the Constitutional Reform & Governance Act (2010).

At the point in the future when the Government has negotiated a draft trade deal, they will have to lay that draft treaty in front of Parliament and give MPs or Lords 21 days to review it.  Parliament is free to say that the treaty shouldn’t be ratified and, should it wish, can repeatedly delay that ratification – indefinitely if it wants to.  In addition, if a treaty requires changes to domestic legislation in order for the UK to comply with the terms of the negotiation, then that legislation would need to be voted on in Parliament and MPs, again, are free to reject the changes if they so wish.

I absolutely accept that there is a debate about the best way for Parliament to be involved on reviewing trade deals and I know that others take different views about whether existing processes are sufficient at the current time.  Yet, it is not true to suggest Parliament does not have the ability to review, discuss, debate, vote on and, should they wish, delay and practically stop implementation.


So, after all of the noise since Monday night, where are we?

Well, on Monday morning the UK Government was committed ensuring the NHS wasn’t sold off, committed to high food standards in any future trade deal, committed to high animal welfare standards in any future trade deal and there was a law that had already been in place for ten years which ensured scrutiny and oversight of trade deals.

Then Monday night came along and MPs, such as myself, voted on a continuity bill which wasn’t supposed to be about future trade deals.

And, on Tuesday morning, nothing changed.  The UK Government remained committed to ensuring the NHS wasn’t sold off, high food standards n any future trade deal, high animal welfare standards in any future trade deal and the law remains in place still allowing scrutiny of any trade deals which the Government signs by Parliament.

Instead, what has actually happened is that a number of groups and people, some with pretty crude political and ideological motives, have caused unnecessary concern and anxiety by misrepresenting what happened.  And this is happening, currently, every few weeks – as certain organisations and parts of the media play games with the Parliamentary process and what we are doing.  We had the same histrionics and same media outlets accuse us of voting to lower food standards over the Agriculture Bill a number of weeks ago as we did this week over the Trade Bill.  Some of the press stories and posts could almost have been cut-and-paste word-for-word statements.  And, each time, these bills are about something else and the Government’s intention and approach do not change irrespective of what is alleged.

For me, putting aside all of the silly political game playing (as frustrating as it is), the heart of this issue is the UK becoming comfortable again with controlling trade policy.  The EU has dealt with our trading relationships with other countries since 1973.  It has signed trade deals on our behalf (too slowly, in my view).  It has negotiated on behalf of us.  We have forgotten how trade works and the need for a proper conversation about how it works.

For the first time in half a century we are taking back control over our trade policy.  We are learning again, as a country, how trade negotiations work, how things take time, how we need to allow space for proposals to be brought forward.  And, in the interim, a lot of loud voices are trying to skew the debate, claim things are happening that aren’t and scare people about trade.  I make no bones about it: I’m a proud free trader.  Trade deals have lifted billions of people out of poverty around the world in recent decades, brought countries closer together, created wealth, generated jobs and helped the United Kingdom prosper.  Thousands of jobs in North East Derbyshire alone depend up trade.  And we can create thousands more in the future if we can strike good, mutually beneficial trade deals with all of the countries the EU wasn’t able to do in previous decades.  We shouldn’t be afraid of those potential deals.  Of course we need to have red lines, to debate extensively and have clear objectives.  At the same time, we also need to be willing to make compromises and find agreements which are mutually beneficial and agreeable to countries over the long-term – but without crossing the red lines that we have.

So, next time you see an accusatory headline about trade policy on Facebook or Twitter, be sceptical.  If it accuses Conservative MPs of basically eating babies, then it’s probably not true.  There’s always an explanation for everything.  Our system does not, never has and, frankly, could not, deal with everything through law alone.  There is a process in place on tidying up our domestic legislation (like on the Trade and Agriculture bill) to get us ready for the end of the transition period and there is a separate process underway on striking future trade deals.  Let’s let both of them continue, based on the explanation above.  It’s hugely disappointing that Labour, the Greens, the Lib Dems, certain campaign organisations (38 Degrees and the like) and many parts of the media continue to play games on trade policy but, as an MP, I can’t stop people doing that if they want to.  What I can do, however, is vote on laws in a sensible way, approaching them based on the scope that was intended and recognising that the Government has already made strong commitments on many of the issues under debate.

And, finally, one of the big issues that all of these debates highlight is the propensity for misinformation and misrepresentation across social media and the press.  I’ll come back to this in the coming weeks as we need to debate and discuss that more as a constituency.  Yet, just because a screaming headline makes strong claims doesn’t mean it is right.  And just because an explanation takes more than a single tweet (as this one did today on the Trade Bill), doesn’t mean it isn’t valid.

Dominic Cummings

Thank you to everyone who has been in touch to let me know their views on Dominic Cummings; I’m grateful for everyone who has written to me and spelt out their views so plainly, whatever those views happen to be.

From reading every one of those emails (although not, yet, having been able to get back to everyone), it’s obvious that people are very concerned about what has happened.  Residents have highlighted their real frustration and, in some cases, anger.  Many have told me about sacrifices they have made and difficulties experienced over the last two months to help tackle coronavirus.  I understand all of that and, on a personal level, I have had many of those same difficulties and challenges.  Like so many others, I didn’t see most of my family for two months.  Many people I know have caught the virus and I couldn’t help or support them, other than down the phone, when they needed comfort.  Very sadly, an extended family member of mine passed away of coronavirus a few weeks ago.  It’s been grim – and so many people have had much worse experiences than I have.

So, when people asked my view on the Dominic Cummings situation, I wanted to wait to give you a proper, considered view. And, after considering it over the weekend, I’m going to go through my thinking in detail.

Firstly, for those wanting a short and sharp answer: I’m afraid I cannot give you one.  I didn’t have the evangelical certainty of some early on Saturday that he had unquestionably done the wrong thing.  I refuse to draw an immediate and snap conclusion, based on inadequate information, rumour and innuendo.  And, even now, twenty-four hours after the press conference yesterday, I remain of the view this is a finely balanced issue and one that deserves more thought than some press and commentators have offered.

Yesterday, Dominic Cummings told us his side of the story.  That was absolutely necessary and the right thing to do. A series of charges (many unfair) had been levelled at him and we needed to hear his explanation.  I’m glad that he made his statement and, as he said himself, it would have been better if he had done it sooner.

Secondly is the question of whether what he did was reasonable.  From what I can see, there is a pretty balanced judgement to be made here.  He wanted to protect his child in the event that he and his wife became incapacitated.  I don’t fault him on that.  Should he have done all of the things he told us about yesterday?  In hindsight, maybe not.  Other people may take different views but I saw someone yesterday whose ultimate answer – that he tried to do the best for his family – was pretty straightforward even if the underlying detail was tortuous and involved.

Over the past day, I’ve tried to ask myself a single question: what I would have done?  The honest answer to that remains, still, that I don’t know.  I can see why some people would have made the trip and I can also understand why others wouldn’t.  That isn’t fence-sitting; it’s a recognition that everyone’s real lives are complex and it’s often impossible to put ourselves in the shoes of people making difficult judgements. We’ve all tried our hardest to fit into these restrictive and difficult guidelines for the sake of everyone but, ultimately, sixty five million lives will never go neatly and continuously into such constraints.

Taking Cummings out of the equation for a moment, where I’m much clearer is that the guidelines did include the ability for people to take other decisions in extenuating circumstances.  Most of my job over the last two months has been to try to help people whose lives don’t fit neatly into the guidelines.  I have spent hours on long phone calls, often with other MPs of all parties, going through a myriad of scenarios that the regulations could never hope to cover; returning from university when you weren’t supposed to travel, helping relocate to another part of the country for important, very serious personal circumstances, family members in real need a long way away, coming back into the country, not coming back into the country, visiting a second home for animal welfare issues and so on and so on.  The list has been long and varied.  It could easily have included a resident with the same question as Cummings.  And, each time, I’ve tried to help work through the guidance, identify the options and help people decide how to approach it.  Sometimes people have had to do things using one of the exemptions.  Other times they haven’t.

I’ve never been a politician who throws stones and I try to be relatively temperate in my judgement.  People are generally trying to do the right thing and, where politicians (or advisers) are concerned, they are mostly in it for the right reasons.  In my three years in politics, I haven’t really seen “one rule for one and one for another”.  I’ve seen people mostly do the right thing and sometimes not.  That’s human nature.

So, if you want me to condemn someone on the basis of a finely balanced judgement that he has made then, given the information I have, I’m not going to do it.  I’m going to accept that he was trying to do the best he could in difficult circumstances.  He knows, because he told us yesterday, that some people will agree and some people won’t.  And I’m going to continue to believe that most  people do the right thing most of the time – not because they were told to by Government or because a letter came through the door (as important as they were).  They did the right thing because it’s what people do.

The British people are a fair-minded lot.  And I can totally understand why they are frustrated at the moment.  Yet, being fair also means being willing to give people the benefit of the doubt at times, even if the judgement call could have gone either way.  That’s not me towing the party line or trotting out what the whips have told me.  I’ve gone against my party on enough issues that I hope my constituents know that I try to think things through.  And on this one, I’m sorry but I can’t, based on what I know at the moment, join the frenzy to condemn.  And neither am I going to condemn the Irish Prime Minister, the scientist on SAGE, the Scottish Medical Officer, Labour MPs or anyone else that made a value judgement or, in some cases, what looks like a debatable decision. People are human. My starting point is they are all trying to do their best and they do the right thing the vast majority of the time.

And, frankly, like I said on Facebook Live on Sunday, I don’t want us to go down a road as a country where we are deciding what was acceptable or not in every crevice of people’s personal lives.  Sometimes there are judgements to be made which are balanced.  That’s not me excusing Cummings.  It’s me saying I don’t think we really want to be in a political world where we are litigating how many times someone stopped for petrol or the toilet habits of a four-year old.  We can do better than that.

Now, I know that for some people this won’t be enough.  And to those, I say, in advance, I’m sorry. Yet, I’m not sure some of those with the racing certainties of recent days are actually looking to discuss. They made their mind up at the start or, in the case of a few, long before the story even came out.

For many others, they may remain sceptical after days of stories. Some of you just aren’t convinced and, even if you were, you still find it concerning. And I get that. We’re in a difficult time and our frustrations are high at the moment. I hope, in time, we can look back and say that, even if you still think he made the wrong decision, that you can see how someone might have come to that conclusion.

So, based on what I know, I’m not going to condemn Dominic for wrestling with the guidance and trying to work out what to do his best in difficult circumstances. So many of my constituents have gone through the same agonising questions. When they came to ask me for advice, I tried to help rather than condemn or criticise. It was the right thing to do then and it’s the right thing to do now. Lives are complicated. Decisions are difficult. Judgements are balanced. I think most people will get that, if not now, in time. And, as a politician, I want to tell it as I see it, even if sometimes some people don’t agree with me. It might have been easier to write a one-liner here that he should resign. But, genuinely, based on what I currently know, I don’t think he should. And you elected me to think through these things. You might not agree with my judgement on this one. But I hope you can see that I’ve at least thought about it and accept that, on balance, it’s a legitimate conclusion to draw.

Fracking – next steps

On 4th November 2019, the Government announced a significant change to its fracking policy through the introduction of an immediate moratorium on further fracking within England. The details of this policy announcement can be found here:

Fracking has been one of the biggest issues in North East Derbyshire for the entire time I have been a Member of Parliament. The proposal to drill at Bramleymoor Lane has cast a long shadow over our area and the overwhelming majority of people both close to the proposed site, and across the constituency as a whole, remain opposed to it. Back in 2017 when I became your MP, I promised I would campaign against the application and seek to stop it happening. Since then, I have done just that and have also been one of the MPs who has led the wider fight against fracking in the last Parliamentary session. This has included organising debates, meeting with Ministers, submitting dozens of questions, establishing a new Parliamentary group to monitor the impact of fracking, inviting experts to Parliament to discuss the matter, convincing an independent watchdog to investigate, introducing new legislation to stop earthquakes and speaking against the Bramleymoor Lane application on multiple occasions.

I strongly welcomed the decision by the Government to change policy in November. As I have said to residents over many months whilst we fought this battle, getting any Government to change key elements of their policy is difficult and akin to turning around a supertanker in mid-flow – it takes time, patience and a need to properly engage with the arguments to win people around. I always thought it would be a challenge but the weight of evidence, to me, seemed to point to fracking not being realistic or practical within the United Kingdom and I thought, over time, we could make a strong case. I am very glad to see the policy change.

More than that, I think the wording in the written ministerial statement is very helpful to those of us who have opposed fracking. Whilst the Government has been clear it will be led by the evidence, it has also stated explicitly that the attempts to frack last year in Lancashire, and the consequences of that attempt, were “clearly unacceptable” and that the moratorium will be maintained unless and until new evidence is presented. It also completely abandons the plans to loosen the planning rules around fracking, or determine fracking applications centrally, which was another key part of our campaigns last year.

During the General Election campaign, fracking was discussed extensively, including at many of the hustings that we held around the constituency. As will happen in an election campaign, there was a significant amount of political knockabout and fracking was caught in the crossfire of political point scoring. At a time when we had largely achieved our objective to stop fracking, new litmus tests were created by those seeking to differentiate their positions. That, I guess, is inevitable in politics! Notwithstanding that, my position has always been and will remain the same: that I oppose Bramleymoor Lane (and will fight it) and that I do not think fracking works for the UK as a whole (and I will fight it).

A number of residents have been in touch since the election to ask about what happens now with fracking. Well, from my perspective – and for what it is worth – I think the Government is absolutely genuine about the moratorium and about changing policy. I know that some concerns were raised during the election campaign about whether the moratorium might prove to be temporary and that it may return soon after. As someone who has campaigned extensively in Parliament on this, I absolutely do not think that is the case. Of course, there are a range of opinions down in Westminster on fracking. Some, like me, think it is a bad idea. Others are willing to try it. There is nothing inherently wrong with that latter position, although I strongly disagree with it. Whether they conceptually think it is a good idea or not, most people now, however, realise that fracking is not a policy which seems practical and are supportive of the moratorium. I would expect and hope that energy policy discussions move on to other issues rather than trying to unpick the moratorium in the future.

So, in this new Parliamentary term, I wanted to set out my view on where we are and where we go next. Firstly, I take the Government at its word that it has stopped fracking in the United Kingdom and it will not change that policy without compelling new evidence. I think the argument against fracking has been won and that the many thousands of residents and campaigners who have fought to change policy have really achieved something here. As a result, we need to move the campaign from one of activism to vigilance – that we have largely achieved our aims and that we now need to keep watching this issue to make sure that there are no problems in the future and that the current moratorium is strong enough not to be circumvented.

In North East Derbyshire, therefore, I will continue to work with our local anti-fracking groups to support them in areas where we can work together. I am also continuing to monitor the current planning application for Bramleymoor Lane with Derbyshire County Council until the permissions to explore run out on the 16th of August 2021.

And down in Parliament, I will re-constitute the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Impact of Shale Gas so that it is ready and available in case there are any issues in the future (which I hope there won’t be). We will hold an Annual General Meeting in the coming months and then will organise meetings as needed.

I also think there are a couple of points to pick up on the moratorium which need further focus. The announcement back in November said that the Oil and Gas Authority, the body charged with reviewing this area by Government, would continue to put together evidence on how fracking works. I want to understand what additional evidence is being put together by interested parties like the OGA. I am currently in correspondence with them and will come back shortly. And, secondly, we need to make sure that it is clear that, given there is no future for fracking, there is no point in exploratory drilling. That is something I am working on at the moment and, again, will report back when I have further information.

All told, I want to tie up any loose ends and make sure that fracking has permanently and absolutely gone away. Ultimately, the proof on that will be time and little else – so we will be vigilant in the coming months as the moratorium beds in and the policy recedes, hopefully, into the distance.

Finally, I just also wanted to address one other point that a small number of residents have been in touch about – that of a ban. I know that there are some in the anti-fracking community who are unwilling to stop the campaign until a ban is put in place. I respect their positions and their desire to continue but, from my perspective, I am unsure that is a good use of time or, practically, changes anything on a day-to-day basis even if it did come into practice. Most campaigners have accepted that the decisions by other Governments, such as the Scottish Government, to stop fracking are the end of the matter – and they were moratoriums not bans. If it is sufficient in Scotland, I think it is sufficient in England. Whilst I wish those who want to pursue a ban well, I think my focus is best maintained on the points I have raised above.

Of course, if there was any likelihood of fracking coming back (which I hope and expect there won’t be), then, as I said in the hustings during the election campaign, I would do whatever was necessary to try to stop that including a ban if necessary. For the moment, however, a ban would not change anything on the ground and my preference is to work on ensuring the moratorium framework is strong.

We’ve made extraordinary progress over the past few years on fracking. Eighteen months ago, the Government were pushing ahead with fracking across the country and were planning on loosening planning rules to help it achieve that. Fast forward to January 2020 and we are now in a place where the policy has been reversed, the Government have a presumption against fracking, a moratorium stops fracking happening anywhere in England and the plans to loosen the planning rules have been abandoned. That is huge progress and thank you again for all of your support and help in getting us to that place. We have really achieved something here – and the campaign now moves into a different phase. I will continue to be vigilant to ensure fracking does not return and to work on the outstanding points described above.

Together, we have achieved a big win here. Thank you again for everything you did. North East Derbyshire said it didn’t want fracking. And now, thanks to everyone’s efforts, it won’t happen.