Alex Phillips

It sometimes feels at the moment like the world is a dangerously depressing place.

Fires continue to rage, air pollution is still killing thousands of Brits a year and many people in wealthy countries like our own continue to live well below the breadline. Throw on top of that the prospect of another decade of Tory rule and an increasingly insular worldview post-Brexit, and it’s enough to want to go home, throw the duvet over your head and hibernate.

But a trip to Milton Keynes last weekend offered me a real glimmer of hope in an otherwise dark sky.

A packed out day visiting community gardens, cafes and eco roof projects proved that there was a reason to be optimistic; being in Strasbourg and Brussels, I’m reminded everyday that much of what I hold dear is coming to an end. We’re leaving the EU, potentially losing all of the legal securities surrounding the environment, animal welfare and workers rights that our membership entails.

Being back in my constituency, however, was a massive wake up call: there are so many positive things happening in the South East and we have a real opportunity to be the greenest place in Britain – if not further afield.

Last week, I travelled to Horse Hill Protection Camp, in Surrey, to meet with activists protesting against the planned construction of more oil wells. Over candlelight and cake, we chatted about the project and about their determination to stand up for the local environment. I left feeling motivated and grateful to live somewhere with so many selfless, passionate and engaged people.

Earlier on that day, I visited the South East Green Party’s Winter Warmer to talk about how we can help councils to implement a Green New Deal. My work in Brussels has been largely focused around how to push for a genuine Green New Deal on a national and international level so it was great to find such a receptive audience who generated their own ideas about how a Green New Deal might work on a local level.

A Green New Deal is about working out ways to improve the quality of life for all, in every way. The ‘greenest’ solution should also be the easiest, and it should cater for the poorest first and foremost. Renationalising rail, for example, and suddenly railway fares would drop and more trains would run – creating more well-paid, secure jobs as we work to electrify more lines across the UK. And Milton Keynes is a fantastic example of how a thriving metropolis can put a Green New Deal into practice. Creating a ‘green city’ isn’t just about planting more trees or recycling more effectively. It’s about changing the way in which society functions.

I visited Milton Keynes this weekend and could barely squeeze in all the inspiring projects that I wanted to see. The day began at Camphill Communities’ solar power, pioneered by Wolverton Community Energy, before stopping at the MK Community Fridge, Green Roof project and the area’s first zero waste shop. Lunch was held at Truby’s cafe – a place run by British Muslim women for the wider community in an attempt to break down barriers and bring people in our very divided society together. I wanted to learn more from the real people of the town that are leading the way to this cleaner, greener, better future. Community is about people-first policies and Green politics is about making life easier and better for people now and for future generations.

It’s been the honour of a lifetime to have represented the South East on the European stage, and I’ve been blown away by how proactive and forward thinking many of my constituents are when it comes to socially Green ideas and environmental projects.

The region is home to 12 million people – spanning from rural towns in Oxfordshire to coastal communities in Kent and plenty of city folk in between. It’s a massive area with massive challenges. Dover residents are worried about the practical implications of Brexit on their front line town, while those up in Oxford are still battling against the dreaded Oxford to Cambridge Expressway.

Despite the fact that Surrey and West Sussex County Councils have both declared a state of climate emergency, disturbing projects have been given the go-ahead. In Crawley, plans for an expansion of Gatwick airport are still on the table while in Surrey, the council has approved plans to build four more oil wells at Horse Hill. It’s outrageous to think that at a time when we desperately need to scale back our use of fossil fuels, companies are being given the green light to drill for more oil.

Aside from the moral implications of burning oil as fuel, local residents have complained of earthquake tremors linked to the project – only to be ignored. And at a time when we should be trying to persuade people to ditch their cars and use rail, it seems madness for the government to be pouring funds into road building projects.

But we have so much to be proud of here in the South East. I know that I couldn’t have chosen a better place to settle to have my family and forge my career, and whatever Brexit throws at us, I think we have a real opportunity to continue leading the charge on the UK’s green revolution. There are people who really care about our communities and our environment and they’re busy holding local and national governments to account and putting words into action. This is truly inspiring.

Now is our chance to stand firm and lead by example. Thank you for everything you’ve done for your community so far.

Image credit: YouTube screengrab