As I write this we are moving in to a new stage where lock down rules are further reduced and for the first time in months we can get out with a few others and enjoy the early summer sunshine. Shops across the county are starting to re-open and businesses across our nation are holding their breath in the hope that things will start to return to normal.

I was out last weekend along with thousands of others and was struck by the return to the noise and business of normal life. The sky, forests and beaches were no longer the preserve of wheeling buzzards and skylarks-but drones, jet-ski’s, surf boards and planes. Unless you drove past a restaurant or a pub you would be forgiven for thinking everything was normal.

But peer past people’s relief at getting back outside; some things have indeed changed. Despite the traffic, many colleagues and friends are talking about “not returning to the office very often”, others say “we are going to keep cycling as a family” and still others “I want to have more holidays in the UK”. All of this is good. But behind the easing of the corona crisis there still lies a very much bigger crisis. We continue to face a real threat from climate change, and our wildlife remains under pressure like never before. And yet Corona has shown that we can behave differently. We can act in ways that are kinder to ourselves, to our neighbours and to nature. The problem is that it took an enforced three month lock down to realise we could really change-that life was in some ways better without the office, the daily commute, the cheap flights for a spring break to Malaga.

Can we continue to benefit from some of the lockdown actions without actually being in lockdown? If we are determined, the answer in undoubtedly yes. Hampshire has seen some of the lowest air pollutions levels in a generation. Areas of the New Forest that were less frequented by people were suddenly alive again with bird song. Roads were safe. As a parent I felt it was OK to allow my boys to cycle on previously dangerous roads.

But slowly, slowly life is returning to the pre-lockdown normal. We have all seen huge queues near reopening stores; roads are again busy and dangerous. The memory of family groups on bikes will ebb away as people sense our normal life before lockdown can be restored. In the drive to re-start the local economy the biggest risk is for corners to be cut to try and get finances back on track.

So my appeal to you is this. Tomorrow get up really early and go and stand in your garden or front drive. Listen to the bird song. Breathe deeply. Hear the silence-and ask yourself what is most important? I believe we can have a dynamic and vibrant economy here in Hampshire. But I also believe it can be carbon neutral. It can be commute free. It can be bird filled, bike filled, fresh air filled. It is not a dream or a vague ambition-because we have just shown what we can do together. can we do it again? Yes. Should we do it again? Yes. Our collective future is determined by the next steps we take. Will it be a return to business as usual-or will we permit ourselves to take greater risks and find a new normal-where our deeper connection to each-other and to nature becomes part of who we are?

Let us take the chance to build a new future-with lessons of the last three months built into our ambitious plans to get Hampshire back on its feet. It is a once in a life time opportunity to do life differently.