Thursday, 8 March 2018

South Crofty

It is 20 years ago this week that South Crofty sadly closed its gates for the last time. When I got elected, I said that my number one priority was economic regeneration. One of my hopes, which has remained a little elusive, is that South Crofty might re-open. But this week, fittingly, things took a step forward as Strongbow Exploration, the current owners of the mine, confirmed that they have raised the funds required to de-water the mine.
South Crofty’s headgear is iconic and known across the world as Cornwall’s last standing tin mine. I have been working with various stakeholders on plans to secure its future.
One of the challenges we face is ensuring that the “Red River” does not run red again. In the mining days of the past, various pollutants entered the water and gave it a red appearance (hence the name). We have to make sure that this doesn’t happen again, and that we protect the ecology in and around the river. I worked with the Environment Agency and Strongbow, the owners of the mine, to find the right kind of filtration and water purification processes and permits were then issued late last year.
As always with mining, there have been many false starts. Tin prices vary, but have rallied of late. Demand for tin has increased dramatically. It is the main element used in solder, which joins up electronic circuit boards on mobile phones, tablets and TVs. These changes mean world tin prices are currently at around 20,000 dollars per tonne – an 8-10 fold increase on 1998. Strongbow believes that it could be in commercial production by as early as 2020, if things go to plan. They plan to build a new mine in the valley on the edge of the old site.
We have also learnt that Cornwall has considerable lithium reserves, including in South Crofty. Cornish Lithium is exploring for lithium within the hot springs that naturally occur beneath the surface in and around Cornish granites. The government as earmarked lithium as a metal of strategic importance to the country, and its use in electric cars makes it an important asset. So, the presence of metals in South Crofty that are in the vanguard of modern electronic technology creates a good chance that mining will resume.
Winter storms
On a less positive note, I was sorry to learn about the damage done by Storm Emma in recent days. At Maenporth, there has been considerable devastation to local businesses. The car park was seriously damaged and the road was littered with debris and large quantities of sand.
At the Helford, there has been extensive damage to the road by the Ferryboat Inn. The road has been all but lost to the sea in the bad weather. I will be visiting both sites this weekend. I have also spoken to local councillor John Bastin who has been in touch with local businesses. I am seeking to speak to Highways to ensure that repairs are carried out quickly. I would also like to thank all of those who have turned out to help clear up in the aftermath of the storm. 

Friday, 2 March 2018

Cornish Pasty Week

This week, I welcomed a delegation from the Cornish Pasty Association to Parliament. Association members and pasty producers were able to discuss the importance of the Cornish pasty industry to our local economy. I am clear that the Cornish Pasty will retain its protected status when we leave the EU.
This week marks the start of the very first Cornish Pasty Week. A delegation, including a giant Mr and Mrs Pasty, took over the sleeper train service from Cornwall to London on Sunday night. They visited landmarks including Buckingham Palace and the London Eye, before coming to parliament. The week will end with the World Pasty Championships taking place at the Eden Project. Pasty makers will descend from around Cornwall, the UK and the world to take part.

The Cornish pasty is recognised across the world. When Cornish miners fanned out across the world, they took the pasty with them. I remember a former colleague from Australia telling me about the Cornish festivals that used to take place in the town where he grew up. We have also developed great links with Real Del Monte in Mexico. I have met representatives of the town on several occasions, including local pasty makers. Hundreds of Cornish miners ended their lives in the area and many are to be found in one of the local cemeteries, apparently facing home to Cornwall which was a common request at the time.
When I first became an MP, the Government announced that it would put VAT on freshly baked pasties. The traditional exemption from VAT was what civil servants described as an “anomaly”. Along with my fellow Cornish MPs, I battled to ensure this didn’t happen. Thankfully, common sense prevailed. It was partly this debacle that led to the idea of a pasty festival in Redruth.
Cornish Pasty Week is a great celebration, and everyone can get involved. Brian Etherington’s in Redruth will be producing the largest pasty for the #pastysmile. Proper Cornish are giving away pasties on certain train services, whilst Warren’s Bakery are promoting their ‘pasty passport’ and a school competition to design a new pasty flavour.

These celebrations are taking place in the run up to St Piran’s Day. Over the past few years, we have seen a growing interest in Cornwall’s history and culture. Camborne, Redruth and Hayle are at the very heart of this revival. The new Cornish archive, Kresen Kernow, is really taking shape on the site of the old brewery. I lobbied hard to ensure that Redruth, home to most of the world-wide Cornish diaspora, was chosen as the location for this project, which will create new jobs, housing and continue the wider regeneration of the area.

This weekend, I am looking forward to attending the St Piran’s Day Procession in Redruth. I will also be going to the St Piran’s Day festivities at the Buttermarket. This will include craft activities, food stalls and entertainment by Raise the Ruth singers.

Thursday, 22 February 2018


Last week, plans for a controversial student village between the Treluswell and Treliever roundabouts were unexpectedly approved. Like many, I was surprised at this decision. After all, it had been recommended for refusal. I had opposed these plans because my own view is that we should be looking to the Kernick Industrial State, and the space that is available there to build student accommodation instead. We should always try to make use of brown field sites before losing more of our green spaces and local residents have already accommodated a lot to allow the university to grow.
There is no doubt that nationally we have a housing shortage.  A combination of population growth and issues like family breakdown means that many families are struggling to find a home that delivers their needs.  In Cornwall, the issue is exacerbated in some areas by second home owners.  So we do need to build more housing. 

However, I have always said that there should be a principle of building on brownfield sites before greenfield sites, especially around our towns.  Developments should also be done with communities not to them.
Plans to build 226 new dwellings at Menehay Fields, Budock, have also attracted criticism. A similar application was made in October 2013. It was refused by Cornwall Council and the appeal was dismissed. Cornwall Council have refused the plans this time, but the developer has chosen to appeal. I have written to the Housing Minister and asked that he takes the final decision in this appeal.
The decision at Budock is one of strategic importance, which threatens the continuation of Budock’s status as a village. The loss of green interface between Budock and Falmouth would effectively make Budock a suburb of Falmouth. Other more suitable locations have been found to meet local housing need. 

I was also surprised to learn this week that an application at Troon that has previously been turned down will be appealed. I will be writing to the Planning Inspectorate, and recommending that they uphold Cornwall Council’s decision to refuse the scheme.
When Cornwall Council were developing their local plan, I argued that we should make clear that brownfield sites in places like Tuckingmill and around South Crofty should be developed first. There should then be a delay in developing greenfield, urban extension sites around areas like Treswithian until we have completed a mid-term review in ten years’ time where we could take stock and reassess local housing need. This would ensure that developers didn’t simply cherry pick easy greenfield sites.
There are some good examples of successful housing developments on brownfield sites which are designed to be consistent with, and to celebrate, our industrial heritage. Coastline regenerated the old Holmans site at Trevu Road next to Camborne Train Station and saved the beautiful Holmans building at the same time. Linden Homes have done some excellent work at Pool on the site opposite Cornwall College. I was a strong supporter of the regeneration work started through the Heartlands project, and I was pleased that many homes there were offered through the “help to buy” scheme for first time buyers. 
However, I will continue to oppose large scale developments where they are planned for greenfield sites. Planning decisions will always be contentious and there are difficult balances to be struck.  I remain convinced that the basic principle of prioritising brownfield before greenfield development is the right approach.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Fairer Funding

I have always argued that we need to make progress to improve the historic unfairness in the way various funding formulae operate in Cornwall.  When I was first elected, I led the campaign to get every Cornish household a £50 rebate on their water bills. Progress was also made on the NHS formula with greater recognition given to the age of our population.

I have met with the Schools Minister on several occasions to ensure that our schools here in Hayle, Camborne and Redruth are not losing out.  As a result, the government has confirmed that the schools budget for Cornwall will rise by over 3 percent and they have provided enough cash to ensure that we can progress towards a more consistent national formula while no individual school need lose out. 
Last week, I was pleased to see an increase in funding for Cornwall Council. Core spending power will rise by £8.5M, including an adult social care support grant of £1.7M.  I am particularly encouraged that we are seeing this increase in support for adult social care. Cornwall is also set to receive additional money from the Rural Services Delivery Grant, which has been increased to the highest level it has ever been.
There was also very good news for Hayle, with the announcement of £5.7M for Hayle Harbour North Quay’s redevelopment. When I became an MP I said I wanted to see Hayle Harbour regenerated. It had been left derelict for too long and plans had been talked about all my life time. It was time for action.  While a lot of work needed to go into planning something that local people could get behind, and we needed government grants to put infrastructure in place, like the new bridge into North quay, great progress has been made.  As well as the new harbour walls, we now have a marine energy park on North Quay.
The next stage is to complete sensitive development at the end of South Quay and get things moving on North Quay.  There are now two new developers who have bought the harbour from the Dutch bank, ING, and I will be working with them to ensure we get the rest of the development right.

Hayle is going from strength to strength and there is a new confidence in the town but we have to see through what has been started.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Pool Academy, National Citizenship Service and the Representation of the People Act 1918

Tomorrow, I am looking forward to going to Pool Academy, where I will be speaking to staff and students about the school’s new citizenship award. The aim of the award is to help students develop and do something for the community, centred around Pool Academy’s values of aspiration, belonging and respect.

As with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, there will be three levels: bronze, silver and gold. The awards will allow students to develop themselves during their school year. This may lead to academic improvement, but may also help young people develop new skills, for example learning to play a musical instrument, practicing a new sport, overcoming fears or barriers. The list goes on.
The awards will also allow students to do something for someone else in the community. This could be something like doing a good deed for a neighbour, or working with an organisation like the Marine Conservation Society doing a beach clean, or working as a volunteer in a residential care home. 
This is an excellent concept, and schemes like this can be so beneficial for young people.

A similar scheme is the National Citizenship Service (NCS). Set up back in 2011 as a type of modern day, non-military National Service, NCS is open to all 16-17 year olds in England and aims to bring together young people from all sorts of different backgrounds, helping to break down social barriers and develop self-confidence.

As NCS is a residential course, it gives participants the opportunity to leave home behind for a couple of weeks and immerse themselves in a fresh environment and make new friends. This can be a great way to develop their confidence and independence as it means those taking part are all in the same boat. It doesn’t matter what school they go to or where their parents live and it’s a great way of breaking down social barriers.

I have previously met teams who have made a real contribution to the community. One group had done great work on a play area at the BMX track at Parc Erissey. It is always clear just how beneficial the scheme is, and young people can gain so much from it.

2018 marks 100 years since Parliament passed the 1918 Representation of the People Act, allowing the first women the right to vote. This was a crucial step forwards for our democracy. We must keep people engaged in politics, and ensure that young people understand the importance of exercising their right to vote.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Carn Brea Leisure Centre

Last Friday, I attended the official opening of the refurbished swimming pool at Carn Brea Leisure Centre. It is like new and completely transformed. Hundreds of local children have already had the chance to use it and it's getting a big thumbs up. Congratulations to Alex Clifton and all the dedicated staff at Carn Brea who worked hard over Christmas to get it ready. Also, to all the local schools, businesses and community groups who pulled together to help raise money for this central community asset.
The management team at Carn Brea secured funding from Sport England to refurbish the pool and deliver other maintenance and improvements, to ensure that facilities are sustained for existing users as well as the next generation of swimmers. However, Carn Brea needed to fundraise the rest of the money required to complete the project.

At any given time, there are over 1,000 children learning to swim at Carn Brea. The fundraising campaign has been a real community effort, in the true spirit of Carn Brea.  A few weeks ago I visited St Meriadoc School where the children were fundraising for the pool.  I was later told that one of the pupils there had overcome a fear of water and learned to swim at Carn Brea so encouraged her school to get involved.  Dozens of other schools and local businesses have also helped.  For my part, I ran a sponsored half marathon towards the end of last year to help raise £2,200.

Like many people who grew up in West Cornwall, I have fond childhood memories of Carn Brea Leisure Centre. It has been an essential part of the local community for well over forty years. I have been running since I was nine, when I first joined Cornwall Athletic Club.  Running was a big part of my life, and a lot of it revolved around training at Carn Brea.  The new pool will be a great asset for the local community for years to come.

Good news on employment

There was also good news on employment last week. Unemployment is at its lowest level for many years. In Camborne and Redruth, the number of unemployed claimants has nearly halved from 3.8% of the economically active population in 2010 to 2.2% in December 2017. Employment is up more than 3 million since 2010 and there are 400,000 fewer young people out of work since 2010.

Locally, we have much to celebrate but there remains a lot to do. We must strive to continue to improve the support we offer to local people to help them back into work. Cornwall College is the most successful provider of work based learning in the South West. Over a thousand apprentices are currently training in areas such as plumbing, carpentry and engineering.

However, for too long, many of our brightest young people would leave Cornwall in search of new work opportunities. Now, as we continue to attract new industries and skilled jobs to Cornwall, it is vital that we continue to develop skills so that young people can take advantage of the new opportunities being created. As new companies arrive I want to see them become successful and profitable enough to offer higher wages so that we encourage people to take work and stay in work.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Resilient Public Transport

In a peninsula like Cornwall with many rural areas, there will always be challenges to building a really resilient public transport structure.  However, some good progress has been made. We have invested to improve the signalling on the main rail line and we have seen the introduction of the new fleet of Tinner buses which marks a major step forwards for the quality of our bus network.
We are also making progress improving things on long haul journeys.  Since I was elected, I have been fighting to get an upgrade to the “Night Riviera” sleeper service, which is now being introduced. I am a regular and devoted user of the sleeper service, using it every weekend to get down to Camborne. I know how important the service can be for businesses and visitors alike and I am pleased that it will be able to provide more capacity and better facilities to compete with other forms of transport.  The future of Newquay Airport, once in doubt, is now secure, helped by government support to establish a public service obligation which has increased resilience and led to more people using it and more commercial routes on offer. 

However, the majority of people in Cornwall use public transport primarily for local journeys and that is where there is more to do.  For me the key to making things work better is to try to integrate or join up the bus network with the rail network more effectively than we have done in the past so that rail and bus timetables work in tandem to give people more frequent options to get from one destination to another.  If you are in a village and there are only a couple of buses per day and they travel a very long, rambling route, you will be less inclined to rely on the bus to get about.  However, what if you had more frequent shuttle buses running a much shorter distance to the nearest train station which then connected with a reliable and regular 30 minute local service through the county?
Some interesting ideas are taking shape in this space.  Firstly, I have long pressed for a regular and routine 30 minute local train service through Cornwall with buses then providing onward connections over shorter rural routes to our villages.  If we could join up commercial trunk routes of buses and trains with smaller, local, shuttle buses travelling shorter distances, you start to get the makings of something that could really work and you could build more confidence in the public transport network.  Cornwall Council are now working on detailed plans to help make this a reality.
Secondly, in recent weeks, I have become aware of two separate proposals to significantly improve the rail offer in the Camborne and Redruth area.  A couple of years ago when we were discussing the right location for a stadium in Cornwall, I had argued that we should go for a slightly smaller stadium at Carn Brea Leisure Centre and then re-open a train station at Pool so that you could use public transport to help get people to matches.  I thought it would be a far better option than putting a giant project in a traffic jam on the outskirts of Truro.  Also, we should not accept that everything needs to go to Truro.    At the time, I could not get support for a change of plan because the Truro option was too far entrenched.    

However, discussions around the possibility of a new train station at Carn Brea have come back to life.  The building around Heartlands, the Pool Innovation Centre, the growth of retail space at Pool and new housing around Tuckingmill all strengthen the case for a new train station at Carn Brea.   There was previously a station at Carn Brea, but it was closed in 1961.  It had also previously been the home of the West Cornwall Railway’s workshops, where locomotives were maintained.  Things go full circle and it would be great if we could re-open the station at Carn Brea which would considerably improve the resilience of our transport infrastructure.
Finally, the second idea being mooted is to establish a small train station or halt at Ponsanooth.  There has been talk of a station at Ponsanooth in the past but it has never quite come off.  The Falmouth branch line runs alongside Kennall Vale Woods, and Ponsanooth viaduct is an iconic part of the landscape. The fact that we now have a university outside Penryn and growing use of rail in the county means that the option of an additional halt at Ponsanooth has become an interesting proposition in my view and I am keen to work with local groups developing these ideas which would really help connect the village to Falmouth and Truro.