Monday, 24 November 2014

Heartlands

When it was opened a couple of years ago the Heartlands project at Pool symbolised the start of regeneration in the Camborne Redruth area. Like all new projects it has suffered from its share of teething problems but I think there are now some positive signs that it's turned the corner and we need the community to get behind it.

A couple of weeks ago over 14,000 people attended their bonfire night celebration which must have been the biggest bonfire party in Cornwall. Earlier this autumn the first ‘Live at Heartlands’ concert was held which attracted leading bands such as UB40, The Happy Mondays, The Boom Town Rats and many others. It was a really successful festival and several people have told me how much they enjoyed it.

The new housing development on the edge of Heartlands is also almost complete. It is designed to respect the industrial heritage of the site with saw tooth roofs and will bring a larger community to the site. Later this year another part of the site will become home to a ground breaking new project run by Carillion Igloo homes which will pioneer a new national scheme to sell plots with outlining planning and an option for people to custom build their dream home.

I think one of the problems Heartlands encountered early on was that some of the decisions made were driven by the criteria required to secure successful grant applications rather than focusing solely on what would work. There had also been legal hiccups in the way lawyers had set up the deeds which caused huge problems when trying to sell the first phase of flats to local residents. It was unbelievable that lawyers were unable to resolve what should have been quite simple land deals. There were also too many prescriptions and conditions attached to the occupants of the business and retail units which made it hard for some of them to survive. Finally, there has been too much reliance on the car park as an income stream.

However, the amazing play area has been a big draw from the start and the Red River feature has always been a hit with young children and families. The diaspora gardens are also starting to establish. What the bonfire night party and Live at Heartlands proved is that this project can become a great community asset which celebrates our industrial heritage but is very much for the local community. It has huge potential and I believe we will see Heartlands grow from strength to strength.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.

Monday, 17 November 2014

REMEMBRANCE

This year Remembrance services across the country carried particular significance marking both the centenary of the start of the First World War and also coming weeks after the last British troops finally withdrew from Camp Bastion and the mission in Afghanistan ended.

I attended services in Hayle and Illogan and there was a strong turnout at each. As usual the various Cadet groups, Scouts, Brownies and other youth groups were out in force. It is great to see these movements going from strength to strength and the young people representing them this year did us all proud. Two pupils from Hayle school read out the names of all those who died in the two world wars which really drove home the scale of the loss.

Last Friday, as part of the Cornwall Remember commemorations, I read a poem at Truro Cathedral which was written by Siegfried Sassoon. He was one of a number of famous poets who brought home the horrors of the Great War. It was the first industrial war and battleground tactics had not evolved to deal with advances of military technology. There were attempts to break the battleground deadlock and early attempts to develop the use of armoured tanks and aircraft but none of these were entirely successful so the horrors continued. It is right that we remember a generation of young men who carried such an extraordinary burden.

The recent wars that we have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan have undoubtedly increased attendance at remembrance services in recent years. The operation in Afghanistan has been long and hard lasting thirteen years, more than three times as long as the Great War and there have been many casualties and soldiers suffering life changing injuries. It is a relief that the mission is finally over.

In 2006 when I was an adviser to David Cameron, I visited our troops at Camp Bastion and Kandahar in Afghanistan. I was struck by the incredible professionalism and can-do attitude of our armed forces. The troops were casually running sweep stakes on where in the camp the next Taliban missile might land and a "rapid response force", made up of young men often not even in their twenties, was permanently on call to scramble out into the dessert to pursue the Taliban after each missile was fired. They didn't want to make it easy for them. It was a reminder that the reputation this country has as having the best armed forces in the world is very well deserved.

We have had more than a decade of engagement in very difficult conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the problems of the Middle East seem as intractable as ever. When I visited Afghanistan, there was a real respect and gratitude for what Britain's forces were doing to try to help them and we should remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and the families they left behind.

Monday, 10 November 2014

NHS Pledge

Early last month David Cameron made an important pledge that by 2020 a Conservative government would deliver access to a family doctor seven days a week, and that surgeries would be open for twelve hours each day to relieve pressure on our hospitals. I think this is really good news and will especially help those who cannot get out of work on a week day to go and see their GP. The details need to be worked out and lessons learnt from a recent trial but it is clearly a project that holds huge potential.

The announcement builds on what is already being done by the Government to protect funding for the NHS and make sure that despite difficult economic circumstances it remains free at the point of need. Whilst difficult spending cuts have had to be made in other areas over the course of this Parliament not only has spending been protected for the NHS it has also been increased by £12.7 billion.

This is a huge increase that has allowed the hiring of thousands more doctors, nurses and midwives to look after patients and has also been helped by reforms to cut the numbers of managers and bureaucracy we saw under the last government. There have also been other successful initiatives, like the £1.16 billion Cancer Drugs Fund now administered by the NHS helping over fifty thousand cancer patients since it was set up four years ago.

There has also been some important extra money that has been awarded for new NHS services in Cornwall. In our area this is being spent on a much needed expansion to include a minor injuries unit at the Camborne and Redruth Community Hospital and the creation of doctor-led urgent care centres at the same hospital.

Of course more needs to be done and we especially need to make sure we help those who work tirelessly in our hospitals and surgeries. I recently raised the issue of new staff parking charges at Treliske Hospital with the Chief Executive following changes that are seeing some staff with an increase of almost 300% in what they are paying to park at work. Discussions are still ongoing but we need to find a sensible solution.

There has also been a lot of speculation over the future of St Michael’s Hospital in Hayle with rumours of its imminent closure. St Michael’s is a much valued and popular hospital and when I discussed these concerns with the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust it was clear they plan to invest more into it and make it better still, not close it. We should not allow rumours to undermine morale at such a community institution and instead we should support plans to improve the services they offer.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032

Monday, 3 November 2014

TRANSPORT LINKS IMPROVEMENT


The beginning of this week saw a crucial deal struck by the Government that will maintain an air link between Newquay and London Gatwick for the next four years. The Department for Transport signed what is known as a Public Service Obligation, or PSO, to subsidise the important weekday and weekend flights to and from Cornwall and Flybe will operate the flights with timings convenient to those wanting to travel for a full working day at either destination.

I think the deal is really important and part of a wider package of transport measures announced this year that makes sure Cornwall is better connected to London but also other regions of the UK. The air link alone contributes a huge amount to the Cornish economy, with Cornwall Council estimating £54.5 million contributed to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly through it. It serves as a lifeline for businessmen and women who use the service regularly and I was happy to help Cornwall Council press the case for it to be retained. Recently the Government announced a doubling of the money available to projects like this through the Regional Air Connectivity Fund which is a real boost for the regions.

The news has come not long after David Cameron’s recent announcement of a range of measures to improve Cornwall’s rail links which I and others had pressed for in Westminster. There are three main elements: a new train care centre in Penzance which will create much needed local jobs, a sleeper upgrade to help business users and holiday makers and the bringing forward of plans to upgrade and improve our outdated signalling system so that we can run more frequent local services.

I am often contacted by local residents regarding the speed of the train and whilst we have to accept the realities of living so far away the improvements to our signalling system will go a long way in tackling this problem. Not only will it allow a half hourly service from Penzance to Plymouth, but it will also allow a much faster service further up the line with increased reliability. The improvements will also create better capacity and tie in with plans for more modern diesel trains and rolling stock.

Finally, there has been progress on our road infrastructure. The majority of people living in Cornwall still have to rely on their car to get around. There are important plans to dual the A30 in the pipeline. The government has made funding available for the section at Temple and I know Cornwall Council are working hard to progress this. The Transport Minister also recently announced that there would be a feasibility study to progress the duelling of the section at Carland Cross.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032

Monday, 27 October 2014

END TO FARMING SUBSIDY FOR SOLAR

I have always said we need to be careful about losing good agricultural land to solar farms and earlier this week, as Farming Minister, I announced our plan to end the payment of farm subsidies on land occupied by solar farms. The new rules, which will come into force from January next year, mean that farmers who choose to use fields for solar panels will not be eligible for any of their "single farm payment" available through the Common Agricultural Policy on that particular piece of land.

I think this is good news for the country but particularly for Cornwall, where we have been especially blighted by these ugly solar developments. Last year alone, 67% of new solar developments could be found in the West Country and Cornwall planners have been inundated with applications from developers hoping to take advantage of energy subsidies. During my time as MP I have been contacted numerous times by residents opposed to these developments and I have supported their cases all the way to the Planning Inspectorate.

In the next few decades food security is going to become an increasingly important issue with a growing world population and demand for food growing. Farming is what our farms are for and it is what keeps our landscape beautiful but crucially it produces the food we need. It makes my heart sink to see row upon row of solar panels here in Cornwall where once there were fields of crops or grassland for livestock to graze.

Some developers have attempted to claim that farming can continue underneath solar panels but I think these are sham arguments which developers just advance to try to get around planning guidance. There is no doubt that land covered in solar panels is, for all intents and purposes, lost to agriculture. Crops need sunlight to grow and if fields are smothered in solar panels, there is no light left for crop production and it is not possible to get tractor access to manage the soil. In addition, when it comes to the idea of grazing sheep or other livestock, while developers talk this up, in reality they are concerned that livestock will damage their expensive panels. Many write into their agreements that farmers can't use the land themselves but that only the energy company's sheep can occupy the land. I don't know whether they think they have specially trained solar friendly sheep or something but none of it sounds very plausible.
We do need to diversify our energy supply and there could be a role for some solar panels, but on roofs not on prime agricultural land. Solar panels are best placed on the 250,000 hectares of south facing commercial rooftops where they will not compromise the success of our agricultural industry and I hope that a more innovative approach along those lines could remove the threat to our Cornish landscape.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.

CORNWALL'S FISHING INDUSTRY

Cornwall's fishing industry has always played an important part in our local economy and it has been great to have the opportunity as fisheries minister to try to secure a better and more secure future for our industry.

Earlier this week I attended the October EU fisheries Council which marked the start of a series of important negotiations culminating in the setting of annual quotas for fish stocks in December. The Common Fisheries Policy has long been regarded as synonymous with EU failure but last year we made an important breakthrough with a radical transformation in approach. Significant powers over fisheries management are to be returned to the national governments who have a shared interest in each individual fishery and there is a new discard ban to end the shameful practice of throwing perfectly good fish dead back into the water.

The UK led the way in securing the radical reform. The problem with the old CFP is that there were centralised quotas set by the EU for each species. But fish don't swim neatly apart from one another so fishermen targeting one fish could inadvertently catch another species for which they had no quota and the only option open to them at that point was to dump the fish back into the water.

Under the new system, the management plans for an individual water are developed multilaterally between the nations who have a shared interest in the water. There is a legally binding commitment to fish sustainably and to follow the scientific advice about the health of fish stocks. This is important for the future of the industry because if we hammer fish stocks that are in decline or over exploit our fish recourses we are only robbing fishermen of their future. Sometimes we do need to hold back and show restraint in order to safeguard the future of the industry.

Another feature of the reform is that there will be a ban on discarding healthy fish back into the sea. Instead, we will help Fishermen manage the realities of the marine environment allowing flexibilities between the quotas they have. So if a fisherman catches more haddock than he expected then rather than having to throw it overboard he can count it against quotas he has for other species like whiting or cod so that he can land the fish he has caught. He will also be able to borrow some quota from the following year if needed and there will be an uplift in the amount that he can catch to take account of the fact that fish are no longer being discarded.

The marine environment is incredibly complex and no man made system to manage it is ever going to be perfect. There are also still issues we need to resolve in terms of how we implement the new system. However, the new agreement on fisheries represents a major leap forward from what has gone before.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

KEY NEW POLICIES

As growth returns to the economy one of the main priorities must be to ensure that we make work pay by helping those in work and on low incomes. Last week's announcement by the Prime Minister that tax thresholds will be raised so that those on minimum wage will be taken out of tax altogether will be particularly welcome here in Cornwall.

At the moment almost one and a half million people receive the minimum wage in the country which is set at £6.50 per hour and in our area a high proportion of working people receive it. We want to make sure work pays and that it is always better to be in work then on benefits. This policy does exactly that and is a real boost to help the lowest paid and encourage people into work.

By raising the threshold to £12,500, over one million extra of the lowest paid people will be taken out of tax and thirty million more given a tax cut. This tax cut builds on an earlier announcement by George Osborne to look at raising the minimum wage to £7 per hour. Whilst a balance has to be struck and small businesses also need help in order to take on more people, this could be a welcome boost to get wages more in line with inflation and help people struggling with costs in Cornwall.

I was also pleased to see a clear commitment by the Prime Minister to scrap the Human Rights Act. While I agree with Human Rights I have long argued that the European Court is having unintended consequences and needs to be sorted out. As part of the coalition agreement, the Lib Dems insisted that British courts should play second fiddle to the European Court but after the election, a Conservative government would now sort the issue out.

The ECHR was established after the last war with the aim of getting internationally agreed principles and it is a list of perfectly laudable but broad aims which most people would support. The trouble is that since then a succession of clever barristers have made ever more creative arguments citing human rights that has made a mockery of the original idea. I think we need a British Bill of Rights which explains to the Courts what the ECHR means within Britain. This is what will happen with a Conservative government elected next year and it will make clear when human rights laws should apply, that rights should be balanced with responsibilities and it will stop terrorists and other serious foreign criminals using human rights to prevent deportation.

With the party conference season now over, the battle lines for the next General Election are drawn. It is certainly going to be close.