Friday, 24 July 2015

PM visits link road

Last week David Cameron came to Camborne to see the new East-West link road which is now set to be completed in October.  It was part of a wider visit to Cornwall where he also agreed a new "Devolution Deal" with powers to join up spending on areas such as health and social care services being passed to Cornwall.

The East-West link road will play a crucial part in unlocking the potential of all the derelict land around the old South Crofty mine.  We have seen Pool transformed over the last four years with new businesses setting up at the Pool Innovation Centre, a makeover for the college and, of course, the completion of Heartlands.  Now it is time for the Tuckingmill end of Camborne to get the investment that it deserves with new homes built at the proposed Tuckingmill Urban Village and new employment space opened up to attract new industries and better paid jobs.

Building the new road has not been plain sailing and its completion has been a long time coming.  We had a real fight on our hands to secure funding for the project in 2011 and there have been quite a few complications during the construction due to many mine shafts and mine workings affecting the site.  There have also been major problems getting an engineering solution to crossing the Red River Valley due to the softness of the ground with an early attempt having to be aborted.

Perhaps most important of all, once the new road opens, the junctions at either end of it will start to make sense.  For several years now the traffic lights at the top of East Hill have not really worked properly because they were designed to predominantly carry traffic across the top from the new road to the A30.  The result is frequent congestion.  At the other end, the disruption around the Tesco roundabout in Camborne has also caused frustration.  Let's hope these problems are resolved when the new road opens.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Cornwall Deal

Plans for a new Cornwall Deal could take a big step forward this week with the Government expected to outline some areas where it plans to give more responsibility and power to Cornwall.

Cornwall has its own unique identity and being a peninsula at the end of the line, I have always said we should have more control over the way we configure key services.  Last month I spoke at the Cornish Constitutional Convention and made the case for Cornwall having more of a say over culture and heritage policy.  I also think that we can do more to ensure our bus routes work effectively by joining up bus services with train timetables and exploring the possibility of franchise models to make sure that rural routes link in with the main trunk routes.

Another area where we could join things up more effectively is in the area of health and social care.  The problems we have had with black emergencies at Treliske have largely been driven by the fact that Cornwall Council have been slow to roll out care packages for people waiting to be discharged from hospital. If we could join up funding streams more effectively by looking at increased joint commissioning of services we could reduce the tendency of different institutions working in the field of health and social care to operate in silos.  

We also need to look at how we can make things work more effectively within the NHS.  As people live longer there will always be growing demands on the NHS Budget.  That is why George Osborne was right to commit in to an increase in NHS spending of £8 billion.  However, we also need to make sure that funds are distributed fairly so Cornwall gets its fair share.

One of the ways you take pressure of A&E departments is through supporting alternatives like the minor injuries unit currently being piloted at Camborne and Redruth Hospital.  We also have a fantastic tradition of hospice care in Cornwall with charities supporting people with end of life care and support.  These hospices mainly run on charitable funds but, without them, there would be a lot more pressure on NHS services.

Friday, 10 July 2015

The Budget

By the time you read this article, George Osborne will have presented his first budget of this new Parliament.  Good progress has been made in the last five years reducing the deficit, but there is more work to do.  

In Britain we have earned credibility, which means we have incredibly low interest rates at the moment which is a respite for those paying mortgages and a stable economy increases confidence in business which has contributed to a sharp fall in unemployment here in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle.

As I write this article, there is a lot of speculation about what the Budget will hold. We are likely to see a further clampdown on wealthy individuals claiming non-dom status in this country as part of a wider £5 billion crackdown on tax avoidance while the personal allowance threshold is also likely to move closer to £12,500. This will be especially important here in Cornwall where we have a higher number of people on lower incomes.  

To help balance the books, George Osborne has been clear that we will need to look again at the amount of benefits some households receive.  He has already said we will continue to protect the most vulnerable in society such as the disabled. However, where people can work, they should work and it is simply wrong that some families not working are better off financially than those who do work and pay their way. 

In addition, there could be good news for Cornwall with speculation that a new growth deal could be on the way that would give Cornwall some additional investment in infrastructure, the ability to manage more of its own services and with funding for the NHS and social care being more joined up to make sure that the money we have is used effectively.

The economic situation today is very different from the one inherited in 2010. Britain has the fastest growing economy in Europe, the deficit has been halved and we have record numbers of people in work.  I hope this Budget will help sustain that momentum.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Tougher Rules on Wind Turbines

I have written previously about how the proliferation of wind turbines across Cornwall is a blight upon our countryside, which is why I welcomed last week’s statement by the Department for Communities & Local Government announcing a shake-up of planning law that will now give local people the final say on wind farm applications.

Under these new rules, Cornwall Council will only be able to grant planning approval for new wind turbines if the proposed site has been identified as suitable in a Local or Neighbourhood Plan and if, following consultation, the concerns of  the communities affected have been fully addressed.

I think this is good news for Cornwall. When one of the country’s first wind farms was built at Carland Cross, it seemed like there was potential for these kind of developments, so long as they were of uniform design and concentrated in one area. However, since then it now feels like we have reached saturation point with the random proliferation of single wind turbines that have no uniformity in their design.

To be fair to Cornwall Council, where a wind turbine application has been shown to have too great a cumulative impact on the countryside, a planning committee has been able to refuse planning permission. However, too often Cornwall Council’s decisions have been overridden by appeals to the Planning Inspectorate. This is why I feel these new regulations are important as they put power back into the hands of local communities and gives them the ability to decide what wind developments are built in their area. The next step should be to do more to prevent field scale solar farms damaging our countryside and scarring the Cornish landscape.  

Having advised the Prime Minister on energy policy in the last parliament, I am well aware there are no easy solutions when it comes to our future energy supply. In reality we will probably need to have a mixture of different technologies, including gas, nuclear, wind and some solar on roof tops.  However, it is vital that these developments are done with local communities not to them.”

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Cornish Devolution

Last weekend I attended the Cornish Constitutional Convention in Truro to discuss the prospects of devolving new powers to Cornwall and the importance of passing powers down from Cornwall Council to parish and town councils.

Cornwall has its own unique culture and, as a peninsula at the end of the line, also has unique challenges. While I don't agree with those who want to have a costly new "assembly" and pay for another tier of politicians, I do think there are areas like transport and culture and heritage where there is a case for more decision making powers for Cornwall Council.

As a Cornish unionist, for me there are three things that we should aim to achieve when discussing devolution in Cornwall.  Firstly, any new devolution settlement should strengthen the union and should be founded on a solid agreement within the UK, rather than relying on vague recognition by European institutions.  Secondly, it should not just be about giving power to Cornwall Council.  We also need to find ways of transferring control from Cornwall Council to town and parish councils and to the head teachers and governing bodies of individual schools.  Finally, we should remember that devolution should be about empowering people so finding mechanisms such as local referendums which give communities the power to block unpopular decisions are important.  

The Government is currently giving thought to the next wave of "growth deals" which are all about giving responsibility (and also the funding that goes with it) to Local Enterprise Partnerships so they can implement measures that will help their local economy.  There is a good case for more "enterprise zones" in Cornwall to nurture new industry.  As a peninsula, we also have unique challenges making bus services work effectively and there is a case for looking at whether a stronger franchising model could better develop coherence to services.  Finally, We have a unique culture with our own identity and language so there is a case for looking at whether Cornwall should take on more of a role promoting and managing its own heritage assets instead of the existing arrangements with English Heritage. 

Friday, 19 June 2015

Planning in Hayle

I have always said that, when it comes to building new homes, we should focus on brownfield sites before greenfield sites. That is why this week I have asked the Secretary of State in the Department for Communities and Local Government to consider calling in the planning appeal currently being considered for over 220 houses on St George's Road in Hayle.  

The proposal is opposed by many Hayle residents. The Town Council opposed the scheme and Cornwall Council had yet to reach a decision when the developer, Linden Homes, decided to by-pass the Council and go straight to appeal based on the fact that Cornwall Council had failed to determine the application.  Although there is no guarantee that the Secretary of State will agree my request, I think it is important that decisions of this magnitude are subject to democratic oversight and scrutiny.

I have supported some other local projects from Linden Homes. The work they have done at Pool on the site opposite Cornwall College is impressive and it completes the regeneration work started through the Heartlands project and many of the new homes have been offered through the 'help to buy' scheme for first time home owners.  Linden also do some really good work with apprenticeships in the area creating careers for young people in the construction industry.

However, when it comes to Hayle, I think there are many other sites that should be developed before we start building very large developments on green field sites.  We have just spent several million pounds putting in a new bridge and flood infrastructure at North Quay precisely so that it would be possible to build new homes around the harbour.  There is now room on this site for several hundred homes.  There are also plans for new homes on South Quay and work on the remaining phase is due to start soon.  We should be prioritising building homes first on these brownfield sites which will complete the regeneration of the harbour area.

You only get one chance to get major planning decisions right so we should take time to consider them carefully

Fiber Park Plans

Last week I met Toby Parkins, Chief Executive of Headforwards Software in Pool to discuss the innovative idea of a new Fibre Park in the area.

In recent years we have seen an embryonic but vibrant computer software industry taking root in this part of Cornwall. The big leap forwards came with the introduction of super-fast broadband.  It means that software companies can now compete around the world from a digital connection in Cornwall.  Previously, people often had to choose between a high flying job in London or the lifestyle choice of Cornwall.  That's changing. Today, new industries like software producers can run world beating operations from Camborne and Redruth offering people the best of both worlds.

Headforwards now employs over fifty highly skilled people and is expanding.  Down the road at the new Barncoose Gateway office block, NetBooster have established their main European headquarters and BlueFruit, another highly successful local company, is also moving in.  Between them, local computer software companies are now employing hundreds of people in Camborne and Redruth and they are paying good salaries.  I want to see them grow and prosper and I also want to ensure that young people taking their GCSEs are learning to write computer code so that they can take up these new opportunities.

The concept behind the fibre park proposal is simple.  You create a hub near the Pool Innovation Centre which offers a mixture of state of the art business space and educational space.  It means that up and coming enterprises who have outgrown the innovation centre can move to larger premises and you can also establish an academy in computer software co-located on the same site so that you can have a partnership between, say, Cornwall College and local businesses.  Young people taking computer courses at Cornwall College will be able to develop their talents within real working environments rather than in a classroom detached from front line innovation.  It will take a lot of work to move the idea from being an interesting concept to a real venture, but I think we should give it a shot.