Thursday, 22 February 2018

Planning

Last week, plans for a controversial student village between the Treluswell and Treliever roundabouts were unexpectedly approved. Like many, I was surprise 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.

 

Thursday, 18 January 2018

25 Year Environment Plan

Last week, we published a new  25 year environment plan which set out ambitious plans to tackle the scourge of plastic waste in our oceans and a new way of supporting our countryside and environment so that we help habitats recover and see more farmland birds and other wildlife in the future.

David Attenborough’s Blue Planet opened people’s eyes to the damage that plastic is doing to our oceans and marine environment and catapulted the issue up the agenda. Here in Cornwall, we have seen an astonishing amount of plastic wash up on our beaches during the recent storms. There is a consensus that it is time to change.

For several years, I have taken part in the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean at Porthtowan, joining volunteers to clean up litter and record what we found. Surfers Against Sewage, based in St Agnes, have also done some fantastic work in raising awareness of the damage caused to the marine environment by plastic.

Plastic has always been a particular concern; it takes hundreds of years to break down and has been the subject of high profile debate recently.  The problem is compounded year after year as new plastics find their way into the oceans while those that have already been there for decades remain and break down into smaller particles.  

We know that ghost nets lost from fishing vessels can also have considerable impact on marine life.  Each year, the Cornwall Seals Group based near Hayle find seals that have been entangled in nets or caught in discarded sections of net.  We know that tiny particles of plastic attract toxins in the marine environment and when ingested by fish and marine mammals, those toxins can enter the body. With other marine species like molluscs and shell fish, plastics can block their digestive systems or affect their ability to function normally.

 The 25 Year Environment Plan sets out goals for improving the environment, within a generation, and leaving it in a better state than we found it. The plan outlines how the government will work with communities and businesses to do this.

The government has pledged to crack down on plastics by eliminating all avoidable plastic waste through extending the 5p plastic bag charge to small retailers, removing consumer single use plastics from the government estate, supporting the water industry to significantly increase water fountains and working with retailers on introducing plastic-free supermarket aisles.
 
The result of the 5p plastic bag charge introduced two years ago has been amazing with a drop in carrier bag use of about 80 percent.  We have also banned microbeads in cosmetics. Microbeads are tiny plastic particles used to give a gritty texture to some soaps but which sewage systems are incapable of filtering so they end up in the sea.   These successes show that we can all make a difference if we act.

The UK has committed to be a world leader in environmental protection by investigating the feasibility of an anti-poaching taskforce to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, committing overseas aid to help developing nations combat plastic waste, and extending the UK’s network of marine protected areas. We have made a good start but there is so much more to do.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Winter Pressures on the NHS, Floods at Portreath and New Year's Resolutions


Winter pressures on the NHS
 
This is always the most difficult time of year for our health service. Last week, I reported that the Government had announced that the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust had been granted an additional £1.5 million funding to help cope with winter pressures. One of the best things that we can do is to try and reduce the pressure on A&E departments.
 
It is also good news that an out-of-hours crisis service is being piloted at a hub in Redruth, after being awarded £70,000 from NHS England. It aims to prevent people with mental health problems going to A&E. Valued Lives is a new charity and will be running an out-of-hours crisis service which people can contact online, over the phone, or in person.
Floods at Portreath
It is also the time of year when we are at most risk of winter floods. Last weekend we saw Storm Eleanor wreak havoc here in Cornwall. In Portreath, the harbour wall was damaged. Staff from Cormac and the Environment Agency worked very hard to make the damaged wall safe, and assisted local residents who were facing a flood risk in their homes. This is not the first time that Portreath has had these problems. Four years ago, it was badly hit during winter storms. I will be visiting Portreath on Friday, to see first-hand the damage that has been done and discuss any problems that local residents face.
 
New year's resolutions
 
At this time of year, many people have resolved to try to take more exercise and embark upon healthier lifestyle habits.  Mine is to try to run to work at least once a week.
Sport has an incredibly important role in developing confidence in young people and establishing a healthy lifestyle with exercise from a young age. However, competitive sport is not for everyone. In particular, too many teenage girls drift away from sport later in school, but groups like RedYouth can provide a really inspiring alternative. One of the activities offered is streetdance. The development of activity groups such as RedYouth has been really positive. It is always clear that those participating develop self-confidence from their involvement in the group and make new friends.
 
I will never forget the support that I had from volunteers at Cornwall Athletic Club when I was growing up, and I fought hard to make sure the new running track will be located in the CPR area because in doing so it offers the most to all of our community athletics groups. Above all it is volunteers today who keep all of our sports clubs going from rugby and football to cricket, swimming and dance.
 
Finally, it was good to see that Stithians has been chosen to host the Race for Life Pretty Muddy Kids event. The competition is an obstacle course. The event, which will take place on September 2nd, will help raise valuable funds for Cancer Research UK scientists to find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. The Race for Life takes place in various locations across Cornwall, and it is a fun way of raising money for an excellent cause. It is also a good way to keep fit.