Monday, 29 July 2013

Fixing derelict sites

As well as having hot weather recently, the political temperature has also been rising with clashes at Prime Ministers Questions becoming ever more heated. But Parliament has now broken up for summer which is a good opportunity to get around the constituency and find out how people think things are going.

On Monday morning, I attended the opening of the new Coastline development opposite our offices at Trevenson Street in Camborne. I have always said that, when it comes to housing development, we should build on brown field sites before green field sites. Our towns have an extraordinary industrial heritage to be proud of but, in recent decades, they have also become blighted by derelict sites and sorting these out has been my priority, whether getting funding for Hayle Harbour or overcoming the obstacles on the old brewery site in Redruth.

Three years ago, the plans for a new housing development at Trevu Road caused concern among some residents in Camborne. This was the site of the old Holman Brothers factory and is historically significant for many in the town who worked there. But the whole site had been derelict for many years and had sadly become an eye sore right by the train station as people arrived in town.

The beautiful old Public Rooms building was the most important of all the remaining buildings but the most difficult to save. Used originally as a very large meeting hall for the whole town, the building was later bought by Holmans and used both for training apprentices and for housing a small museum. After the demise of Holmans I remember it being used briefly as a snooker hall but it became derelict and unused for many years. Its condition was so poor that it was about to fall down.

Despite local concerns about the plans three years ago, my view has always been that the only way you save old buildings like this is to find a new use for them and Coastline have done a fantastic job at proving my point on this site. As well as preserving and restoring many of the original architectural features, they have also created over 70 beautiful new homes for people who need a roof over their head. The eighteen flats in the Public Rooms building are occupied mainly by people over 50 who are looking to downsize and move closer to town and they are clearly very happy.

One of the residents I met was David who had spent most of his working career at Holmans and had an encyclopedic of knowledge about the site and lots of Holman memorabilia including a much sought after bi-centenary mug produced by the firm. I can't think of a more fitting use for the Public Rooms building today.

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.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Buy local to avoid problems in the food chain

One of my roles in parliament is on the select committee for the environment, food and rural affairs and this week we published a report into lessons to be learned from the scandal of horse meat being found in beef products.

The staggering thing about the contaminated meat scandal is that with all the "traceability" procedures we have and the "cattle passports" farmers have to fill out, such an audacious fraud was able to be committed.

The first thing we need to ask is why the Food Standards Agency failed to pick this problem up sooner and why, once it had been discovered, their response was slow. The Food Standards Agency was set up in the wake of the BSE scandal twenty years ago and was supposed to focus primarily on the safety of our food. However, over the last decade, there has been a drift in its mission. It has spent too much time acting as a sort of health police, lecturing people on how much salt and sugar is in the products they eat and not enough time dealing with issues around food safety and actual standards.

The large supermarket retailers have also placed far too much faith in the paperwork that comes with consignments of meat. Traders and middle men in the supply chain buy and sell different consignments in a game of pass the parcel which has made the supply chain too long and complicated. As it turned out, some of these supermarkets and food processors were actually buying horse meat from abattoirs in southern Europe that had been fraudulently passed off as beef.

In future, we need the Food Standards Agency to focus on its core task and to start making spot checks on the DNA of meat products to try to protect the system against fraud. Secondly, the big retailers should not rely just on the paperwork. We need to cut some of the middle men out of the food chain and try to get to a situation where the retailer or processor actually knows the farmer where the beef they have bought comes from and we should not allow them to rely on a bit of paperwork in their defence when something goes wrong.

Finally, consumers have a role to play by taking more interest in where their food comes from and buying locally wherever possible. There has already been a significant trend in recent years towards people sourcing their food from local farmers and butchers and it's one that should continue. If we can get to a situation where produce is grown and cattle are reared closer to the communities that consume them, we wouldn't have to have such convoluted but ultimately unreliable bureaucracy in the food chain.

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.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The importance of science in schools

Today marks the beginning of the International Student Science Fair which, this year is being hosted by Camborne Science and International Academy. Twenty Seven schools from around the world will be taking part in science related competitions for the next four days. There are leading science schools from countries as diverse as Japan, Iran, India, the US, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia. The event will be opened by Liz Truss, the Schools Minister.

Camborne is the first school in Britain to host this prestigious event which is quite fitting for a town with such a great heritage in engineering and invention. Their decision to take part in such an international project is a great credit to the school and something Richard Trevithick, one of Britain’s greatest inventors, would have been proud of.

Today also sees Pool Academy host a new initiative run by the Institute of Physics which aims to enthuse students about science with a particular focus on medicine. The UK is a world leader in pharmaceuticals being home to some of the globe’s biggest companies and is also at the forefront of medical technology. This project helps students understand the connections between the science they learn at school and vital medical research.

I have been really encouraged by the energy that our local schools have put in to promoting science as a career choice for their pupils. The future success of our nation will depend on us maintaining a lead in technology. Britain has a lot going for it. Four of the world’s top ten universities are in the UK. Despite the perception that we don’t make anything anymore, we are still among the top ten manufacturing nations in the world and we lead in areas such as cyber technology, satellite communications, aerospace and pharmaceuticals. We manufacture and export more cars today than at any point in my lifetime with firms like Jaguar Land Rover making the best cars in the world.
However, the world is changing rapidly and we are in a global race. Thirty or so years ago, China and India combined accounted for little more that 3 percent of the world’s economic output. In a few years time, these huge countries with 2.5 billion people between them are predicted to account for almost half the world’s economy. According to a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, about 40 percent of young degree-holders in leading countries will come from China and India by 2020. The United States and some European Union countries will produce about 25 percent.

The evidence is clear that a degree in science is the most valuable degree a student can take and is most likely to lead to a high paid job. We need to ensure that students choosing their GCSE’s today, are inspired by science and also understand its value both to their careers and to the future of our nation.

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.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Penhaligon’s Friends

Last week I visited Penhaligon’s Friends, a fabulous charity based in Redruth which has been going for about twenty years and has just moved to new offices off Drump Road.

Most of us remember the first time we were bereaved and lost someone close to us. For most it will be a grandparent but for many, it can be a parent or sibling. Bereavement affects different people in different ways. Some experience grief instantly, others seem to cope but are then affected some years later. Some put on a brave face, others pour their heart out. But the first time anyone loses an immediate family member is often the hardest. There is never any shortage of well intentioned advice about the need to 'move on' and 'get on with life' but that’s not always helpful. I remember an experienced volunteer at the Samaritans once telling me that losing someone close to you is a bit like losing a limb. You never really get over it but you do get used to it and can eventually learn to cope quite well.

Learning to cope is every bit harder for teenagers who have a lot of emotional changes in their life as it is, and younger children who often struggle to understand why such a tragedy has happened to them and can often feel it might even be their fault. Penhaligon’s Friends is there for these children and teenagers. It has built up over forty five volunteers across Cornwall and, at any one time, will be helping and supporting around six hundred Cornish children. These volunteers see a lot of tragedy but, over the years, have helped thousands of young people come to terms with what life has dealt them.

Their work varies from home visits and counselling to 'memory days' where children of the same age share their experiences and talk about the loved ones they have lost. The charity also does a lot of work with schools and runs training courses to help other agencies understand how best to support young people.

Last week also saw the launch of a new book which was written by seven teenagers helped by Penhaligon's Friends which offered an insight into their own experiences and some really good advice for teachers and schools. I read it and what it shows is how difficult it can be to strike the balance between supporting grieving young people while not making them feel different or alone by tip-toeing around the issue or making too much of it all. I first heard about this initiative earlier in the year when a volunteering organisation called Fixers alerted me to what these young people had done. So, congratulations to Jasmine, Tony, Shannon, Peter, Philippa, Bradley and Cassie for an excellent piece of work.

If you want to consider volunteering or fundraising for Penhaligon's Friends or if you need their support, call 01209 210624 or visit www.penhaligonsfriends.org.uk