Thursday, 20 February 2020

Winter storms

Last Thursday I was asked by the Prime Minister to join his Cabinet as the Environment Secretary. It is a huge honour and I am looking forward to the task ahead with many important Bills to get right as we leave the EU and chart a new course for vital industries like farming and fishing.
However, my very first task within hours of being appointed was to take charge of our plans to manage the impacts of storm Dennis. The last two weekends have seen Britain battered by two storms, and once again, many communities are experiencing the distressing effects of floods. In Cornwall we have had plenty of gale force winds and lots of rainfall but, unlike a few years ago when the tidal surges damaged sea defences at Portreath.
This time the worst of the damage has been seen in Worcestershire, Shropshire, Herefordshire and South Wales but there have also been widespread effects across the country. Part of the problem is that following a very wet winter land is already very waterlogged, the water table is very high and rivers are already brim full. That means that there is nowhere for additional rainfall to go. In recent years we have spent billions of pounds on over 600 flood defences which has protected over 200,000 homes and there are more under development that will protect a further 100,000 homes. In this last episode, although over 500 homes were flooded, the defences we had in place protected about 20,000 homes. A further £4 billion has been allocated for the next five years to build more still and the Met Office also recently announced that it was investing £1.2 billion into a new supercomputer to help predict future weather conditions and foresee extreme weather events.
The success of our flood defences in protecting many homes is, of course, no consolation to those who were affected and had their home flooded this week. Suffering flood damage is an incredibly traumatic event for people and that is why we have also announced a package of measures to help people get back on their feet with reliefs on Council Tax, payments to those affected to help them manage the short time crisis and grants to help them repair their homes in a way that will make them more resilient to future flooding events.
Around the world we seem to be seeing an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events. It is not just here in the UK. Over the Christmas period we saw massive bushfires across Australia fuelled by hot and windy conditions with more than 11 million hectares of bush, forest and parks across Australia burned. There were also higher-than-average rainfall and floods in Eastern Africa and droughts in south-east Asia.
One factor driving the increased frequency of extreme weather events is climate change and that is why we must continue to make progress to reduce carbon emissions and that is a key objective in both the Environment Bill and the Agriculture Bill that are going through parliament at the moment.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Investing in local transport

In a peninsula like Cornwall, there will always be challenges to building a resilient public transport structure. However, some good progress has been made in the last few years. We have invested to improve our railways and there is now a regular half hourly service running through Cornwall which has led to a significant increase in passenger numbers.
However, for most people in Cornwall, it is the local service that matters most and 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. This will allow rail and bus timetables to work in tandem to give people more frequent options to get from one destination to another.
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 and this is now starting to come together. By joining up commercial 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.
Following the General Election result, there are now however some really interesting and important things happening in line with the Government’s commitment to levelling up our towns and ensuring that regions like Cornwall outside of London receive improved connectivity. Earlier in the autumn, I wrote about the plans to introduce Britain’s first Superbus network here in Cornwall. The network was part of the government’s plans to reverse the impacts of dwindling services in local towns and drive forward a bus revolution that will improve access for everyone.
The pioneering investment would direct investment towards more frequent public transport in the countryside, introducing new apps that will improve the information available to commuters whilst also ensuring that the bus fleets will be cleaner, greener and more environmentally friendly.
Earlier this week the Government further committed to improving bus and cycle links announcing a significant £5 billion package of funding to drive forward the reforms needed. The new funding, delivered over the next five years, will see the introduction of more regular and faster bus services while providing cycle routes with a major boost - funding more than 250 miles of new cycleways and introducing at least 4,000 new Zero Emission Buses.
Creating an integrated public transport system for Cornwall is an important step forward in ensuring that our local communities are supported. Investments like those announced this week and earlier in the autumn will help to improve the affordability of transport for local people, improving our regional links and ensuring that we have a more environmentally friendly transport service.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Unleashing the potential of our towns

The result of the recent General Election has transformed British politics and given way to a sense of energy and optimism. Much of this is because the government now has a stable majority providing the ability to get on with the job of governing. However, there is also another factor that is proving decisive, namely that the government is committed to delivering on its promises, levelling up our towns and cities and unleashing Britain’s potential.
For towns like Camborne, Redruth and Hayle this is welcome news. Our local towns were once at the heart of the industrial revolution and our expertise in mining engineering was second to none. Over the years, with the loss of mining our fortunes waned and all too often the political attention was on big northern cities, but now we have an opportunity to reset this imbalance and deliver the economic regeneration that our towns and communities need.
In Hayle there is already some exciting work taking place to transform the harbour into a new coastal quarter. We have already repaired the harbour walls, started to develop South Quay and built a new marine business park on North Quay. Now further construction is under way at North Quay with the first phase of the scheme delivering homes, new shops and open spaces just yards from the beach at Gwithian Towans. There will also be considerable investment into the roundabout at Loggans Moor roundabout helping to improve the flow of traffic and improve the infrastructure.
The Historic Towns Fund is also set to help with the regeneration of Redruth, one of just 69 in the country. It recognises the amazing architecture that we have in Redruth and will help restore it. The fund can help spread the regeneration that has been started with the opening of Kresen Kernow. Projects like Krowji and the work around the Butter Market shows just what is possible with some imagination, passion and local leadership and we now have funds to help facilitate further work.
In the weeks ahead I will also be meeting community leaders in Camborne to explore plans to help transform Camborne’s growth prospects. Camborne will be receiving funds from the new Towns Fund which focuses on areas with a proud industrial heritage that are in need of economic growth, with up to £25 million being designated for Camborne. There are already a number of exciting and innovative ideas being talked about including the potential to redevelop the old bus station, and breathe new life into the high street but I want to ensure that the community is fully involved in discussions about priorities.