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 in 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 is 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 talking 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 the 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 to develop 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.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

NHS and Broadband

Shortly before the Christmas break, I was pleased that the Government announced that the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust has been granted an additional £1.5 million funding to help cope with winter pressures. The extra funding was announced as part of a £337 million immediate funding boost for NHS hospitals this winter in the recent Budget, in addition to an extra £2.8 billion investment over the next two years.

I have met several constituents at my weekly surgeries in recent months who have had difficulties in getting a routine spinal referral. I have written to the Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group on this matter several times. It has now been announced that NHS Kernow has lifted the suspension on routine spinal referrals, following the publication of the new referral guidelines for Adult Low Back Pain and completion of the final tasks necessary to support full implementation of the new spinal pathway.

During my constituency surgeries, I meet people who need assistance with an array of issues in their lives. Recently, I have met individuals and organisations who have wanted to discuss broadband. In December 2017, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport confirmed that it will be delivering universal broadband through a regulatory Universal Service Obligation, which was legislated for in the Digital Economy Act earlier in 2017. This will ensure that everyone will have the legal right to decent broadband - of at least 10mbps - which is needed to be part of modern life. The USO will be in place by 2020, and in the meantime the rollout of superfast broadband continues.

The Superfast broadband project of a few years ago helped get Cornwall ahead of the rest of the country in terms of broadband speeds and paved the way for a new generation of businesses who could benefit from being located in Cornwall without the usual problems of distance from the market.

However, the fact that most of the county has high speeds makes it all the more galling for those communities who were left behind and who have had to struggle on with very poor broadband connections.  Getting high speed broadband solutions to the remaining households not covered by the original programme is now a priority for government and work continues.

I want us to make the most of the opportunities that superfast broadband offers. The computer software industry has really taken off in this part of Cornwall in recent years. Superfast broadband means that software companies can compete around the world from a digital connection in Cornwall.

We are already beginning to feel the benefits, with software companies like Headforwards, Blue Fruit and LumiraDx growing in our area. Innovation centres at Pool and Tremough play an important role in incubating new start-ups.  Meanwhile, proposals for a new fibre park in Pool to bring together software companies and training from Cornwall College to create opportunities for local school leavers could take things to the next level.  We have the chance to really put Cornwall on the map in this sector.

Digital Skills and Connectivity

One of the ways we can raise wages and incomes in the area is by promoting more apprenticeships and locally Cornwall College which I attende...