Previous Posts



Gary's News and views

Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon

Gary writes a weekly article which appears in the Plympton Plymstock and Ivybridge News in South West Devon. The articles are published here.


Thursday, 28 October 2010

As we dig in for the long crawl out of this financial mess, it is worth reminding ourselves that not everything in the garden is full of thistles, far from it. One area locally where we have much to crow about is education. Our schools, both primary and secondary, throughout this constituency have consistently delivered excellence for our children.
Even in these straitened times the government has managed to preserve the schools budget. This is part of the balancing act we have tried to pull off: tackle the current black hole without endangering the next generation. Indeed, we are determined to cut the deficit precisely so that it does not become a millstone around the necks of our children, who should not have to pay for our mistakes. If we are to flourish as a country once we get through this dark tunnel, it will be on the back of our brightest and best and nothing must be done to stand in their way.
Although there will be isolated incidences of difficulty, our schools should manage to retain their teaching compliments for the next four years. We are fortunate to have five secondary schools, four of which are outstanding and the other good with outstanding aspects. Each year they produce pupils of academic excellence, sportsmen and women of great prowess, artists, musicians and all round good citizens who will help lead us into the future.
They are assisted greatly by the seed corn delivered to them by our local primaries, most of which are also excellent. A growing minority of children have turbulent home lives these days; yes even in these so called leafy suburbs, which of course they are not. It is remarkable to see the dedication of teachers and support staff, making every effort to address these shortcomings and produce balanced individuals.
There may be more of a shakeup in higher education. The cap on tuition fees will soon be lifted, meaning that universities can charge more. This in turn will mean that most students will have to borrow more from the Student Loan Company and graduate with a debt of maybe £40,000 which they will have to start to repay once their salary exceeds £21,000. Currently 45% of school leavers go to university. I predict that more will ask themselves whether this is the right option. If it means that more peel away earlier to do vocational training, this may be a silver lining.

posted by Gary @ 17:06  



Thursday, 21 October 2010

There is a new kid on the block.
For some time now the incinerator debate has focused on where the new incinerator should be. We all know that landfill is running out and within 5 years there has to be an alternative. Most of us are pleased at the recycling record of South Hams (55%) disappointed in Plymouth's (30%) but recognise that even if we recycle more we will need a disposal option for what remains. We all want supermarkets and food processors to reduce packaging. We recognise the reasons for Devon, Plymouth and Torbay councils getting together to form a waste Partnership to try and sort this out. We realise that it is our waste that is causing the problem.
A minority think we can recycle everything and that incinerators are health hazards and do not want them on any basis, anywhere. Most of respect their sincerely held opinions but take a different view.
A long process has ended with the Partnership facing a decision between an incinerator in New England Quarry, opposite Lee Mill (proposed by Viridor) or Devonport Dockyard (proposed by MVV).  I oppose the Lee Mill option for planning, highways and environmental reasons and prefer the Dockyard option because the heat from it can be used by immediately adjacent buildings. I will continue to lobby the Partnership about this, as I have done for eighteen months. In the meantime Viridor have applied to Devon Council for planning permission for New England Quarry and threaten to build a commercial incinerator there even if they do not win the partnership contract for municipal waste. Many of us have objected to this and will continue to do so. This planning decision is expected early next year and CAVIL, the local campaign group, will be calling upon all of you soon to renew our protests.
The debate has now changed. A new alternative to incineration has emerged, put forward by a group of local technical experts. They are holding a seminar on 4th November in Ivybridge to present this to the officers and councillors who will be making this decision.
I urge all policy-makers to approach this meeting with an open mind. To me it looks very attractive. It will certainly deal with our waste requirements without incineration. It looks as though it may save our councils at least £5 million pa as well as better protect our environment. It is not too late. Carpe Diem.

posted by Gary @ 16:27  



Thursday, 14 October 2010

Will the new town at Sherford ever be built? The answer is probably yes, but I have no idea when.
As I understand it, Redtree, the potential town-builders, are still locked in negotiations with the South Hams planners. Quite understandably, given the current state of the housing and financial markets, Redtree are seeking to reduce the upfront costs of the infrastructure. Equally understandably, SHDC are saying that they are not prepared to compromise on the amenities and standards which make this proposal just about acceptable to local communities. I support them on this firm stance. And there the talks remain: deadlock.
I have no idea what financial pressure the developer is under, but they must have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds to date, maybe millions, and so far have not got a penny piece back. I imagine that their financial backers are not prepared to proceed unless the initial costs are reduced – I have no inside information, just making an educated guess.
One of the most important pieces of information on this project recently was the announcement that average house prices are still falling. This is hardly likely to encourage a would-be investor of millions to write a cheque to build this new town out right now, when future returns remain uncertain.
Nobody would much mind about his, because few of us wanted this new town anyway, except for three rather important points. First, we still have a crisis of affordable homes locally, both to buy and to rent, and that is unlikely to change.  We are fortunate to live in the most attractive corner of the best country on the planet and the increasing number of people wishing to live and work and retire down our way will maintain upward pressure on prices. We have to solve this affordability problem one day.
Second, future transportation upgrades (substantial improvements to Deep Lane, and the A379 into Plymouth) are dependent on Sherford happening. As far as I know there is no plan B to come up with these capital costs.
Third, as I have mentioned before, there is a risk that if this significant portion of the local development plan does not happen, other developers will swoop and obtain planning permissions (on appeal) to build hundreds of houses elsewhere on Plymouth's fringe, without the infrastructure or amenities to support them. We have been this way before.
Chronic uncertainty is unhelpful, but I can see no immediate solution.

posted by Gary @ 09:56  



Saturday, 9 October 2010

Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of universal benefits? The announcement this week at party conference that child benefit will be stopped to higher rate tax payers opens an interesting debate. Should there be any universal benefits at all? For example, the winter heating allowance. My parents do not need this, yet they like every other pensioner, get it. 
The principle behind universal benefits is simple. If everybody gets something out of it, there is a far greater buy in to the system. This is important for those who pay most to support it. Furthermore means testing is expensive and inefficient, nearly always putting off many who need the help but cannot cope with the process of claiming.
In part the future of other universal benefits will depend upon the economic performance of the country over the next few years. If we have steady growth from now on and whittle away this dreadful deficit I am sure that they will stay. I hope so. But if, as some predict, we are entering a period of either zero growth or further recession, then governments of all colours will need to find new ways of bailing out a sinking ship, both here and in all developed countries. The recent news from Ireland and Spain suggests we are not out of the woods yet, not by a long way.
One way to encourage us all to buy into the benefit system is to cut out some of the fraud and the excesses which drive us all crazy. The government is determined to do this, in part by making the whole system simpler and fairer. It must never pay anyone to be on benefits rather than to work and that is the cornerstone of the restructuring. I strongly support the decision to cap the upper limit on benefits to average earnings – a further incentive to work. In my weekly surgeries I see all sides of the story: people who are doing their best and need extra help and also those who are taking us all for a ride and should be standing on their own two feet.
I don't think recent announcements on these subjects are yet perfectly formed and I anticipate changes, but the direction of travel is set – we will oversee a major transformation of our welfare state. I would be interested to know whether you think universal benefits should be part of this brave new world.

posted by Gary @ 12:55