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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 April 2011

Peripherality is a strange word, but it lies at the heart of the strength and weakness of this region. We are a long way from other centres of population. Plymouth is the only city apart from London in England that does not have a larger city within 100 miles of it, Bristol being 110 miles away.
It is our remoteness that helps preserve our fabulous rural character. It means we are not likely to become another Birmingham-by-the-sea. But in these stringent financial times our seclusion could be the most challenging obstacle to economic growth.
If you were starting a business that relies on sending goods to the rest of the country or overseas, most people would set out their stall in places that are better plugged into the transport infrastructure.  If you were thinking of investing in the UK from overseas, you would look first at locations that feature on the motorway map, with a thriving local airport or served by a flourishing rail network.
In truth, our transport connectivity is not all that it might be. The motorway system stops at Exeter and this is unlikely to change. The cost of upgrading the A38 to motorway standard is not currently in anybody's budget.
And Plymouth airport seems doomed after owner Sutton Holdings announced yesterday it would close in December.The council and chamber of commerce have wisely commissioned some in depth research to examine the true economic value that the airport brings, so that decisions about its future can be better informed. There is no public sector money available right now for any substantial support.
But there is room for cheer. The train service seems to me (as a regular user) to be gradually improving, although we need to press FGW for more three hour journey times between London and Plymouth to speed up this vital connection.
But our future does not rest solely on traditional infrastructure. The roll-out of superfast broadband will be the key to unlock the economic potential of this region. We have talked for years about people working from home, or running their business from any part of the country, serving the rest of the world. High speed internet links make this a real possibility, which is why all local MPs are backing this vital work.
We can still be peripheral and prosperous. Technology may enable us to have our cake and eat it.

posted by Gary @ 15:35  



Thursday, 21 April 2011

Jan and I have just handed back our two grandchildren having looked after them for 6 days. My duties ranged from participating in a game called Gladiators (where the objective was to bludgeon each other into submission with huge inflatable space hoppers in the front garden) to assisting in the play station Star wars III game where I proved to be a huge disappointment to them. We survived, it was great fun, but we collapsed into the weekend exhausted.
Spare a thought therefore for the 200,000 couples in this country (including several locally) of our age and older, who look after their grandchildren full time, either because of a tragic death of one or more natural parents or more likely because of drug addiction or mental health difficulties. I have met several of them over the years and they are inspirational. Sadly they receive precious little support from the welfare state.
I read in this morning's papers that a child in care over the age of five is rarely adopted and destined to remain in institutional care and slither almost certainly into under-achievement. We have placed too many barriers in the way of good-hearted people trying to help others.
I once asked a friend of mine, a director of a national charity which has impacted thousands of lives, what he considered to be his greatest achievement. He told the story of how a tramp called Ronnie had knocked on their door one Christmas, 20 years ago, clutching a frozen Turkey asking if he could possibly cook it in their kitchen. He is still living with them today. "Ronnie used to smell and now he doesn't, that is my greatest achievement," was my friend's response.
Baden-Powell's last message to the scouting movement contained these words: "the real way to get happiness is by giving out to other people." Our welfare system should reflect that important truth. In the radical overhaul of welfare upon which the coalition government has embarked, I shall be looking to ensure that our system incentivises people to do the right thing and gives them more support in seeking to help others. Grandparents caring for their children; people adopting a difficult child; mentoring, caring, volunteering and serving the community, all of these things should be better recognised, encouraged and rewarded in our welfare system.
Easter is about new life coming from death; a fresh start. We need that now, more than ever, for our welfare system.

posted by Gary @ 17:06  



Friday, 15 April 2011

Last week (leaving Wednesday and returning Monday) I was in Tunis and Cairo, assessing how the cross party organisation that I now chair, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, can help those the people in Tunisia and Egypt establish a new democracy.
In Tunisia, the revolution was largely inspired by young people who had reached the point of no return with their corrupt ruling family. There was a tangible feeling of hope in the air. They have learnt the art of demonstrating and every day the streets of the capital are full of protestors. They have elections for a Constituent Assembly on 24th July 2011 which will appoint an interim government and thrash out a new constitution, with proper elections for a new Parliament following a year or so later. In the past 3 months over 60 new political parties have been formed, so it is fast becoming a crowded field. This is normal in new democracies.
It is not possible to do democracy without political parties. Many of the new parties seek our help in drawing up a manifesto, settling policies, sharpening a clear message and communicating it to the people. There are real concerns that the extreme Islamists are better organised and might dominate. It is in our national interest to help the new forces of liberal democracy succeed. Although a small country, if Tunisia came good, it would be a beacon for the entire region.
Egypt is a far larger country of 80 million people and the old guard seem to have hung around more effectively. They have announced elections to a brand new Parliament in September and Presidential Elections two months later. We shared an exhilarating evening with talented young activists enjoying their first taste of political engagement. They are also keen to learn from Westminster parties the techniques of honing and communicating a message. Once again the Muslim Brotherhood is the most organised. As in Tunisia, new parties are being formed and already discussions are underway strategic alliances and mergers.
This surge to democracy was started with them and will be completed by them, but many of the protagonists are asking for help from those who have been at this slightly longer (800 years in our case!).
A footnote: both countries are predominately Muslim, but their biggest fear is Islamic extremists taking over with their medieval agenda. In the Arab world, as in the UK, most liberal Muslims do not want that.

posted by Gary @ 17:44  



Friday, 1 April 2011

I could kick myself. I really did say it, goodness knows how many years ago: nothing ever happens in South West Devon. Since then it has not stopped happening. Langage power station is now officially open and new houses at Staddiscombe fully occupied. The new town at Sherford has been designed and awaits better economic conditions before the bulldozers roll in. Many other new applications are starting to pour into local planners.
But three potential developments are especially noteworthy. First of all, the Tungsten Mine at Drakelands (Hemerdon) is now on the brink of getting the go ahead. It has had planning permission for 30 years so most of us living nearby cannot be too surprised. The recent increase in Tungsten prices have now made the exploitation of this mine a near certainty, starting in the next 12 months. It will bring a measure of dust, noises and disturbance to the edge of Plympton, but the promised 200 jobs sweeten the pill.
I had a briefing last week about another proposed activity: to develop an aerobic digester using redundant china clay facilities at Lee Moor. This clever beast is designed to gobble up 75,000 tonnes of commercial waste and turn it into 3 megawatts of electricity (enough to power 4500 homes). This is already an ugly corner of Dartmoor and the planning considerations will not be significant, provided the developer can persuade us that nearby residents will not be plagued with unpleasant odours and the traffic count is reasonable. We who bash on about renewable energy can hardly complain at such a proposal in principle.
The same cannot be said about the Viridor application for an incinerator and landfill at New England Quarry, Lee Mill.  The Devon Waste Partnership has already chosen their preferred option at Devonport Dockyard and the binding contract with MVV is now signed. Viridor say that they plan to incinerate commercial waste at NEQ. But recent studies show that there will not be enough local waste to meet all of its demand, especially if the Lee Moor digester goes ahead. If Viridor get planning permission for NEQ we could have 2 incinerators within 10 miles, one of them consuming waste from the rest of the UK. This is not acceptable and we must all renew our protests to Devon County Council.
Things are happening in South West Devon. The voice of local people about what we accept and what we reject must be heard.

posted by Gary @ 09:26