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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.


Tuesday, 23 August 2011


August is usually dubbed the political “silly season” with not much going on and the papers falling back on stories of MP’s stubbing their toes to fill their pages.
Not so this year, with economic woes, the euro zone threatening to collapse like a pack of cards, rioting in our streets and the final assault on Gaddafi’s desperate dictatorship in Libya. I usually like to read HG Well’s short history of the world every summer to get some perspective on the ebb and flow of human history but no time this year to even find the book in the attic let alone read it.
But in the midst of the macro events, local issues bring their own delights. I was pleased this week to open the Sparkwell Community Library a fine example of the Big Society in action. We all know that councils must cut their budgets after years of overspending and some communities are responding better than others. The good burghers of Sparkwell thrashed out a deal between the parish council, the church, and Devon County Council to open a new community library in part of the old village school, to be staffed entirely by volunteers from the village. This is very much a model of how some services and facilities will be provided in the future, because the public piggy bank is empty and not likely to be full again for many years. If we want something extra in our community, we will have to do it ourselves.
An example of another kind of community action is the rising up by the residents of Newnham Downs and Compass Heights in Plympton against the proposed new link to connect the new tungsten mine at Hemerdon. Most if not all of them bought their houses not knowing of the existence of this dormant proposal which relates to a planning permission granted on appeal in 1986! They have been hard done by and the new road will negatively impact their lives. We have a public meeting to discuss this matter on 2nd September.
As the state is rolled back – through financial necessity – the community must step forward to fill the void. We have to adjust our mindsets accordingly and our communities will be all the stronger for it. The internet and social networking can help us. We saw in the recent riots their effectiveness in gathering people together. These tools can also inform and gather people for positive purposes. 

posted by Gary @ 15:40  



Friday, 19 August 2011

I have deliberately said little in recent days about the riots that swept through our big cities, preferring to consider more deeply what we can do to tackle the problem.
There has always been an underclass that has no stake in our society. Was this any different in 18th century Britain, or the Victorian era or the last century? Some human beings are tragically born into chaos and sadly never receive the love, discipline or constraints that produce responsible behaviour. You don't have to teach a child to be bad; it can do that on its own. You have to teach a child to be good.
In earlier periods those missing constraints were partly put in place by the wider community, sometimes neighbours, sometimes school teachers, sometimes police and justice system, sometimes the army. In 21st century Britain much of that no longer happens.
We have allowed a significant number of young people to grow up in our midst who have no stake in our society and we have given away our ability to constrain them. There are over one million young people in this country who are not in work, education or training. It is a minority, but a significant one. They were the hard core of those who rioted last week, with other opportunists jumping on the band wagon.
Social history does not flow in a straight line, but is more like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the opposite. We have been too tolerant and it is time to change.
I favour a zero tolerance approach to the kind of anti-social behaviour we have had to tolerate on our streets and the abhorrent gang culture.
But we must also be constructive. For all of those who reach the age of adulthood with no credible plan for their lives involving training, education or work, we need some form of useful character building skills-providing national scheme that can help them become useful citizens. I will be advocating such an approach at Westminster.
The police have been criticised for their role in all this. I certainly do not blame the rank and file officers. They have to police riots with cameras rolling, the IPCC on their shoulder and the ridiculous Human Rights Act lurking around the corner. We send them into battle with one hand tied behind their back. This too has got to change.
It was a wake-up call, so it is time to wake up.

posted by Gary @ 09:31  



Thursday, 11 August 2011

Last week the government brought forward a major change in the planning framework and is currently consulting on it. You can find more information on the Communities and Local Government website.
The aim is to simplify the planning guidance issued by government to make it more sensible and user-friendly. But the big change is to include a presumption in favour of sustainable development. In other words, the planners have to show why a development should not take place rather than the applicants demonstrate why it should.
It would still protect the Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and Conservation Areas as now but in all other areas the presumption in favour of planning permission would mean that more projects would get the go-ahead. The intention behind this is to help get the economy moving again and to give the construction sector a much needed boost. Although there is a three month consultation process, I gather that the planning inspectorate is already working to it.
I have witnessed far too often in recent years planning authorities, especially rural ones, saying no to development for no good reason. If parts of our countryside are particularly special they should be protected as Green Belt or AONB. It is important our rural landscape does not become a museum, but a living, breathing, working place. Most of our small villages need some small scale housing, especially of the affordable kind for local people. Farmers need to diversify and this may mean building things from time to time. We all enjoy the great houses owned now by the National Trust, built in rural settings. There is no way that they would have got planning permission today and that needs to change.
Of course this must not become a free for all and that is not the intention, but it is time for change.
The presumption in favour of development has particular poignancy for us on the eastern flank of Plymouth. If Sherford does not go ahead soon, other developers are going to come forward with their own pet schemes all around the fringes, schemes which lack the same level of amenities and coherence as the Sherford proposal. This has got stuck because of a dispute over the level of affordable housing but I am fast coming to the view that it needs to become unstuck pretty soon to protect us against other incoherent development.
It may be summer, but never a dull moment.

posted by Gary @ 15:16  



Thursday, 4 August 2011

Warning: this article is boring. It is about Parliamentary Boundary changes, of interest to geeks, anoraks and MPs. Now may be a good time to mow the lawn or wash your hair.
On 13th September the Boundary Commission will publish its initial report on what constituency boundaries will be throughout all of England for the 2015 general election. This is to fulfil a pledge made at the last election to reduce the cost of politics and the size of the House of Commons from 650 to 600 by reshaping the size of each constituency to 76,000 electors plus or minus 5%.
Part of the rationale for this is to equalise the number of votes it takes to elect a representative. In some northern parts and Wales and Scotland it can be as low as 45,000 voters, whereas in southern England it can be as high as 80,000. Clearly this cannot be justified and the new plan is designed to ensure that every vote carries the same weight.
On the basis of this new arithmetic we know that Cornwall has 5.5 seats and Devon has 11.5. For the first time under this legislation, seats will be able to run across county boundaries. It is certain therefore that there will be a Devonwall seat. What we don't know is whether it will be in the Plymouth/Saltash region or up on the North Devon/Cornwall coast.
The implications could be very considerable for us here in South West Devon. To get the arithmetic right in Plymouth we might find this constituency divided into three, with Plympton and Plymstock going their separate ways into Plymouth seats and the rural part, including Ivybridge, gobbled up elsewhere. Or we could lose part of Plymstock into Plymouth and gain some additional rural parts, either Kingsbridge or Tavistock. The arithmetic out-trumps local ties and we may be faced with some very strange results in consequence.
This will not affect council boundaries. A decision has now been made that, for example, Plymouth's boundaries could only grow outwards if Devon and South Hams Councils agreed: about as likely as me moon-walking.
One way of avoiding this new matrix is to have a general election before the end of 2013 when the changes are due to be passed into law. Don't bet against that! 
So mid-September will usher in a new dawn of uncertainty. Told you this would be boring. But you did read it right to the end. Sad.

posted by Gary @ 12:26