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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.


Friday, 28 October 2011

Will the new town at Sherford ever be built? The next few weeks should provide the answer to that 5 year old question. Planning permission in principle was granted several years ago subject to the developers reaching agreement with local councils on how much Redtree, the developer, would spend on infrastructure projects including road links, the school and community facilities. This 3 inch deep agreement is called a Section 106 agreement and is common in all major planning projects. It is a complex document and it was always expected that it would take months to thrash out its details between Redtree and the planning authorities.
Just after planning was granted, the banking crisis hit and the bottom fell out of the housing market. Naturally this changed all the financial calculations on which the project was based and the developer has fought a rearguard action to save the new town ever since. It has now concluded its tortuous negotiations with the planners and a draft Section 106 agreement is out for public consultation. Ultimately it will be for our councillors in both Plymouth and South Hams to decide.
I understand the main bone of contention to be about affordable housing. Understandably the planners want this to be as high as possible, whereas in straitened financial times the developers need to achieve the best possible return on selling houses in the open market. I am assured that the amenities to be provided: the school, sports facilities, town centre and community park are not impacted by the changes. I am assured that the quality of the construction will be just as high as the original intentions.
I have consistently said that I would rather we did not do this development than do it badly.
I am now firmly of the view that this development should now get the green light, even though the amount of affordable housing may be less than first planned.  Undoubtedly our most pressing local need is the lack of suitable housing for our young people. I do not necessarily mean social housing of which there will always be a shortage; I mean houses that our children and grandchildren can buy or rent. Like the recent scheme at Market Road, Plympton which sold like hot cakes and the new housing currently springing up in Lee Mill which is selling well.
We desperately need housing for local people and the Sherford scheme is best placed to provide it.

posted by Gary @ 14:37  



Friday, 21 October 2011

Escalating energy prices will be one of the greatest challenges of the next decade. I welcome the summit meeting called by the government this week bringing together the six major energy suppliers in the UK with groups representing consumers and the most vulnerable groups in our society who are especially threatened by this growing anxiety.
Why is it happening? Population growth and the economic advance of China and India are placing upward pressure on fossil fuel prices as the unchanging laws of supply and demand have kicked in. North Sea Oil is largely gone and the UK is now dependant upon importing supplies at prices very much subject to these global forces. We are investing heavily in green, renewable energy, but this is currently expensive. We have failed to invest early enough in a new generation of nuclear power stations so it will be some time before this comes on line to help us out. The six big energy companies have shown insufficient regard for the impact of their pricing decisions and seem intent on cashing in on their captive audience.
What is to be done? The energy companies must display more sensitivity to the ability of vulnerable households on dwindling incomes to respond to this pressure and introduce more help for those in fuel poverty, Secondly the programme of home insulation needs to be beefed up to help reduce the appalling waste of heat too many homes currently permit (including my own!). Third we must insist that the energy suppliers simplify their tariffs so that it is easier for people to swap suppliers to get the best available deal.
Finally, with an eye to the medium term, the government is right to roll out a programme to encourage solar panels on as many homes and offices as possible to tackle the problem by micro-generation of electricity. In the end that will be our salvation. Even if we can force prices down a little, huge fears about energy security remain. Most fossil fuel energy comes from unstable and often uncooperative parts of the world: Russia, the Middle East and West Africa. It is therefore crucial to solve the existing problem and anticipate long term challenges at the same time.
The next few years will be tough financially, we all know that. We must not exacerbate that sense of crisis by pursuing policies that mean when we press on the light switch in five years time nothing happens.

posted by Gary @ 18:44  



Monday, 17 October 2011

Parliament resumed once more this week after its three week conference break. Personally, I would abolish party conferences as they are now pointless, regimented, expensive wastes of time. The time could be better spent either at Westminster or in the constituency.
The House of Commons now slogs its way through to Christmas with many bills coming back from committee for further debate, votes and ultimate approval.  This normally means a succession of late nights. Most of the bills going through relate to the vial reforms to our much-loved public services.
The main focus for all of us will certainly remain the economy and how government might play its part in fostering growth in the private sector. I will be advocating further reforms to the regime under which small businesses currently work, all the red tape and burdens that make it hard and expensive for entrepreneurs to expand and hire new people. I had a meeting with one local businessman a few weeks ago who pointed out the impact of the heavy handedness of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise has had on his business. This kind of bureaucratic thuggery has got to be tackled if the government is serious about supporting small businesses, the life blood of our economy.
One focus that is unlikely to change is the determination to reduce our whopping annual deficit, a massive £140 billion this year. If we do not get our debt overhang under control there can be no long term sustainable growth for our country.
Many of the factors affecting our economic revival are external. If the euro zone crashes and burns this will be bad news for our exporters who would take a hit, thus further endangering our recovery and destroying jobs over here. If the USA, the largest market in the world, continues to stumble, we will trip over also. But we must do what we can. I am calling for the Chancellor to stimulate more construction activity whether through large infrastructure projects or otherwise.
Aside from the focus on deficits, jobs and growth there will be a renewed focus on immigration and the Human Rights Act. The head of steam in the country over these issues is undeniable and the government must do more if it is to retain public support. Also there is likely to be more Commons activity about our relationship with the EU.
The next time you see me I am unlikely to be looking bored.

posted by Gary @ 16:59  



Friday, 7 October 2011

Is European union an unrealistic dream?
Jan and I went to Portugal for 7 days last week and wherever we pottered I tried to extract from Portuguese shopkeepers, restaurateurs and business people how they were feeling about their economy. I have never encountered so much gloom! They were having a poor season as fewer tourists were travelling to their shores than normal. Few had a kind word to say about the Euro and they all expected a hard slog for many years until their economy clawed its way out of its debt-ridden despond.
I completely understand why European post war politicians embarked upon the European Adventure. The desire to tie Germany and France together to minimise the risk of future European wars was a commendable vision. It was not just the two great wars of the twentieth century that shaped their thinking, but the several centuries of conflict before that.
I also understand the thinking behind the single currency. If you are going to have a single market, it is much easier to trade and travel if everyone is using the same money.
But both of these ambitious ventures suffered from the same fatal flaw: the harsh reality of human nature. To succeed, these projects require a continuously unifying form of governance so that in the end the European Union effectively has only one government – a United States of Europe. The problem is, the peoples of individual member states do not wish to be governed in that way. The vast majority of us are wedded to the notion that the inhabitants of each individual country should elect their own government and make their own laws.
We have been a member of this club for nearly 40 years now and far from people gradually buying into the ideal of a European identity and central governance, the British people are less and less happy about European rule. It seems that most people groups throughout Europe feel precisely the same.
To save the euro, they must either ditch the debt-ridden basket cases like Greece or move towards a much more integrated system where the debts of the weaker are carried indefinitely by the stronger who also force their conditions on the ones they are bailing out. Ask any student of history whether this is likely to succeed.
As this unfolds in the next few years, we must seize the opportunity of renegotiating our relationship with the EU, to better accord with the wishes of our people.


posted by Gary @ 07:46