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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, 29 November 2012


It seems a long time ago now, but last winter was one of the driest on record and in the first three months of 2012 a drought was declared, with part of the country being on stand pipes. But as my farmer father regularly reminds me, nature will always compensate.
Since Easter it has hardly stopped raining. Most years at the horse shows we have to have our old lorry towed out once or twice. This year we have been towed ONTO the field several times.

For the first time ever my constituency office was flooded this weekend and only a major dose of Dunkirk spirit kept our well oiled machine running.

Train lines washed away and our transport infrastructure severely disrupted. Being on a peninsula our transport links with the rest of the country are an essential life-line. Some people are experiencing water and mud surging into their homes for the second time this year. There is no sadder task than visiting a home that has had three feet of water lapping around the ground floor. Even if most homes are secure, communities around the constituency have to battle with persistent flooding in their streets.

Whether or not this assault upon us is caused by man's use of the planet and the burning of fossil fuels nobody knows for sure, but we are certainly experiencing climate change bringing with it more dramatic weather patterns.

So what is to be done? We have been here before and we have to adapt. Our primary focus must continue to be on flood prevention and flood defences. I am suggesting to my colleagues in government that we could do with hearing about this than the constant call to invest in wind farms. We all know that there is no money at the moment, but anti-flooding measures need to become a higher political priority.

In the meantime, it is important that we act to alleviate future problems. Not a single new house should ever be built on or near a flood plain. This should become a hard and fast rule. The Environment Agency is much better at predicting and giving flood warnings and we must be better at looking out for them and responding.

In this way government both local and national must do their utmost to protect us. But as ever, each of us must also take responsibility to do our bit. I will be spending the weekend filling sand bags.

posted by Gary @ 09:30  



Thursday, 22 November 2012


Will the new town at Sherford (between Plympton and Plymstock) ever be built? It has been on the books since 2007 and despite promises of start dates ever since, there is no sign of the bulldozers moving in any time soon. Contrast this with the new town east of Exeter which is rising rapidly from the ground.

A quick update: the developers have more or less agreed the terms of a very complex planning agreement with the planning authority (known as a section 106 agreement) (which sets out all of the extra work they have to do, for example building schools) and this should be signed soon. I am told by the developers that they hope to start of site in the third quarter of 2013.

There is still much uncertainty over this. Global financial turbulence and stagnant property prices continues to dog this development.
The cost of upfront infrastructure is significant and the real issue is whether it is affordable in the current climate.

This is why I helped pull together a meeting recently between the developers and planning authority and the government housing minister- to try and overcome remaining obstacles. Ministers are keen to unlock some of these major developments that have become stalled. There are two reasons for this: first of all the recognition that we really do need these houses, especially the affordable ones and secondly that the delivery of these projects will be an enormous boost to the local and national economy.

Locally, we should have another reason for hoping that this new town does now finally take shape. If it does not, the future development of the urban fringe of Plymouth from Roborough in the north through Woolwell, Boringdon, Newnham, Langage, Elburton, Plymstock and Staddiscombe will take place on a piece-meal basis. Unless Sherford gets underway in the next 12 months, developers will be able to submit plans for hotchpotch development all over the urban fringe, rightly claiming that South Hams would have demonstrated itself incapable of meeting its housing targets.

Sherford has all kinds of town facilities designed into it: schools, health centre, sports centre and high street and even a vast community park. Random development elsewhere around the edge of Plymouth is much more likely to simply plop another 500 houses down here and there with no amenities built in.

Not only would this place our existing infrastructure under pressure, it tends to deliver unsustainable places to live.

posted by Gary @ 10:51  



Thursday, 15 November 2012


I have recently contacted the Chancellor of the Exchequer and suggested that a large screen is fixed outside the Treasury (or maybe Trafalgar Square) to display how much money the government is still having to borrow every day to pay our bills, even after over two years of spending cuts.

I suggest this because day in day out I meet people who have no idea how bad things are and who want the government to spend even more or tax less.

Here are the statistics the screen might display: this year just to pay our bills we will be borrowing £120 billion. In other words every 3 days we are borrowing another £1 billion. Every three days.

Last year we borrowed £130 billion, next year we hope it will be a mere £110 billion! In other words we are still spending too much.
Yes we are getting the deficit down, but there is a long way to go.

What about our total debt, all of which has got to be re-paid. This now exceeds £1 trillion. The Treasury screen might also inform us that we are paying interest at the rate of £46 billion each year on this debt, more than we spend on education or defence! Every hour we spend £5 million in interest payments. This keeps on going up as we keep on borrowing more.

I shared this information with two professional friends last weekend and there was a sharp intake of breath. Intelligent well-informed people; all of this information is in the public domain - but they had no idea.

Every day e-mails roll in calling on me to support more spending for this great cause or a reduction in tax on that area. My stock answer is becoming more and more robust: no! We have horrendously over-spent and over-borrowed and although it is painful we have to slog through the next few years and first of all get the annual budget deficit down to zero. We might achieve this by 2017 if we hold our nerve and if the economy picks up again.

Then, unless we want to bequeath an almost impossible debt burden to our children, we have to make inroads into the mountain of debt which will be by then well over £1.5 trillion.

If all goes well we should be on an even keel again by 2023.

So put the screen up George, it's time the harsh reality was better known.

posted by Gary @ 12:53  



Thursday, 8 November 2012


Very soon now Lord Justice Leveson will report to Parliament with his recommendations as to how the British press should be regulated. This was the enquiry set up by government following the expose of the phone hacking scandal by certain national newspapers.

At the moment the press is self-regulated. Apart from the Monarchy, it is the last great institution that does not have an external regulator. The Press Complaints Commission to whom we can appeal if traduced by the press is funded by the press and presided over by a board the majority of which are editors. Not exactly impartial you might think.

We do not know what the Leveson enquiry will recommend, but it is likely that press regulation will be beefed up. The issue is whether the press will be placed under a statutory regulator as is the case with most organisations (Offwat for water, Offgen for power generators, Offcom for commercial broadcasters and so on.) The press naturally are resistant of this and are trying to get their retaliation in first. I was interested to read the article by the editor of the Ivybridge News last week, suggesting that press freedom would be crushed to death if Parliament set up an independent regulator.

He will understand it if I take issue with him. Nobody wants to curtail the freedom of the press to dig and probe and publish and expose. But they should do so within the law, without phone hacking or accessing confidential information illegally. Furthermore when the press get it wrong and unfairly traduce a member of the public, there should be proper redress. Now if a major mistake is made by a newspaper in bold print on page one, the Press Complaints Commission – six months later – might order a correction in small print on page 47.

An independent regulator set up by statute – but remaining independent of government like all the others are – would tackle these abuses and might also want to recommend new privacy laws – not to protect MPs (we are fair game) but ordinary members of the public.

We are fortunate to live in a country where the press is free. It is an important part of our democracy. But our press has not always exercised its freedom responsibly. An independent regulator would help us to get the balance right. I hope Leveson will recommend an independent regulator and that Parliament will act swiftly to put it in place.

posted by Gary @ 17:05  



Thursday, 1 November 2012


Remembrance Sunday is almost upon us and this year I am trying something different. Instead of taking part at the usually excellent service of commemoration on the Hoe, I hope to take part in the services taking part in both Plympton and Plymstock, as well as supporting the always moving Festival of Remembrance at the Pavillions on Friday 9th November.

It is crucial to continually acknowledge the debt we owe to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the two dreadful world wars of the last century, as well as every other conflict at which our armed forces are on duty on our behalf. It is also imperative that each generation has an understanding of the sacrifice of so many and the true cost of war. If we do not learn from the lessons of history we are doomed to repeat our mistakes.

But armed conflict can bring difficult decisions. I am troubled by the courts martial recently announced into the conduct of five of our marines in Afghanistan. We do not know their identity or their units, but there is a fair chance they might be West Country based. I am receiving plenty of e-mails in their support, understandably. I am torn on this issue.

All of my sympathies are with our armed forces who have to cope with extraordinary demands in theatres of war. I have never been in the military so I do not have first-hand experience of what they have lived through, especially given that one of the major threats is from Afghans who enlist, serve alongside our troops, and then turn their weapons upon them, as happened recently. How troubling must that be?

Yet we have to demand certain standards of behaviour and compliance with the Geneva Convention. For centuries we have placed our fighting forces under strict rules of engagement with which they must comply. It cases of serious wrongdoing courts martial have been used to get to the truth and enforce discipline.  It is imperative that authority is enforced especially when we are effectively occupying a foreign country, albeit in this case with the consent of its government.

None of us know the full detail of what happened in the case in which the five marines are charged. I very much hope that they are all exonerated and can get on with their service. Although discipline must be enforced, those overseeing this charge should err on the side of leniency.

posted by Gary @ 12:43