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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 January 2016


Over Christmas I gave more thought to how I would vote in the referendum, which I believe will be in the middle of 2016.

I do not fear the UK leaving the EU, I am sure that we would manage well in the world. But there are economic risks. I could not list many advantages of Brexit (British exit), apart from ill-defined notions of freedom and sovereignty, but I am not sure what those splendid ideals mean in practice in such an inter-dependent world. Emotionally I am attracted to them, but we have to be hard-headed as well.

The clincher was the knowledge that if we came out of the EU but sought to enter a free trade agreement (like Norway and Switzerland) we would still have to comply with the rules of the single market, including the freedom of movement. So Brexit would not solve the immigration issue that concerns so many. What then have we gained, especially as we would no longer be able to shape the rules of that single market?

Decision reached.  Last week I co-signed a letter to the Telegraph from a new grouping of euro-sceptic MPs who like me have concluded that our national interest is best served by the UK staying in the EU.

There is much about the EU that I don't like. It is bloated, bureaucratic, inward-looking and meddlesome. Britain is always going to be the bulldog country on the edge, keeping the others on their toes. It will always be an uneasy relationship. But it works. Just about.

There are wider issues too that need to be considered, not just pounds, shillings and pence.  When a minister under John Major's government I attended many meetings in Brussels sitting around a huge table with earphones on, simultaneous translation of my words of wisdom flying to all corners. I thought then, what a cumbersome way to make decisions.

But I reflected on Churchill's words: "To jaw, jaw is always better than to war, war." One of the plus-points of the EU is that it has brought together nations, notably Germany, France and Britain, who have spent centuries fighting one another. What price can you place on peace?

The main cry from many constituents is for information so that you can each reach your own decision. Once the starting pistol is fired, probably in March, there will be no shortage of words, plenty of heat and hopefully some light as well.

posted by Gary @ 08:34  



Thursday, 21 January 2016


The falling price of oil is a welcome relief to motorists, even if the petroleum companies have been slow to pass on the benefits. But with Iranian crude now coming into the market after the recent lifting of sanctions, prices should stay low for some time.

This is devastating news for the oil industry including British activity in the North Sea. If Scotland had voted for independence they would by now be staring down the barrel of a very unattractive gun!

We have made good progress with renewable energy in recent years. We had a target of 15% of our electricity supply provided by green energy by 2020, but we are up to 19% already and rising. Of course we are still playing catch up with Germany and Scandinavian countries which started down this path a few decades before us.

Even after the reduced Feed-in Tariffs, recently announced, it is still worthwhile investing in solar panels on your roof. The cost of panels has fallen dramatically since they first appeared on the scene, their efficiency increasing year after year. I hope that we will now see a greater focus on micro-generation and not too many more massive solar panel farms and on-shore wind turbines which do nothing for our rural landscape. It is also important to ensure that the costs of renewable energy, passed onto consumers via the green levy, are not unaffordable.

As we march inexorably towards renewable energy being our main provider by the middle of this century, as we comply with the commitments we have given at the Paris Accord, we have to keep the lights on in the meantime.

Currently we import energy from other countries including Russia and Nigeria – not ideal. Government has to deliver energy security. Nobody would thank us if the hospitals could not function or elderly people could not heat their homes.

That is why we are renewing the Hinkley Point nuclear power station and why fracking is so necessary, especially once oil prices start to rise again as they surely will. Although this does not affect us in West Devon as there are no gas reserves beneath our feet, I see no reason why we should not exploit these reserves, provided it can be done safely. From the reading I have done on this subject, I am convinced that fracking, strictly regulated, is safe and essential.

Fracking has a huge part to play in keeping the UK connected.

posted by Gary @ 09:31  



Friday, 15 January 2016


The government is keen on the devolution of powers to local government. This started with the "Northern Powerhouses" – the idea being to hand down more spending power and responsibility to our large cities, Manchester Liverpool and Birmingham. The idea is spreading rapidly and the government is now inviting bids from all kinds of cities and regions around the UK. For example, Cornwall is going to get additional powers this year and extra spending in exchange for a revised municipal structure, including far fewer councillors. Maybe this is just large enough to be viable because of the extra EU money they receive.

Usually the government require a devolved area to sign up to a directly elected mayor, so there is just one person accountable for decisions made.

I support these plans but have some concerns. This kind of devolution works better for larger cities where critical mass and economies of scale come into play. What about smaller cities like Plymouth and rural areas? This is where it gets messy. Bids have been invited from authorities all around the country to come up with viable and coherent units of territory to which power can be devolved, with councils working together and sharing resources. The incentive is to get more money from the Treasury.

Because Cornwall has already been approved as a stand-alone council, our natural region namely Devon and Cornwall, is no longer available.
So where next or do we get left behind?

Devon (including Plymouth and Torbay) and Somerset have been talking for some months about putting in a joint bid to be a devolved unit. This mirrors the Fire and Rescue area and the boundaries of our Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, but little else. Nonetheless a bid is being prepared and will be submitted shortly.

There are complications. Many Somerset MPs do not want to be bracketed with Devon and Plymouth, as they feel they look east and not west. They are kicking up a fuss. Also, Somerset does not mean the whole of the county for this purpose as its two northern unitary authorities are excluded. They do not want to go in with Bristol, so a plan for a stand-alone Somerset based on the old county boundaries is being floated.

The shape of local government may be about to change dramatically, but nobody can currently predict quite what it will look like.  There is much more water to flow under this bridge.

posted by Gary @ 08:36  



Thursday, 7 January 2016


2016 is likely to be a year of big things, both nationally and locally. Like buses you wait for ages for a game-changer to come along and then three come along together.

First of all, there is almost certain to be an EU referendum. Second, after ten years of debate and planning, the new town of Sherford will open its doors, changing our landscape forever. Finally, the 20 year plan for an upgraded rail network should finally be agreed by government and network rail and form the basis of much improved communications with the rest of the country.

Improving our rail link with the rest of the UK is an utmost priority. A lot is happening that does not make the media. The draft 20 year plan tackling resilience, capacity and speed was produced last autumn by the Peninsula Rail Task Force which represents all local authorities in Cornwall Devon and Somerset and our business leaders. It contains everything to which we aspire: faster journey times, an inland route from Newton Abbot to Exeter, better rolling stock, improved signalling, and the infamous Okehampton line as an addition to the existing network. This is currently being negotiated with the Department of Transport and Network Rail and should be complete by June/July and then form the blueprint of incremental improvements over two decades. 2016 will therefore be a seminal year of this most important strategic regional issue.

By the end of January, the first show homes at Sherford will be open and a new town, long awaited, will burst forth from the ground at about 240 houses per year, along with a school, sports facilities and other amenities. It will impact our locality but provide many much needed homes for local people. Many of the homes will be "affordable" to buy and to rent, something the government is keen to push. It will be a game-changer.

Finally, the future of our country will be settled by a referendum which I predict will be in July or September this year. This is a big deal. Support for the leave and remain camps is fairly evenly balanced. Once negotiations on key changes with our European partners are settled, hopefully in February, we can start a vital debate on the pros and cons of staying or going.

So there is much to get our teeth into in 2016 and big decisions to be made. I wish you all a very stimulating New Year.

posted by Gary @ 09:19