Monthly Archives: March 2013

Eden Valley and the North Pennines

ATTITUDES TOWARDS THE LAND

It is August 1805, two friends have risen early, on a cold Cumbrian morning, to climb Striding edge to Helvellyn. The previous night, they are recognised in the inn, but they have fun pretending not to be who they are. They are well-educated, have travelled abroad, and have lived in great capital cities. But their roots are in Cumbria and the Borders, and they have chosen to devote their lives to analysing and celebrating our landscape. They will continue in this vocation until the day they die.

The older man – who has a bad limp, and moves very slowly along the ridge – sees history in everything. He has read, and it seems remembered, all that has been written about the Borders, from medieval land registers to French mercenary gossip. He has devoted years, interviewing shepherds and housewives, to gather the most comprehensive collection of oral history, and ballads, conceivable. There is not a hill, or a local family, within thirty miles of his home, about which he cannot tell you a story. When he looks down towards Martindale, he will remember the Kendal archers, in green, who ambushed the Scottish raiders, six centuries earlier. And he takes particular pleasure in the King of Patterdale, an elderly man, with a drunk wife, who seems to be the last impoverished descendant of an ancient chief.

The younger man – a very strong walker – draws his delight from the human emotions evoked by the land itself. As he climbs, he can conceptualise every valley and ridge of the Lake District, as though he were a raven circling above Skiddaw. But what interests him most is the way the landscape strikes the human eye and soul. He can recall the different passions, evoked by each of a dozen lakes, at every season, from every point of the compass, from daybreak, to moonlight. And he loves the hill-farmers: he has observed the details of their architecture, their stockmanship, and their response to the weather, to poverty, and to death. The focus of these two men on the landscape will make them among the most famous men in Europe, and their home country of Cumbria and the Borders into the most famous landscape of its time. These men are, of course, Walter Scott and William Wordsworth.

But the twentieth century took a less poetical view of our landscape. Within a few decades of Wordsworth’s death, valley after valley around us was being expropriated for the purposes of the government. Mardale was flooded to create reservoirs, leaving the barns, and steeples, far beneath the water. Tynedale was cleared for millions of Alaskan trees, intended for use as army trench-props. Military airfields sprung up from Silloth to Carlisle. The base of Bewcastle was circled with tape warning of ‘ionised radiation’, enclosing a rocket-testing site. Seven miles of munitions factories, and thirty thousand workers, were transplanted to Annan and Gretna. Nuclear power-stations were erected with too little care for the radioactive waste; and in Otterburn, the houses of hill-farmers became artillery targets.

Our twenty-first century approach to our landscape is less easy to describe. It is a virus concealed in the darkness of strategic plans, and unfamiliar concepts. It spreads through a thousand slivers of legislation, directives, and subsidies. But it is equally destructive. Today, the needs of fern-leaf moss, of birds, of carbon targets, of limestone soil, or water-purification in Manchester, are used to justify clearing sheep and farmers from the hills. “Geomorphological surveys” convince officials not to dredge or control rivers, allowing the water to flow across pasture and down village lanes (and save the state money). Mires, which the medieval monks worked over generations to drain, are reflooded to meet European targets on “sites of special scientific interest”. New tax laws reward landlords for taking farms back from tenants, and selling their houses as second homes. Subsidies intensify all these trends. And the small hill-farmers are vanishing week in, week out, without noise, just as surely as if they were being expropriated for reservoirs, uranium, and rocket-ranges.

All these modern schemes – whether aimed at creating great reservoirs, or preserving the tiny, pink fluff of the sphagnum moss – pay little attention to historical communities. They value narrow numerical targets – this many Mega-watts to be generated per hour, this many tonnes of dynamite to be mixed, so many sheep to be reduced, such a percentage of sites to reach “a favourable condition”. These are plans, indifferent to history, and impatient of the exception. They are driven by officials in distant offices who know little, and care less for the particular, peculiar energies of a long-established community. All treat us almost like a blank space on a map.

The older vision of those two men on Helvellyn, two hundred years ago, was better. They were as immersed in the details of geology, botany, and zoology, as a contemporary environmentalist; and they were often involved in battling government policies. But their priorities lay not in government assets, or nature for its own sake, but in the particular history of living communities. They loved the hills, not only for their beauty, but as fields of action, as reminders of human myths, and human heroism. They valued nature because it made better men. And seated, on a bleached limestone boulder, today, watching rough hill-sheep shouldering the snow from the base of a dry-stone wall, I feel they were right. When the rigid schemes of government are forgotten in ministry archives, their more human vision of our landscape is the one which must, and will, endure.

 

MODlongtown

Local MPs press for more clarity on future of Longtown

Rory Stewart MP, John Stevenson MP and David Mundell MP have cautiously welcomed an update from Defence Minister Phillip Dunne over the future of the Ministry of Defence munitions site at Longtown, whilst continuing to call for greater clarity on the Government’s long-term commitment to the depot. The latest announcement shows that the Government has acknowledged the concerns raised by all three MPs, as well as local council and Trade Union representatives, and suggests a move away from Labour’s 2008 proposal to close the facility. No decision will be taken until the outcome of the 2015/2016 spending review is known in June, but it is hoped that a more flexible, intermediate solution may offer breathing space for the depot, presenting an opportunity to again reevaluate how to secure the site’s long-term future.
David Mundell said:
“This latest letter from Philip Dunne shows that all the options to retain the site are still on the table ahead of the final decision being made. There remains a strong case for retaining MoD Longtown, despite the planned spending cuts and I will continue to do everything I can to make sure that case is heard. The commitment and quality of existing workers cannot be questioned and it is important that local MPs, councils and trade unions continue to work together to make the positive case for Longtown at this time”
Rory said:
“I am pleased to see the Minister thinking flexibly on this issue, in an effort to retain a site that is not only vitally important to our local economy – employing close to 300 residents in the Longtown, Carlisle and Gretna area – but also to our defence systems nationally too. It is reassuring to see that all options remain open, and I feel this is a testament to the extraordinary lobbying efforts of local MPs, councillors and trade union representatives. There is still a real need for greater clarity on the site’s long-term future however, and I will ensure we continue to lobby government tirelessly to secure such an outcome.”
John Stevenson said:
“MOD Longtown is important to our local economy and I am pleased that the local MPs, trade unions, local councils and those employed at MOD Longtown are continuing to work together to highlight the local and national importance of this site. A final decision on the future of this site has not yet been made and we must continue to remind Government that MOD Longtown provides much needed employment in our area and provides a key service, supporting the British Armed Forces.”

Penrith building society hosts local mp in discussion on local and national challenges

Rory met with representatives of Penrith Building Society at their office on King Street where he sat down with senior management to discuss their successes to date and challenges over the coming months and years, as well as the local impact of the Chancellor’s budget.
Penrith Building Society took the opportunity to discuss a number of their key achievements over 2012, including their record levels of lending, an increase in customer numbers, zero complaints, and holding the highest capital ratio of any building society in the UK. The meeting primarily served as an opportunity however to discuss the difficulties many small building societies currently face, and to look at additional ways in which Penrith Building Society could help facilitate local development projects, such as community affordable housing schemes or broadband infrastructure. The society’s specialist local knowledge and flexibility leave it well placed to offer lending support to local “Big Society” initiatives.
A primary concern for the Society is the difficulty small building societies currently face in accessing the Government’s Funding for Lending Scheme. The Bank of England’s current upfront costs make it too expensive and drawn out for a small building society to access the scheme, and this clearly leaves larger banks and building societies with an unfair advantage. Rory agreed to work with Penrith Building Society to raise the issue with the Treasury to see if a workable solution can be drawn up that would remove some of the administrative and financial obstacles for smaller building societies.
Amyn Fazal, Chief Executive of Penrith Society Building said:
“I was extremely pleased to have the opportunity for myself and our board of directors to engage the support of Rory Stewart our staff were energised by his enthusiasm and knowledge of the sector and the issues facing our local community.”
Rory said:
“It was really valuable to sit down with representatives from Penrith Building Society and learn of their fantastic commitment to understanding and supporting the local area. With the Chancellor’s budget still at the forefront of everyone’s mind, it was an ideal time to meet with a local building society, and I am keen to work with them to ensure fairer regulation that will ultimately mean more competitive lending to local businesses and residents in Cumbrian communities.”

Gudrun Ravetz, Rory and Neil Frame

Rory works with local vets for industry reform

Rory met with local vets at Frame, Swift and Partners Veterinary Practice in Penrith to discuss issues affecting the industry both locally and nationally, and to better understand where reform is needed.

Given the importance of agriculture to the local economy and to local communities, Rory Stewart used the occasion to again discuss the issues of Bovine Tuberculosis and wider animal disease surveillance to establish what more Government can be doing to help local farmers. Local vets were supportive of the MP’s efforts to date on these issues and welcomed his suggestion of annual testing and post-movement testing as a pilot scheme in Cumbria in an attempt to replicate the successful Scottish “TB-free” campaign.

The meeting also offered an opportunity to discuss wider veterinary and animal welfare issues as well, and Rory Stewart agreed to work with representatives from the veterinary practice to also address compulsory micro-chipping for dogs, reform of the Dangerous Dogs Act and slaughter house standards in the UK. The MP was made aware of real concerns over the impartiality of slaughter house inspectors, and the need for tighter regulation and monitoring, and has committed to help secure needed reform within the industry.

Rory said: “I am extremely grateful to be able to hear the insights of vets who work out on the front line in helping to ensure our local livestock are fit and healthy. The past 18 months have been unbelievably difficult for our farming communities, and a significant part of this is down to a rise in livestock diseases. The chance to hear a vet’s perspective on events is extremely valuable therefore.

Britain can rightly boast to have one of the best animal welfare records in the world. It is particularly alarming however to learn of practices in our slaughter houses which would fail to meet our high ethical standards and expectations. I have agreed to work closely with vets in today’s meeting to ensure this issue is raised at the highest level in government to bring about any necessary reform that would ensure a more accountable and humane practice.”

Gudrun Ravetz, Rory and Neil Frame

Gudrun Ravetz, Rory and Neil Frame

P1000226

Rory called in to rescue farmers from effects of snow

Rory persuaded ministers this Saturday, to sign off on emergency measures to allow feed trucks to get through to isolated farms in the snow. The extreme weather conditions had made it very difficult for feed trucks to get through the snow to remote hill farms, in Cumbria, and across the country. Special measures were required to allow farmers to clear the snow from the roads, and to give the feed truck drivers exemptions from working time restrictions to allow them to reach the farmsteads. This was particularly urgent given that lambing was well underway, and major issues of animal welfare depended on getting the feed to the stock. As of Saturday however, officials were refusing to allow flexibility for the delivery of the feed.

When Rory was approached by Cumbria National Farmers Union on Saturday afternoon, he immediately contacted Carrs Billington the feed manufacturers to gather more details on the situation, and then telephoned Richard Benyon the Minister in the Department of Environment and Rural Affairs, who he had hosted in Cumbria last year. From Benyon, he was directed to Stephen Hammond, the Minister in the Department of Transport, who agreed to immediately instruct his officials to introduce emergency measures. These included allowing farmers to use red diesel to clear the roads, and securing a temporary derogation from the European working time directive to allow the feed drivers to work longer hours.

Rory said: “I was delighted to be able to help. This was a great example of Cumbria working together, and working quickly. Tim Fawcett of Carr Billington, and Alan Dickinson from Cumbria NFU, brought this to my attention immediately. Luckily, we know the Minister well, having hosted him in Cumbria last year, so we were able to clear straight through the bureaucracy. It was great to be able to coordinate across different departments so quickly on a weekend!  Hopefully, we will not be in this position again – but it is reassuring to know that when there is an emergency, everyone is prepared to get into action quickly. I’m delighted that this Cumbrian initiative will help farmers across Britain.”

WH-Visit

FOREIGN SECRETARY JOINS PENRITH AND THE BORDER CAMPAIGN TRAIL IN SUPPORT OF CONSERVATIVE COUNTY CANDIDATES

Rory and Conservative County Council candidates Helen Fearon (Penrith West) and Scott Jackson (Penrith East), welcomed Foreign Minister the Right Honourable William Hague to Penrith, to camapign ahead of local elections on 2nd May.

WH-Visit

 
Theeign Minister had the opportunity to tour the town centre, engaging with local shop owners and the general public, before delivering a speech to supporters and passers-by in the Corn Market on the importance of the County Council elections, and the strength of Helen Fearon and Scott Jackson as local candidates.

Rory said: “It’s great that the Minister found time in his incredibly busy schedule to visit Penrith, speak with local residents and shopkeepers, and get a sense of the issues that matter most to local people. This has been a huge boost to our local candidates, who are strong on local issues – such as maintaining frontline services at affordable costs; keeping our recycling centres open; consistently fighting for our community hospitals; and maintaining our highways.”
“We have some really fantastic prospective councillors, and I will be working hard over the next few weeks to do all I can to support them in their campaign.”
video-thumb

4g technology brings broadband to northern fells

Following extensive consultation with local broadband Group Northern Fells Broadband (NFB) and local MP Rory Stewart, telecommunications provider Everything Everywhere (EE) have today announced the launch of a 4G fixed and mobile broadband service in Cumbria, bringing high-speed broadband to homes and businesses in one of the UK’s most rural and sparsely-populated areas for the first time. The launch will offer many Northern Fells residents access to average upload and download speeds between 8-12Mbps, and headline speeds over 20Mbps.
The Northern Fells has remained un-served by fibre or other superfast fixed technology up until now due to its rural aspect and challenging topography. The launch will demonstrate the ability of EE’s existing 4G network, running over 1800MHz, to offer the reach, capacity and high speeds necessary to deliver high speed broadband to rural homes and businesses. The deployment will help inform other potential 4G rollouts across rural parts of the UK.

EE is launching the service with its wide variety of existing consumer and business mobile broadband plans, starting from £15.99 per month, and will evaluate usage and behaviour to potentially develop other plans specific to rural customers. 4G home and office devices will be offered to help optimise the high-speed broadband experience for customers in one of the UK’s most rural environments. The service will cover 84% of the population across the Northern Fells by summer 2013.

Rory continues to work with all parties to now try to secure further funding for an additional two or three masts which would help bring broadband coverage to 100% of the Northern Fells population. If successful, this pilot could provide a national model that can be replicated across the country in other remote and rural communities, where providing super-fast broadband – and its widely recognised social and economic benefits – has to date proved unfeasible.

Rory said: “This is a major step forward for my constituents. Superfast broadband is making a massive difference to the way that people live their lives and do business. The 4G trial that started last year has already made a substantial difference to people in the Northern Fells community, and it is a hugely positive step to see this being moved to a full launch over the coming months. EE is a great British business that is investing in sharing the power of connectivity with citizens living in some of the most remote parts of the UK.”

John Grainger, Managing Director at Invest in Cumbria, said: ”Cumbria is an area that has so much to offer, with so much innovation and ambition and so many successful businesses, working locally, nationally, and on a global basis. For many years we have lobbied companies and governments to bridge the digital divide to connect Cumbria, yet a lack of investment and commitment from service providers has for too long left us technologically isolated. EE delivering high speed broadband connectivity to large parts of the Northern Fells is great progress and a big moment for us – this will be a massive benefit to the local community, changing the way we live and do business.”

Olaf Swantee, Chief Executive Officer, EE, said: “Using our dedication to innovation and engineering excellence, we are overcoming the challenges of delivering rural connectivity to launch a 4G mobile broadband service in Cumbria. This is yet another big step in advancing digital communications in the UK. We’re offering one of the fastest mobile networks in the world, and are pioneering how to make superfast broadband available to homes and businesses that currently have little or no connectivity.”

Consumers and businesses in the Northern Fells can register for high speed 4G broadband provided by EE as the service continues to rollout across the region.

For more information, please visit www.ee.co.uk.

magic_garden5

Rory welcomes more money for primary school sport

An extra £2,328,300 will go to primary schools across Cumbria to transform school sport, improve coaching for the youngest pupils and inspire the Olympic and Paralympic stars of the future.

London 2012 gave Britain a once in a lifetime opportunity to inspire a nation to enjoy sport and the Government wants to embed that into the school day from an early age. The Prime Minister has announced a £150 million Olympic legacy fund to improve the quality of provision in every state primary school in England.

Rory said: ‘Young people across Cumbria will benefit from this announcement – particularly as the lump sum element of the premium favours our small, rural schools, who will receive more money per pupil to put towards sports and coaching. Despite our distance from London, this money will help to ensure that even the remotest corners of Cumbria can share in the Olympic legacy and will hopefully support our gold medal winners of the future.’

Prospective County Councillor for the rural Kirkby Stephen division Libby Bateman said: “This funding is a welcome boost for primary schools across the area that will see an additional forty thousand pounds shared between the five primary schools in Kirkby Stephen division, which includes Brough, Ravenstonedale, Tebay and Orton.

“The formula for allocating the fund will bring a greater benefit to smaller rural primary schools and will give the children an opportunity to explore fun ways to getting active and participate in sport.”

The Prime Minister, David Cameron said: ‘The Olympic and Paralympic Games marked an incredible year for this country and I will always be proud that we showed the world what Britain can do. I want to ensure the Games count for the future too and that means capitalising on the inspiration young people took from what they saw during those summer months. This investment will benefit a whole generation of children for many years to come.’

Olympic gold winner, Jess Ennis CBE said: “It is great to see initiatives that help to give really young children the chance to take part in sport. This latest funding for primary schools sounds fantastic – now whether in an inner city or small rural community, young kids will be introduced to fun ways to be active that will spark an interest in taking part in sport as they grow up.”

Double Olympic Champion, Mo Farah CBE said: “It is great to see a commitment to funding school sport and that it is something I passionately believe in. I am very excited to know that lots of children will be able to get involved in sport while at school and get more help from teachers and coaches. It really is very important.”

Rory responds to chancellor’s budget

Rory welcomed the Budget Speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne,  in particular the good news for small and medium-sized enterprises and localism initiatives.

Rory said, “In Penrith and the Border, where SMEs employ 92 per cent of the private sector employees in Penrith and the Border, the Chancellor’s announcement of the employment allowance for every business and charity, which removes £2000 from every employers’ National Insurance bill is very good news. It will mean that many Cumbrian businesses can take on their first employee at £22,000 or four employees on the minimum wage, without paying jobs tax.

He added, “The further reduction of corporation tax to 20 per cent from April 2015 and the reduction of working families’ childcare bills, as well as the freezing of the fuel tax rise planned for September will also help Cumbrian small businesses, where so many businesses and individuals rely on the car.” From April 2013 pump prices will be 13p per litre lower than under the previous government’s plans and a small business could have saved £340 in total over the last two years, and will continue to save at least £340 a year.

Rory added that SMEs would also benefit from the government’s endorsement of Lord Heseltine’s proposals for local enterprise partnerships (LEPs). “This is crucial for localism, as local authorities will have more freedom to plan and budget effectively for the long term, benefitting local housing projects and rural broadband initiatives, for example.”

Rory also welcomed the announcement that the beer duty escalator was to be scrapped, and hoped that that the ‘penny off a pint’ measure would mean fewer rural pub closures, and a boost to beer drinkers as well as brewers.

“A number of my constituents have written to me about the collapse of Equitable Life. They will be cheered by the Chancellor’s announcement that ex-gratia payments of £5000 will be made to customers who bought with-profits annuities prior to 1992.”

“The Chancellor has shown us that his main focus is to get public finances back under control, building on the reduction, so far, of the deficit by a third. His measures will restore sanity to British public finances, which is very important in the long term.”