Monthly Archives: March 2014

Alston

CUMBRIAN MPS PRESS COUNCIL TO BID FOR ROAD REPAIR FUNDING

Following an announcement in the Chancellor’s budget speech that an additional £168 million is to be allocated for road repairs through a bid-based fund, local MPs Rory Stewart and John Stevenson have written to Cumbria County Council to ensure they are putting together as strong an application as possible, that properly reflects Cumbria’s need for substantial investment in its roads. It is hoped that the new bid-based fund will help drive up efficiency and value for money to the taxpayer, as councils compete to show why their needs are greatest. The new fund is in addition to the £3,018,761 this week earmarked for road maintenance in Cumbria by the Department for Transport, as a part of its £183.5 million budget for road maintenance. It means that overall, during this parliament, the current government will invest £4.5 billion on local roads maintenance – £800m more than the previous government.

Rory Stewart said:

“It is hugely reassuring to see the Chancellor invest so significantly in Britain’s road infrastructure. In a county as rural as Cumbria, where for most, road travel is the only way to get to the nearest shop, post office or doctor’s appointment, we find ourselves far more exposed to the risk and dangers of pot holes than most. With low average wages, and such a high reliance on cars to get about, the damage potholes inflict on our vehicles can put Cumbrians in real financial hardship. I am constantly speaking to rural communities who have been waiting years for improvements to their local roads. This is why we are pressing the county council to submit a bid that does justice to the needs of thousands of Cumbrian road users.”

John Stevenson said:

“I very much welcome the Budget announcement for additional pothole repair funding, and it is vital that Cumbria County Council seize this opportunity. I know from my constituents that potholes on Carlisle’s roads are an issue. Not only can they damage vehicles, they can also endanger drivers and pedestrians.”

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RORY DELIGHTED AT BAIL FOR WIGTON SAILOR HELD IN INDIA

Rory today said he has been “delighted that hard work and common sense have finally prevailed” in response to the news that his Wigton constituent John Armstrong – a maritime security guard – has been bailed today after a long campaign involving the family, and MPs from across the house. He has been bailed from prison in Chennai following months of incarceration in south-east India. The administration involved in the bail order means that the men are unlikely to be freed before Friday, but it is expected that they can now be in closer contact with their families.

In a brief statement Rory Stewart said: “Today’s outcome follows months of very, very delicate negotiations between Ministers, advisors, lawyers and Indian officials. I and my five parliamentary colleagues, all of whom represent affected constituents, have spent a great deal of time lobbying the Foreign Office and pushing as strongly as we could for the release of the men, mindful always of the very sensitive diplomatic implications of their arrest. The news of today’s bail order is very, very welcome, and we need now to focus on the men’s wellbeing now that they are out of prison, and attend to any urgent medical needs, as we assess the next steps.”
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RORY STEWART MP – FORTHCOMING DROP-IN SURGERIES

Please note that local MP for Penrith and the Border Rory Stewart will be holding open surgeries at the following locations on Friday 4th April 2014:

Friday 4th April, 1300 – 1400 – Tufton Arms Hotel, Appleby

Friday 4th April, 1730 – 1900 – Booths Cafe, Penrith

No appointment is necessary, and all constituents are welcome. More
information can be found at www.rorystewart.co.uk/surgeries

For more information please call 01768 484 114.

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Middleland, our lost realm of beauty, art and blood

The idea of ‘England’ and ‘Scotland’ is immensely powerful in the year of the referendum. Perhaps this is why it took me so long to understand what is now two was once three. I’m half-English and half-Scottish. I spent years living and working on borders from the Balkans to Afghanistan. And I’m now the MP for the only constituency with border in its name. But over the last five years, walking, writing, and finally, making a BBC documentary – which begins next Sunday on BBC 2– I have slowly come to terms with the ‘Middleland’: a nation with its own Kings, languages, traditions of art, literature, and forms of religion, that existed for over a thousand years. It extended from the Firth of Forth in the North, to the Humber in the South, stretching over what is now all of Southern Scotland and Northern England. It has never entirely disappeared.

I have got to know Willie Tyson, for example, who lives beside a mountain called Blencathra, and says ‘yann, tan, tethera’, when counting sheep instead of ‘one, two, three’. The name of the mountain and the numerals are both from the ancient Middleland language of Cumbric, which is quite different to English or Scottish Gaelic. The Middleland is a sparsely-populated territory of open moorland, and peat – an upland terrain of small family sheep-farms, quite different from the Highlands of Scotland or the English South. And archaeology suggests that this was an egalitarian society, with no obvious centres of wealth and power, as long ago as 700 BC.

But Hadrian’s Wall ripped the Middleland in two. Flying over the wall with archaeologist, David Wooliscroft, I saw that the wall did not follow a great river, or mountain ridge. It cut, ruler-straight, through flat fields. (Archaeologists can still see the lines of the iron-age ploughs running under the wall). 15,000 Roman soldiers manned what was, in effect, an 84-mile long camp, for three hundred years. This colonial line tore tribes and families apart. And my experience as a Deputy Governor in Iraq made me feel the brutality of this foreign occupation. In the North-East there is evidence that the Romans cleared the entire native population out of the territory beyond the wall. And when the Roman soldiers withdrew, economic and governmental structures collapsed in an instant. The war-lords of the Middleland, who had been created under the Roman occupation, were sucked into civil war.

Then, after two hundred years of obscurity and chaos, there was a miracle. Within two generations from 630 AD, the pagan, illiterate, Kingdom Middleland – then called Northumbria – became briefly the greatest Christian civilisation of its time. It attracted and brought together Byzantine sculptors and Scandinavian jewellers, Catholic missionaries from Syria and Italy, and Irish ascetics. It changed our understanding of astronomy, of tides, and of the nature of history. It produced the finest sculpture in Europe; and masterpieces such as the illumination of the Lindisfarne gospels. This revolution in scholarship, spirituality, and art, stretched from the Firth of Forth, down to the Humber, and included Edinburgh as much as York. Even after Northumbria faded, a wonderful cross-border culture survived in the Kingdom of Cumbria, connecting Penrith to Glasgow, a Christian civilisation, deeply interfused with pagan Scandinavian symbols and mythology. (In Penrith churchyard, we filmed a cross decorated with a mythical Norse serpent).

The Kingdoms of the Middleland were destroyed first by the Vikings: we had to film a full Royal Marines amphibious assault crashing over the cold waves, to give a sense of the terror of a Viking attack. Then the English and Scottish Kings combined to crush what remained. When the Eastern Middleland attempted a final rebellion, William the Conqueror ‘harried the North’ killing a hundred thousand people; the Scottish King followed up, enslaving the survivors. The last independent King of Cumbria vanished sometime in the eleventh century. But even after the independent Kings had gone, a Middleland culture survived. Great monastic foundations expanded across both sides of the border, bringing new learning, and turning the fellside into pasture, and creating fortunes through the international sheep trade. (A single monastery could keep 20,000 sheep). As late as 1290, people on both sides of the border married each other, traded with each other, worked for the same nobles, and the same monasteries, and spoke the same Northumbrian dialect.

But the scar of the Roman wall had never entirely faded. In many sections it stood ten feet tall for more than a thousand years. All the early medieval maps of Britain showed the Roman wall.  King William II of England put his new frontier forts precisely on the Roman line. (His successors pushed the border further North in the East, but in the West the Roman frontier remains to this day). The victory of the Scottish King Robert the Bruce at Banockburn in 1314, gave this artificial border, its final sinister life. Bruce, whose father had been keeper of English Carlisle, and whose family owned estates deep into Yorkshire, banned cross-border landholdings. The people of the Middleland were forced to choose to be English or Scots. It was forbidden for an Englishman to marry a Scot, or to enter Scotland without written permission. For the next three hundred years, the border destroyed the lives of everyone who lived alongside it – creating murderous raids, mafia-bosses fuelled by proxy war. (In the Bailey valley, I rode, drunk, stayed with and filmed families, who still celebrated their descent from border “reivers”: singing their ballads, and showing me their swords and gallows-trees).

And then, in 1604, the border vanished – the two halves were joined again under a single King. James “Sixth and First” tried to resurrect the Middleland as the ‘Middleshires’. Without the border, the violence ceased. The Middleland found a second Golden Age, as Walter Scott, and Wordsworth made it the central landscape of the European Imagination. New more nuanced cross-border identities re-emerged. In Longtown auction mart, a farmer told me, “My grandmother was from Scotland, she was a Scot, my grandfather’s from Northumberland, my wife’s from Durham city, I’m from Cumbria so I think I’m British.”

On September 18th, a referendum will determine whether this border, first invented by the Emperor Hadrian, becomes again the line of separation between two independent nations. But will anyone remember the culture and people that once reached – and still reach- across the modern border, linking Southern Scotland to Northern England? Will anyone remember the beauty and the glory of the Middleland?

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RORY STEWART MP SEEKS TO TACKLE CRISIS IN SUPPORT FOR SMALL BUSINESS

Rory has launched a new cross-party initiative to help small local businesses attract support and investment. Rory launched an enquiry into the problems small businesses and start-ups face attracting finance at the end of last year. He has now completed the first stage of the enquiry, and last week presented two proposals to a cross-party group of Cumbrians from business, the financial sector, the voluntary sector and local government.

The first proposal would look to create a simple mechanism for local savers to directly support local businesses, building on the already successful ‘Funding Circle’ platform for peer-to-business lending. The project would look to replicate the success of similar SME lending support schemes already being rolled out by other local authorities, like the ‘Local Business Lending Partnership’ run by Lancashire County Council, which helped to catalyse over £2m of loans to Lancashire companies during its first 9 months of operation.

The second proposal would setup a more comprehensive structure that would complement and expand upon existing provision for local small business finance already in place across Cumbria. Working closely with groups like the Cumbria Business Growth Hub, and Enterprise Answers – Cumbria’s only Community Development Finance Institution – the scheme would not only provide customised funding solutions for Cumbrian SME’s, but also look to strengthen the local business support network.

The seminar provided a starting point for a broader consultation on small business finance, to which both local borrowers and local investors will be encouraged to contribute. Rory Stewart has now set up two online surveys, one for borrowers and one for investors, which will serve as an important tool in identifying the areas in which local businesses are being failed by existing financial provision, and in understanding the extent to which local investors have an interest in providing commercial support. The feedback from these surveys will help shape the design of any final Investment Fund for Cumbrian SMEs.

Speaking after the event Rory said : “I am very excited to take the next step in our Cumbrian cross-party mission to support small local businesses. We are beginning to get a real sense now of what we can do to create the best possible match between unfulfilled financing needs and potential funding sources for local SMEs. With the fantastic support of the local business community and Cumbria County Council, I am confident we can create something of real value to the thousands of small businesses across the county.”

“The surveys we have setup will now play a very important role in helping us determine the precise structure of the Business Investment Fund we hope to launch later this year. Any feedback is invaluable, and I would strongly encourage any small business which has experienced financing difficulties, or any investor with an interest in the local economy, to join in and share their views.”

Any local business or investor eager to contribute to the Cumbria Business Finance Network survey, or to learn more about the project, can do so at: www.rorystewart.co.uk/cumbria-business-finance-network-surveys/

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RORY STEWART MP LAUNCHES ENGLISH TOURISM WEEK IN EDEN WITH FOCUS ON DISABLED VISITORS

On the back of his local and national campaigns to improve disabled access for visitors to the North Lakes –  focussing on improvements at Penrith railway station – Rory Stewart MP joined Eden Mencap members and staff on Ullswater on Friday to help launch English Tourism Week in Eden. The launch, organised by Eden District Council’s Tourism Team, highlighted the important contribution visitors with disabilities make to the area’s tourism industry, which annually welcomes over four million visitors who contribute £240 million to the local economy.

Rory joined the group from Penrith-based charity Eden Mencap to experience an outdoor activity session run by Eden Outdoor Adventures, rowing in a canoe with members and then accompanying them back to Pooley Bridge on board an Ullswater Steamer. He chatted with participants about the activity and the way in which it allowed them to experience the great outdoors. On arrival at Pooley Bridge Pier Rory joined other invited guests from the area’s tourism industry at a reception hosted by Eden District Council. During the reception Rory officially launched English Tourism Week in Eden and had the opportunity to meet representatives from national accessible tourism charity Tourism for All and Visit England.

Penrith and the Borders MP, Rory Stewart said: “Making tourism in Eden and indeed across the UK as accessible as possible for all is vitally important for our area’s tourism industry. In taking part in Eden Mencap’s group activity on Ullswater I have had the pleasure of seeing people with disabilities being able to take advantage of Eden’s great outdoors.

“This group’s enjoyment is the tip of an iceberg – nationally some £2billion is spent by disabled people during overnight visits and repeat visits to destinations and activities are a common occurrence. It is my sincere belief that this event, which launches English Tourism Week 2014 in Eden, demonstrates powerfully that Eden and the North Pennines is a destination open to everyone and that the area’s tourism operators are committed to providing the best experience for our disabled visitors. That is one reason why we have been campaigning so hard for disabled access at Penrith station.”

Eden District Council’s Tourism Development Officer Charlie Thornton, said: “Accessible tourism is an area with so much potential for growth and development and Eden tourism operators are already tapping into this valuable and important market.  EDC’s tourism team works hard to publicise organisations and companies that offer facilities for disabled visitors.  As an example, our website for visitors, www.visiteden.co.uk, features a section on accessible accommodation which is well used by people booking a stay in the area.”

During English Tourism Week that runs from 29 March-6 April, tourism businesses are being encouraged to put forward a range of interesting offers aimed at visitors and local people. Following the launch event, Eden Outdoor Adventures is offering a special activity session rate of £80 for half a day and £100 for a full day for two people of any ability between 29 March-4 April. (For larger groups please add £10 per extra person).

For more information email: [email protected] or visit www.edenoutdooradventures.co.uk

Border Country

RORY STEWART MP’S DOCUMENTARY ‘BORDER COUNTRY: THE STORY OF BRITAIN’S LOST MIDDLELAND’ TO AIR ON BBC TV

Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Border, will present a BBC television documentary exploring the history of Britain’s lost ‘Middleland’, the story of the region that at one point stretched from the Firth of Forth in the North to the Humber in the South and incorporated modern-day Cumbria. The two-part documentary will be broadcast at 8pm on BBC2 on Sunday, 30th March, with the second part being shown on Sunday, 6th April. Rory, who considers the building of Hadrian’s Wall to be one of the single-most important events in Britain’s history, will investigate the issues of identity and culture in a region divided by a fabricated border.

Drawing on memories from his experience in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan, and from the years spent walking the lands either side of Hadrian’s Wall, Rory hopes to shed some light on the region before the Roman soldiers divided families and communities, the impact of the Roman occupation on the region, and how the area changed once they had left. Rory suggests that the Middleland – sometimes completely autonomous, sometimes ignored, and sometimes a lawless debatable land – was transformed from a meeting point between different cultures into a borderland.

More information about the programme can be found at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0404r3t

older women

Our culture excludes the old when they have so much to contribute

First published by The Observer

Parliament talks ceaselessly of “the next generation”. But, in Cumbria, where I’m an MP, voluntary activity and politics are generally driven by people over the age of 55. Every village seems to have a retired engineer attempting to build a community fibre-optic cable network and baffling the most confident civil servant with their points about microwave and cellular technology. Retired nurses and doctors are challenging psychiatric care provision and lead the “hospice-at-home” movement.

The same age group sends me a dozen emails a week about Equitable Life or the Forestry Commission, offering to save the Penrith cinema, proposing a project for Ethiopian coffee farmers or a music centre for locals with disabilities. They scrutinise our stance on Syria and our aid programmes in India. They examine business cases and government promises and expose incompetence, hypocrisy and laziness. They argue for braver policies. They are smart, wide-ranging in their interests, stubborn, experienced and relentless. They are also startlingly idealistic.

But we make little use of their knowledge and experience. Civil servants have long retired when they are at their peak. There are charities and government initiatives all over Britain – and, indeed, all over the world – which desperately need good people. The retired have immense experience and are often prepared to work as volunteers. But we are failing to match their talents to our needs; or our talents to their needs.

This reflects the culture of our century. If we lived in the Roman era, the driving goal of our culture might have been dignity; in the dark ages, honour, in the middle ages, atonement. Victorians found peculiar satisfaction in empire and war, nature, reason and nation.

But ours is the first generation to draw our deepest fulfilment from our own descendants. Some of my friends imply that all that matters is what happens to their families, in the lives behind their own front doors. We have become reluctant to make sacrifices, except on the altar of our children. And what is the purpose of our children’s lives? Their own children. And so on, all the way down.

But instead of focusing overwhelmingly on the interests of “the next generation”, politicians should give more space to the previous generation. We should begin by allowing older people to take far more political responsibility in local communities. This doesn’t just mean becoming a parish councillor, which is often frustrating because of crippling regulations and the lack of real freedom to act. It means giving them jobs with real responsibility and power. If this were France or the United States, for example, with directly elected local mayors and powerful parish government, more retired people would be transforming our lives – and occasionally backing policies that meet the needs of older people.

It sometimes feels as though young people see themselves as uniquely deserving and uniquely victimised. But over the last three years, walking around my constituency and staying with different families, I have found that the most shocking scenes are in the houses of older people. I stayed with a single mother on an estate, in which 20 per cent of the households had a family member who had been to jail. There were extreme mental disorders and drug use in one group of houses was staggering. But there was also such a strong sense of irony, energy and of solidarity among the younger people (they knew every child, it seemed, on every corner).

It was when I walked into the house of an elderly man, who had not been outside for months, who received about two hours of visits a week in total, who was not feeding himself adequately, and who, it was clear, could not bathe or move properly in and out of the bathroom, that I found something more disturbing than I have seen in some of Asia’s poorest villages.

Our older population is the most impressive, self-sacrificing and imaginative part of our entire community. They are almost the last people who belong to political parties, the last who maintain our churches, the most generous and dedicated supporters of all our charities. They are our last fragile link to deeper history.

They are also people who can find themselves in extremes of poverty(fuel poverty, in particular), of isolation, of loneliness and of hopelessness in the wait for death, unimaginable to anyone younger. We are not respecting them and, as a society, we are not making use of their extraordinary talents.

It can sometimes feel almost embarrassing to focus on the challenges facing older people. But we could do so much more. Take hearing aids. We have gone through a revolution in wireless, microphone and battery technology in the last 20 years (look at your smart phone). But most people who are hard of hearing find that their hearing aids struggle to cut out ambient noise. They are isolated, their families are infuriated: they are deprived of one of the most important parts of any human relationship – the ability to have a conversation. There are many possible solutions. (How about a version of the bodyguards’ technology: a wireless microphone on the speaker’s lapel, transmitting to an earpiece?) But the investment that goes into addressing a problem that afflicts more than 10 million people in this country is minuscule, compared with the investment that is poured into other consumer technology.

Also, we should guarantee disabled access at every mainline rail station. (At Penrith, if you have mobility problems, you have to be pushed directly across a line on which trains travel at 125 miles per hour.) We should invest in smart grids, which can allow the elderly to reduce their energy bills and stay warm. We should develop new “tele-health” technologies, to support the elderly in their homes. We should be much more imaginative in using community hospitals, voluntary organisations and technology (including live videolinks over broadband) to overcome isolation and loneliness.

If we are looking for redemption for the young, and a mission for our society, it could be in our care for the older generation: finding fulfilment and delight in relationships with the elderly and in helping the elderly. We should admire and learn from them. This is possible. On every street corner in Kabul, you can see a teenager in stonewashed jeans raising his head from scowling at his phone and moving with genuine delight to talk to an older person. I would like to see us begin to do the same here.

Instead of building a world that’s only fit for our children, I would like to see us building a world fit for our parents.

Turbine Heights

RORY STEWART WELCOMES DECISION TO BLOCK WIND-TURBINE

Cumbrian MP Rory Stewart welcomed Secretary of State, Eric Pickles’ decision yesterday to accept his request to “call-in” the Killington wind-turbine application. This is the second success in a week for Rory’s campaign against wind-turbines in Penrith and Border, following the rejection, last week, of a turbine application at Orton.

The Killington application would see three 123 metre high wind turbines built at Killington reservoir on the edge of the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks. 1000 individuals submitted individual objections to the South Lakeland District Council. Despite the local opposition, the local council’s planning committee initially approved the turbine plan by a seven to three majority. Rory Stewart MP then pressed the Secretary of State to “call-in” the application. This now means a public inquiry will be established to examine whether the council’s decision was made on a sound basis.

Rory Stewart said:

“The Secretary of State’s decision to call in the Killington application, highlights the problems of what was being proposed here. These structures would be seen for miles in every direction. The visual impact would be immense – and immensely damaging. Tourism is the largest sector of our economy here in Cumbria, and tourists are not drawn here by the weather but by our spectacular, unspoilt landscape.

In this case the local planning officer rejected the application, only to be over-turned by South Lakeland councillors. I remain concerned that too often our local planning authorities are still failing to see the inherent value within this vast area of natural beauty – something which local communities recognise instantly. Time and again Cumbrians have come together in demonstrations to highlight how strongly they oppose this blight on their landscape. We did so in Orton last month, and I was delighted to see planning authorities reject the turbine last week. I remain convinced that with well-organised and vocal opposition, we can successfully beat any inappropriate wind turbine application.”

Rory Stewart set up and runs the Cumbria Wind Watch website, which serves as a tool for individuals and communities seeking to fighting wind turbine applications in their community. For further information please visit:www.cumbriawindwatch.co.uk.

Turbine Heights

Bewcastle

RORY OPENS BEWCASTLE’S NEW HADRIAN’S WALL EXHIBITION

Bewcastle

was invited to officially open a new exhibition in the small village of Bewcastle which will look at the community’s turbulent border history. Set up by the Hadrian’s Wall Trust, and funded by Defra’s Rural Development Programme, the exhibition showcases over 2500 years of human history  – from the Bronze Age to the Roman occupation, through Norman and medieval times, the rise and fall of the Border Reivers, and onto the more peaceful farming community of today.

The project hopes to encourage more visitors to explore further afield from the already popular sites along the wall, like Vindolanda and Birdoswald, and to take in more of the 80 mile World Heritage Site. The Hadrians Wall Trust will now continue to work with the local community and local businesses to ensure they are getting the most out of this world-class tourist destination.

Speaking at the official opening, Rory said:

“I genuinely believe that Bewcastle is one of the most exciting places in Cumbria. Nowhere else in the county can we see such a visible layering of history going back over 2500 years. I am delighted and honoured to open the Bewcastle: Past and Present exhibition, and sincerely hope it encourages more people to visit this enchanting part of the borderlands.”