Monthly Archives: January 2016

Border Country

RORY PRAISES CUMBRIAN TIMBER POTENTIAL IN SAWMILL VISIT

Rory Stewart MP was delighted to visit BSW Timber’s Carlisle sawmill recently, to see the work of one of the constituency’s largest employers and to find out about its incredible rate of recent growth, praising the ‘huge potential for the timber industry in Cumbria, for Cumbrians.’

The local MP met with with Hamish Macleod, Director of Public Affairs, Tony Hackney, CEO, and George McRobbie, Managing Director, to find out about the business group’s latest developments.​ ​During the meeting Rory and the group discussed issues around sustainability, planting and restocking, and flood mitigation. They also talked about BSW’s ‘Roots to Prosperity’ initiative, and the important role of Rory’s constituency Forestry and Woodlands think-tank. Rory learnt about BSW Timber’s production of over 30% of the UK’s softwood from seven locations across England, Scotland and Wales, in which it employs over 1,000 people. The annual output of the Carlisle site alone is around 50,000 cubic metres which is used for fencing, landscaping products, green-carcassing, pallets and packaging.

Rory Stewart MP said: “I was delighted to meet with BSW and discuss their plans for a sustainable future.​ I can also see huge potential for this industry in Cumbria. It is vital that we do not underestimate the many benefits that commercial forestry can deliver to our communities and economy.​ The role of the timber industry is, I think, widely misunderstood, and I am pleased that in our constituency think-tank we provide an important platform for the sector to be able to discuss forestry policy together with a broad spectrum of stakeholders from the third and government sectors also.Companies like the BSW Group are integral to both our local and our national economy, and I was pleased to get such a great first-hand account of how the sawmill operates, and to see the wonderful work it does.”

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RORY SHOWS SUPPORT FOR BEIJING BIDDIES

Rory Stewart MP called in at the Lloyd Volvo showroom in Carlisle last week to show his support for the Beijing Biddies as they collected the vehicles which they will use for their Arctic Challenge.

The group of five women will be driving from Carlisle to the Artic Circle in February to raise money for Cancer Research UK and Macmillan Cancer Support. The 2,700 mile drive will see Edwina Sorkin of Newbiggin-on-Lune, Helen Stobart and Liz Tinkler from Penrith, Kerrie Ellison from Kendal and Kate Sleath from Wetherby, travel across Holland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway in this non-stop challenge.

Following the event Rory said: “This will be both a very exciting and very challenging adventure for these five brave ladies. I am very proud of what they are trying to achieve for a very good cause and wish them the best of luck.”IMG_1916

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RORY VISITS WARCOP FLOOD VICTIMS IN NEW ROLE

pr5Rory Stewart MP visited the village of Warcop on Friday to look at the damage caused by the recent floods. Residents gathered to meet Rory as he walked through the village, looking at the river and its banks and discussing how to protect the village better in the future. The visit was one of the first stages of the new Cumbria Floods partnership, chaired by Rory Stewart. The Floods Partnership will be conducting visits to communities across the county, on a daily basis, to listen to residents, take on board community ideas on better flood protection, and provide advice and support. There are currently 19 sessions planned in different communities over the next 15 days, in which the Environment Agency and Local Council staff will be available to meet residents.

Following the first round of community meetings, the new Cumbrian Floods Partnership group, chaired by Rory, will then consider what improvements to flood defences in the region are needed. A designated officer will be appointed for each major catchment as the key community link. They will develop plans all the way from upstream options for slowing key rivers to reduce the intensity of water flows at peak times, to “hard” defences around towns.

Rory has also taken on the role of the Prime-Minister’s Floods Envoy for Cumbria and Lancashire, coordinating the national component of the flood recovery operation, in support of Cumbria County Council. This work will be supplemented by a National Flood Resilience Review to better protect the country from future flooding increasingly extreme weather. In light of the Cumbria events, a new cross-Government team will look afresh at how risk is calculated. This will see the Government updating ‘worst case scenario’ planning, considering the future impacts of climate change and carrying out a risk assessment of critical infrastructure, like electricity substations. The review, also to be published next summer, will be led by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Letwin and include the Government’s Chief Scientist, Defra, DECC, DCLG, HMT and the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency.

Speaking after the visit Rory said: “It was fantastic to visit Warcop and meet with residents to hear about their experiences and see first-hand the damage caused by Storm Desmond. I would like to see communities such as Warcop empowered to make their own decisions about flood defences in the future, and I have asked the Environment Agency to attend the next Parish Council meeting to discuss a community plan.”

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RORY PRAISES ‘WONDERFUL’ CULGAITH SCHOOL

Rory Stewart MP visited Culgaith Primary school on Friday and took part in the school assembly, where he presented five year old Tom Taylor – the winner of his annual Christmas card competition – with book vouchers for Penrith’s Rheged Centre.

Culgaith, which has been a first school since the mid 1970’s, currently has 61 pupils and three classes, but Head Teacher Lynn Harrison explained that the children are taught in flexible groups according to their needs or the learning activity. During his visit, Rory also had a tour of the school and its grounds and took part in class three’s ‘Fizz Buzz’ maths game, led by Mr Dodd.

After his visit Rory said: “The staff and students I met in Culgaith were fantastic, and the school has a wonderful atmosphere. There are some great facilities, and the natural outdoor area seems to be particularly engaging. Being outside in nature benefits children both physically and mentally, so it is highly important that outdoor play is encouraged.” He added: “It is wonderful to see such articulate, confident children who are a credit to their enthusiastic and dedicated teachers and the nurturing environment which they create.”pr4

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RORY LEADS HUNDREDS OF CAMPAIGNERS TO SAVE LAZONBY FIRE STATION

Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and The Border, on Saturday led hundreds of locals through Lazonby in a march through the village to show their support for the retention of the part-time Lazonby Fire Station, which is under threat of closure by Cumbria County Council.

The MP has since the beginning of the campaign several weeks ago strongly supported the community’s efforts, which lobbying to keep the station – which has a crew of eleven retained firefighters – open. The group marched from Lazonby Auction Mart past the Midland Hotel and up to the station on Saturday, where both Rory Stewart and local firefighter and Lazonby resident Gail Eastham spoke to the assembled crowd.

Rory said: “I would like in particular to pay tribute to the role that Lazonby’s retained firefighters played during the floods, which is a very very good example of why services like these are the most efficient and the most effective way of delivering support in an emergency. How they supported Greystoke Road in Carlisle, and other areas, is a classic example of why this service is needed, and I encourage everyone to put their views forward to Cumbria County Council about how they should be spending their budget. Above all, my heartfelt thanks go to the firefighters themselves for the amazing work they do.”

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RORY MAPS OUT FLOOD SESSIONS ACROSS THE COUNTY

pr2R​ory Stewart MP, the Chair of the Cumbria Floods Partnership has laid out, with the Environment Agency, a calendar of community flood discussions across the County, and is encouraging Cumbrians to drop in. ‎These sessions will help feed-in to the longer term work on improving flood planning across the County.

Rory said: “We have to learn from local communities. These drop-in sessions are an important opportunity for local people to inform flood risk management in their community by providing information on their experiences. It is so important for us to be able to learn from local communities, and to build their experiences into the planning for future resilience and prevention, and so I encourage anyone with an interest to attend.”

Dan Bond, Environment Agency Manager, said: “You can’t underestimate the devastating impacts of flooding to people’s lives and the key to recovering quickly, and increasing our flood resilience in the long term, is to listen to the people who experienced it first hand and learn from their experiences.​ ​We’ve been visiting affected communities since the flooding began in early December, and these drop-in sessions are the start of a more coordinated approach to involving local people in the development of local flood risk management plans.”

Anyone affected by ​ the recent​ ​flooding ​ ​is encouraged​ ​to come along and ​ ​meet with Environment Agency officials.

Technical experts from the Environment Agency and County Council will be​ ​available to chat to, with support from a number of agencies that can provide advice and support.

The first drop-in sessions, detailed below, will be held in a mobile trailer with further meetings to be​ ​scheduled soon to coincide with parish council meetings, dates to be confirmed:

Appleby: Moot Hall car park, 11am – 6:30pm on Wednesday 13 January 2016.
Carlisle Warwick Road: Brunton Park car park, 11am – 7pmon Thursday 14 January 2016.
Carlisle Caldewgate: Sainsburys car park, 11am to 7pm on Friday 15 January 2016.
Rickerby village: 11am – 1pm on Saturday 16 January 2016.
Low Crosby: The Garth, 11am to 2pm on 19 January 2016.
Warwick Bridge: Downagate community centre car park, 3pm to 5pm on 19 January 2016.
Kendal: Gooseholme, 11am to 7pm on 20 January 2016.
Kendal: Market Place, 11am to 7pm on 21 January 2016.
Burneside: outside convenience store, 11am to 2pm on 22 January 2016.
Keswick: Greta Gardens, Keswick Recovery Centre, 4pm to 7:30pm on 22 January 2016.
Eamont Bridge: village hall, 11am to 2pm on 23 January 2016.
Ambleside: location TBC, 10am to 1pm on 26 January 2016.
Grasmere: location TBC, 2pm to 6pm on 26 January 2016.
Braithwaite: location TBC, 10am to 1pm on 27 January 2016.
Cockermouth: town centre 11am to 2pm and Gote Rd 3pm to 6pm on 28 January 2016.
Pooley Bridge: location TBC, 10am to 1pm on 29 January 2016.
Howtown – Glenridding: location TBC, 2pm to 5pm on 29 January 2016.
Patterdale & Hartsop: location & time TBC, 30 January 2016.
Flimby & Maryport: location TBC, 11am to 3pm on 30 January 2016.

For more information on the flood risks, members of the public can call the Floodline number on 0345 988 1188.

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RORY CELEBRATES EDEN MENCAP SOCIETY​’S​ 30th ANNIVERSARY

Rory Stewart MP joined staff, supporters and beneficiaries on Friday at the 30th Anniversary celebrations of Eden Mencap Society (EMS), celebrating the important local service that began in 1986. The birthday party took place at their premises in Duke Street, Penrith, which has provided the local charity with vital extra space to support its users since moving there in January 2015.

​Rory Stewart MP said: “It is wonderful to celebrate another birthday with EMS, having celebrated them on their 25th Anniversary five years ago. They should be rightly proud of their local knowledge and passion, which enables them to best serve their members, and tailor their support in only a way that small, local charities can do. Jacqui and her staff, as I have said many times before, are clearly incredibly dedicated, placing every emphasis on the people they support. It is always a real pleasure to visit them, and to see such a well-run charity in action.”

Jacqui Taylor, Chief Officer of EMS, said: “We have come a long way since those early days of providing support to a few children with learning disabilities. The range of services we provide today, our standard of operations and the number of staff we have, has expanded along with the quantity of people we support. It is good to know that our passion and commitment has allowed us to overcome a range of challenges over the years. While we are proud of our historical achievements we are looking forward to improving on them in the future.Our focus since moving in was on raising the funds to upgrade the facilities to meet the more specialist needs of some of our clients. However, it became evident that unless we owned the property or had a much longer lease on the building, applying for grants was harder and in some cases impossible.”

This has led E​MS​ Board of Trustees to announce that to celebrate the Society’s 30th Anniversary a campaign to ‘Help Us Buy Our Home’ is to be launched. The goal is to plan activities to mark the anniversary on the 30th of each month, or in the case of February, on the 29th.

Jennie Sutton, Chair of the Board of Trustees, enthused​:​ “This is a very special year for us and we hope that our plans inspire the local community and groups to support our worthy campaign. If we can achieve our goal, it will put us in a stronger position to obtain the additional funding we need to transfer Ul​l​swater House into a modern facility. This will ensure that the Society will be able to continue to provide excellent support for many more years to come.”PR1

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RORY APPEARS BEFORE THE ENVIRONMENTAL AUDIT COMMITTEE

Rory, in his capacity as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, appeared alongside Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy and Climate Change, Tom Bastin, Head of the European Union and International Energy Efficiency Team, and Robert Hitchen, Head of the Environment Team, European Union Strategy, before the Environmental Audit Committee on 20 January 2016 to give an assessment of EU and UK Environmental Policy.

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ONE NATION RORY

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Article first published in The House by Jon Ashmore on 8 January 2016.

Rory Stewart has certainly not had the easiest of times lately.

While the rest of us were tucking into turkey, the Environment Minister was crossing the country helping co-ordinate the response to the massive floods in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria.

We meet on the first day since Parliament returned for the New Year, but the former soldier and diplomat is not feeling overly refreshed.

“I didn’t have Christmas, so I haven’t had any time off since Parliament broke, so my wife and baby went away and I didn’t see them for eight days,” he says.

The Government has also come under sustained attack over its response, with Jeremy Corbyn using all of his questions at the first PMQs of the year to ask about flooding.

Although Stewart says residents were understandably upset at the “horrendous experience” of being flooded, he insists he did not encounter particular hostility towards the Government over the response effort.

“Generally, in my experience at least – I didn’t catch everybody – people were relatively grateful at the speed of the response. I mean, we got the military out in Carlisle evacuating houses before the flooding started, we had about 85% of our Environment Agency assets up in the north before the second round of flooding, we had fire and rescue, we had a much more coordinated response from lifeboats, form Mountain Rescue.

“So, I think most of the communities that I went to, from Cockermouth right the way through to the Calder Valley and York were generally quite impressed, I thought, with their sense of the emergency response.”

While a lot of work is being done on how to contain future floods, Stewart is cautious about overstating how easily future floods can be dealt with.

Measures such as planting trees, restoring peat bogs and allowing rivers to meander more “can make a difference” he says, but is also keen to stress that the science of flooding is not necessarily settled.

“I have a gut instinct that we need to be doing much more mitigation upstream – tree planting, peat bogs, meandering rivers – but the science on that is evolving and developing all the time and getting the latest academic research on that and really pinpointing exactly what the academic research is going to be is very challenging.”

As a former chair of the Defence Committee, it might have been assumed that Stewart would head to the MoD for his first ministerial post.

However he is also the MP for England’s largest, most rural seat and is famously a lover of the great outdoors, so it’s not entirely a surprise that he is enjoying life at Defra.

Despite what has been a very testing period for the department, he says his new role is “incredibly exciting”, especially in the sheer range of areas for which he is responsible, from water quality to national parks to the UK’s role in combating the illegal wildlife trade.

The one drawback about being given a job which is all about the natural environment is that, ironically, he no longer has time for the epic walks he so enjoys.

As well as writing a book about his walk across Afghanistan, Stewart also made a point of walking across his Cumbrian constituency, one of the largest in England.

“Unfortunately now that I’m a minister that has gone out of the window. I hope there will be time for walking later if I don’t go completely bonkers,” he jokes.

In the meantime he is learning the ropes as a junior minister, a role he took on after May’s general election.

While some of his Tory colleagues are not shy about criticising their officials, Stewart is glowing in his praise.

“The chief executives of the National Parks, the Forestry Commission and stuff, these kind of people are really impressive, energetic people and it’s a real pleasure going around the country seeing what they’re doing and often what they’re doing basically very independently, without too much government interference.”

For someone of such obvious intellectual ability, he seems to have very little ego when it comes to deferring to the experts.

He is also refreshingly willing to not just admit, but embrace the times when there are no clear answers – not always an obvious trait in frontline politicians.

“One of the real delights in this job is that environment is, in the end, about knowledge, it’s about science, it’s about people who know a lot about newts or know a lot about lions or know a lot about a particular type of tree or know a lot about a particular type of tree.

“One of the real delights in public policy is trying to harness that knowledge and sometimes also harness the uncertainties of that knowledge. So harness the moments where we realise we don’t always know as much as we think we do. “

By way of an example, he tells me about that most noble of British beasts, the hedgehog.

“It’s striking, I was working on hedgehogs recently, there’s a lot of stuff we don’t even know about hedgehogs, a million of them in Britain. We don’t really understand why they self-anoint, they throw saliva back over their backs.

“Now, if we don’t really know that about hedgehogs, our lack of knowledge about other more obscure species is far more extreme.”

This sense of caution partly derives from the time he spent working in occupied Iraq and Afghanistan before entering Parliament in 2010.

Even when speaking about these countries, he is remarkably modest about the limits of his expertise.

“I guess the first thing that I’ve learnt is that the fundamental lesson has to be humility, that I’ve spent a few years living in Iraq and Afghanistan and working in those countries and teaching about those countries but what I think I’ve picked up through that is essentially how little I know and how many of the things that I assumed about Iraq and Afghanistan ten, 15 years ago, were wrong.

“I suppose what I’ve taken from that, which applies also to working with science in Defra is that sense of caution and prudence about how much we really know about what we’re doing.”

He also sees parallels between extreme weather and the rise of extremist groups such as Islamic State.

“There’s a huge, particularly in very unstable situations and civil wars, there’s a far bigger role for luck or fortune or chance in the development of these organisations, they’re not things that can be fully predicted. They are, ironically, more chaotic, more like weather systems than they are like the kind of operation of politics in Britain – and even, of course, in Britain politics can surprise us.”

That comes across as something of an understatement given the tumultuous last 12 months in Westminster.

At the same time it seems that the party political game does not really interest Stewart nearly so much as the intellectual and administrative challenges of public policy.

Even when discussing Jeremy Corbyn, he seems more curious than scornful of the Labour leader and the word he deploys to describe him is “interesting”.

“It’s a very interesting challenge, I mean clearly Jeremy Corbyn appeals to a great number of young Labour party voters. I had lunch with Tam Dalyell two days ago, who said to me he voted for Jeremy Corbyn, a great fan of Jeremy Corbyn, likes him very much as a person. But Tam and Jeremy represent a very particularly fringe of the Labour party, [with] particular views on international affairs.

“Actually, one of the interesting things about Jeremy Corbyn is oddly, I saw a great deal of him because my sense is his heart is really with foreign affairs and defence, that’s what he actually is most interested in.

“That’s where I used to see him in the House of Commons because I used to do a lot of Foreign Affairs and Defence debates and he was always there, always engaging in those debates.”

That Stewart would lunch with a Corbynite veteran of the Labour back benches might seem surprising, but then he and Dalyell have a fair deal in common.

Both are of aristocratic Scottish heritage, old Etonians and implacably committed to preserving the union.

He did his own little bit for Anglo-Scottish relations in the run up to the 2014 referendum, founding Hands Across the Border, a project to build a large stone cairn on the border between the two countries at Gretna.

Stewart is acutely aware of how precarious the United Kingdom is, with the SNP regularly threatening to call a second vote on independence.

“We have to keep fighting for that positive vision, we can’t take that for granted, we can’t assume as you might have done in the 1930s and 1940s that people will just take it as read that Britain is a bigger, more exciting, more expansive project.“

Part of that is explaining to young Scots of a progressive bent that many of the reforms they hold dear emanated from England.

“Feminism, the environmental movement, the trade union movement, a lot of these things were driven as much from England as they were from Scotland and it’s not fair to your history or your identity to create a more narrow, reductive version of yourself,” he says.

As with everything we discuss, Stewart talks about Scotland with great vigour and enthusiasm, none of which seems feigned.

Unfortunately he has to rush off for an urgent statement on flooding in the Commons, but there’s just time for one more crucial question – what has become of the film of his life that Hollywood star Brad Pitt was apparently working on?

”That has, as far as I’m aware he’s now not going to make that because I think becoming a Tory MP is not a great ending to a film.”