Monthly Archives: September 2012

Rory endorses local communities as national ‘Town Team’ partners

Rory this weekend endorsed and submitted proposals by Eden District Council to put forward Penrith, Alston and a joint application by Appleby and Kirkby Stephen, as Town Team Partners, part of a new initiative launched by the Government called ‘Our Town First’.

If successful in its application, the local authority will benefit from £10 000 of funding as well as support from the Association of Town Centre Management, which would work with the towns to implement their application proposals. Each authority has put forward a different emphasis on how they would spend the funds: Penrith is looking to “energise” its outdoor market and help its young entrepreneurs with the “Have A Go” initiative, Appleby and Kirby Stephen want to use the grant to better promote their area as an attractive place to visit through publicity and advertising; whilst Alston wishes to develop a “Welcome” scheme, capitalising on the many tourists who visit Alston.

Speaking on the proposals, Rory said: “In the current economic climate we must jump at any opportunity that offers additional funding for our local towns. Without a doubt, £10,000 will go a long way within small communities to provide for local development projects, and we must be doing all we can to ensure we are successful in these applications. Each local authority has come up with a sensible and well thought-through pitch and I sincerely hope those judging will recognise the impact that such funds could have on these local communities when making their decision. As ever, Eden has come up with imaginative ideas, and continue to prove that local knows best.”

Rory endorses Wigton as a national Town Team Partner

Rory this weekend endorsed and submitted proposals on behalf of Allerdale Council to put forward Wigton as a Town Team Partner, part of a new initiative launched by the Government’s Department for Communities and Local Government called ‘Our Town First’.

If successful in its application, Wigton would benefit from £10,000 of funding as well as support from the Association of Town Centre Management, which would work with the town to implement its application proposals. Wigton has put forward a bid to spend the funds on improving the aesthetic quality of its town centre, as well as nurturing new enterprise within the marketplace and help improve footfall within the town.

Speaking on the proposals, Rory said: “As the local MP, I am delighted to endorse this on behalf of Allerdale, as well as three proposals from Eden. In the current economic climate we must jump at any opportunity that offers additional funding for our local towns. £10,000 will go a long way within small communities to provide for local development projects, and we must be doing all we can to ensure we are successful in these applications. Wigton has come up with an imaginative pitch, and I sincerely hope those judging will recognise the impact that such funds could have on this historic market town when making their decision.”

 

Rory encourages nominations for ‘Rural Oscars’

Rory is reminding constituents that the eighth annual Countryside Alliance Awards – dubbed the ‘Rural Oscars’ – have opened for entries.

The awards, which celebrate rural life, produce, heritage and character, are led by public nomination across England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Members of the public are invited to vote online until 29th October 2012.

Rory said: “These awards are testament to the incredible hard work that has been put in – and continues to be put in, each day – in maintaining local businesses, which are the backbone of our economy and our constituency. I was extremely proud that two businesses from Penrith and the Border won north-west region awards last year –  Crosby Ravensworth’s Butcher’s Arms community pub, and Milburn’s butcher NB Taylor and Sons – and really believe that some of our businesses deserve to be national winners also. Please do think about an inspiring rural enterprise that you feel is worthy of this recognition, and I will be glad to support any constituency nominations.”

The Countryside Alliance commented: “If you have been impressed by a rural business recently then please tell us about them. It is our great privilege to praise the countryside’s unsung heroes, and the Awards have quickly become the definitive rural award to win.”

The awards run across five categories:

• Local Food

• Village Shop / Post Office

• Enterprise

• Butcher

• Start-Up Award

The Start-Up award is new for 2012. It seeks to recognise new rural businesses that have been trading for less than 18 months and are already making their mark. Awards will be judged at local level first this winter, with each of ten regions declaring a winner in each category by the early New Year. Local judging is carried out by Countryside Alliance directors across the home nations. Regional winners will then go forward to a grand final. An experienced judging panel, including celebrity chef Clarissa Dickson Wright, will select the overall UK & Ireland Champions in each category.

Paper nomination forms can be obtained by calling 0207 840 9340 or [email protected]alliance.org with your name and address. For more details, please visit the Countryside Alliance Awards website at http://www.countrysideallianceawards.org.uk/.

Rory delivers keynote speech at UK’s biennial Mountain Rescue conference

Rory had the honour of being the first MP to ever give a keynote speech at the UK Mountain Rescue’s bi-ennial conference, held last weekend at the Headingly University campus in Leeds, and attended by teams from around the UK. The conference this year focused on technology and its applications for mountain rescue and search-and-rescue operations.

As MP for Penrith and the Border and Chairman of the APPG on Mountain Rescue, Rory is acutely aware of the essential work that this voluntary service undertakes for those looking to enjoy Britain’s mountains. On his recent walking tour of his constituency and the Borders, Rory had the pleasure of talking with Mountain Rescue teams from Patterdale, Cockermouth and Keswick, gaining deeper insights into the issues of greatest importance to those who volunteer.

Drawing on recommendations from the Mountain Rescue’s own most recent report into Mountain Rescue in the Lake District – Rescue 2020 – Rory looked at the organisation’s colourful 80-year history before turning to his hopes for its future.  Rory defended the right for people to use the mountains freely and sought to dismiss any ideas that the Mountain Rescue should ever charge for its services, or that what was needed from government was more ‘red tape’ – spoiling the public’s ability to enjoy the countryside. His sentiments were shared by a packed audience.

Rory said: “It is a real honour to speak today – the first MP to do so, and as Chairman of the APPG for Mountain Rescue in Parliament. Finally, Mountain Rescue’s voice is being heard in Westminster. But we still need to do all we can to help Mountain Rescue operate with a minimum of red tape, and a maximum of support. For example, we need much improved understanding between, and awareness of, the various emergency services that operate on our mountains. This, and much else in the RESCUE 2020 report, are true nationally, not only of the Lake District. Mountain Rescue is one of only a very few truly great acts of public service; the public loves our volunteers, and Mountain Rescue are true volunteers, unpaid professionals providing a totally free service to our communities. This ethos allows everyone to roam free in our mountains, and this we must preserve at all costs: Mountain Rescue must not become a corporate identity – its local ownership, and precisely its local knowledge and expertise, is what is essential to maintaining this community-based emergency rescue
service.”

Richard Warren, Chairman of LDSAMRA, said” Rory delivered a supportive and motivating address at the conference. We are lucky that our local MPs are extremely strong supporters of mountain rescue and ensure that our efforts are recognised in both Whitehall and our local communities.  Rory in particular is well known within the corridors of power for his forthright approach to dealing with issues.”

Broadband’s Next Big Step

At last. The broadband contract for Cumbria has been awarded. Good broadband and mobile coverage can transform farms and businesses, improve conditions for the isolated and the elderly, and much more. Nothing would make a greater single contribution to our economy, growth, or services. But it has been painfully difficult to deliver. Companies won’t do it on its own because traditionally they perceive remote rural areas as completely unprofitable. The cost of broadband is in laying infrastructure: so companies have concentrated on cities, where broadband companies have to pay to lay less for fibre, and where mobile phone companies have more people to cover the cost of each mast. Which is why, in 2010, we seemed to have worse broadband than Belarus, and worse mobile coverage than Mongolia.

Nor has the answer been communities alone. We are not yet at the dream of a universe of community-owned fibre. And no amount of using the fibre in primary schools, in the gas pipelines, and on the Carlisle-Settle Line, will change that situation. And the third player – the government – cannot afford to do it on its own. Laying fibre to every home in Britain would cost tens of billions. And if we relied on the traditional approach – seen in much smaller Cornwall, for example – 40 million pounds would probably leave ten per cent of Cumbrians without any improvement at all. And government is nervous of its relations with companies because of procurement regulations and state aid rules – and even more nervous of communities – who can be unpredictable, risky, and distracting partners in a big infrastructure project.

But although business, communities, and government can’t deliver rural broadband separately, they can together. That is the secret to the Cumbrian contract, and there are three reasons to be optimistic. First, companies are finally, it seems, changing their attitude to Cumbria. In the last year, BT has brought a major broadband upgrade to Penrith, and all the major mobile companies have launched free trials to show what they can provide –  Everything Everywhere with 4G in Threlkeld, 3 Mobile with a free superfast dongle project in Kaber, and – we hope – Vodafone with femto cells in Caldbeck. Second, the government is more focused: it has imposed tougher targets (it has increased the rural coverage obligation for all mobile telephone companies, from “95 per cent of people 90 per cent of the time”, to 98 per cent). And it has provided cash (the five hundred million for rural broadband has been supplemented with another 150 million for rural mobile masts). The County Council investment will be forty million pounds, and Cumbria has received more per capita for its broadband pilot than any other county.

But most importantly, we finally have a model for how communities can work in this new context. This is really Cumbria’s speciality. Years ago, Miles and others in Great Asby had worked out how to run broadband services off the local school system, Daniel of Alston’s CyberMoor was installing fibre-optic cable for much less money than BT, Chris was doing it herself. And in 2011, a hundred community enthusiasts had launched www.broadbandcumbria.com to develop new ideas, in astonishing technical detail: from employing unused radio spectrum in the Northern Fells, to creating a community-owned circuit in Lyvennet. But the real breakthrough happened this week near Kirkby Stephen.

Fell End is very remote and sparsely populated. The cost of laying fibre, the cost of paying way-leaves to land-owners, and the commercial risk of signing up enough customers, meant that in the past its broadband was completely unaffordable. But Libby and her team of volunteers have visited every home, to find out exactly what people wanted, and to encourage them to commit to broadband – and so made a business case, which BT would never have had the local knowledge to prove. She found a neighbour who could dig fibre, to the top professional standards, but at the fraction of the normal cost. And – because it is a local community scheme – landowners have agreed not to charge for permission to cross their fields.

There was a moment when I feared all this community effort would be wasted. But Bill Murphy, an American executive with BT, agreed to drop its price for Fell End from what threatened to be hundreds of thousands of pounds to 17,000 pounds. Mike Kiely, an Irish civil servant from London, miraculously inspired the officials to come out of the thicket of procurement regulations, and state aid paranoia, and find the funding so that, a week ago, Fell End became the first such project to be approved anywhere in the country.

Yesterday’s contract announcement means that Cumbria County Council are investing tens of millions into extending the main fibre-optic broadband network as deep and as far as possible, and BT have signed up to the new model – inspired by Mike’s work – of ‘build and benefit.’ We will have to watch and chase these giant players to ensure that they remain inventive, flexible and accommodating. We must hold them to their promise and make sure that they allow the most remote communities to link affordably and quickly into the fibre infrastructure. But Fell End has done it. We can all do it. And if we do, Cumbria will indeed win the best superfast rural broadband in Europe.

 

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Rory brings new Secretary of State to Penrith and the Border for his “first ministerial visit”

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Rory had the pleasure this Wednesday of hosting Owen Paterson, the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on his first official visit in his new role.

A tour of the Lakes Free Range Egg Company’s pioneering packaging plant in Stainton highlighted the positive impact that investment from DEFRA can have on local businesses. Owner, David Brass, is currently employing close to 60 people across Cumbria and Lancaster, and supplying some of the very leading national brands. Speaking at the event, Rory said: “This is a rural enterprise which has combined quality branding, high ethical standards and local farming knowledge, to produce a highly successful product. This is exactly the sort of business we need to ensure government is doing everything they can to further support.”

Rory then introduced the Minister to Libby Bateman, whose Fellend broadband project, a national pilot, was the first project in the county to receive funding from the Minister’s department – delivering superfast broadband to a remote rural community near Kirkby Stephen. This was followed by a meeting chaired by Rory, to bring the the Secretary of State together with the National Park, local businesses, and the county council to discuss Cumbria’s broadband and mobile future.  The group explained the success of Threlkeld’s 4G pilot project and proposed a much larger 4G pilot scheme to be centred in the Lake District. Owen Paterson committed that he would be making broadband and mobile phone coverage issues “a top priority” within DEFRA and has promised to work closely with Rory to see what can be achieved. If successful, the project would seek to provide close to 100% high-speed broadband coverage for the region.

The day continued with the Minister’s visit to Cranston’s Foodhall in Penrith, where the Minister saw another example of “an extraordinary Cumbrian success story”, and met Manager, Roger Cranston. It finished with the Minister meeting, among others, Chair of Cumbrian NFU, Alan Dickinson, police and crime commissioner candidate, and Chair of the Cumbria probation trust, Richard Rhodes, and Eden District Council Leader, Gordon Nicholson.

Rory said: “The Secretary of State’s visit was a great success. We were honoured that he chose us for his very first official visit, and we expect him back very soon. Perhaps the biggest headline of the day was broadband. We have worked really hard to secure funding and support for broadband projects within Cumbria, with the aim of allowing even the most isolated households and businesses to gain access to high-speed broadband, and the recognised economic and social benefits it brings. Today was about showing the minister the positive impact that broadband infrastructure has already had on some local communities and why Cumbria is the perfect place to launch further pilot schemes. I look forward to working with the Secretary of State and his emphasise on broadband today was extremely encouraging. The key now is action and results. ”

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Rory heralds “giant step” in Cumbria broadband campaign

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Rory has heralded the new 41 Million contract for broadband in Cumbria as a ‘giant step’ in his three year campaign to win Cumbria the best rural broadband in Europe. He welcomed the investment decision, saying ‘we need now to get broadband to people as soon as possible – it is vital for our rural economy. The key will be ensuring that communities in the remotest areas can ‘build and benefit’.  Rory praised the hard work of the county council but emphasised that the county model needs to study the example set by the community project in Fellend by Kirkby Stephen. There Libby Bateman and other volunteers have designed a super-fast broadband project, which costs tax-payers 90 per cent less than previous models and delivers ‘fibre to the home’ in a very remote valley.

Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, yesterday praised Rory for showing what can be achieved ‘by an MP going hammer and tongs for broadband.’ He called the progress in Broadband and Mobile projects in rural areas “perhaps the most important steps conceivable” for rural communities. He committed to work with Rory to ensure that Cumbria remained in the vanguard of rural broadband, and took time out from his visit to congratulate Libby Bateman on her work, and to see the 4G project in Threlkeld.
The announcement is the latest stage in Rory’s campaign which has included a major international broadband conference in Penrith addressed by member of the Obama administration, his setting up of a county wide community website http://broadbandcumbria.com/ , the winning of major national technology pilots for Cumbria in both superfast broadband and mobile technology, the securing of the national broadband pilot for Cumbria, and his work with community broadband activists up and down the county.
Rory’s ongoing campaign has also been praised on the floor of the House of Commons, where Broadband Minister, Ed Vaizey, said “Rory Stewart’s… ability to gauge the issues which concern the house are second to none.’ DEFRA minister Richard Benyon praised “Rory Stewart’s visionary speech and the leadership he is giving in broadband and on improving mobile coverage.” The outgoing Secretary of State for Culture, Media, Sport, and Broadband, Jeremy Hunt, added: ‘I was particularly impressed by Rory Stewart’s approach and advocacy of broadband and mobile coverage for Cumbria. He and the Cumbrian communities should be very proud of what they have achieved.”
Rory warned, however, that it would be vital to ensure that the winning bidder began work as soon as possible and covered as much of the territory as possible with fibre-optic cable infrastructure. He stressed that full support and flexibility should be given to cover any areas, which were beyond the reach of the main ‘backhaul’, and the communities need to be allowed to participate. Rory said: “Cumbria has been the national test-bed, and it has been a tough and long process, but our activists and council have literally helped to write the rule book on rural broadband procurement nationally. They deserve a good deal of credit for leading the way on this. They have smoothed the path for other counties wishing to go through a similar process – dealing with enormously complex legislative and State Aid issues – but now we want to get down to the real work of connecting homes and businesses.”

 

Victory in lift for Penrith Station 

Rory’s campaign for a lift in Penrith station won through yesterday when he received a commitment from First Group’s MD Designate, Richard Parry, that a lift will be installed linking the northbound platform of Penrith train station.

At present, anyone wanting to access Penrith station’s northbound platform has to navigate two flights of steps at either end of an underpass. These steps are a serious challenge for anyone who is disabled, has a pram or is carrying heavy luggage. Wheelchairs have had to be escorted across the train-tracks on the high speed main line. Rory launched his campaign for a lift in 2011, meeting with station officials, writing to Ministers, and meeting all the franchise bidders to ensure the lift was installed.

Rory said: “I am absolutely delighted with this result. I made very clear in writing to all the franchise bidders that whoever was successful must make a commitment to undertake this long-overdue improvement to the station. This is a win for Penrith, and I am now pushing hard to try and make sure that the lift is installed in a sympathetic manner, which respects the great beauty of Penrith’s historic station.”

Penrith Councillor John Thompson, who has assisted on the campaign, said: “This is absolutely marvellous. Greater disability access for the northbound platform is something Penrith station has needed for many years. This long-awaited decision by FirstGroup to install a lift will ensure the station can now cater for everyone, and local people really will be delighted.”

Penrith resident and campaigner Mrs Lorna Shaw, pictured here with Rory, said: “I am absolutely delighted that the lift will be installed and I really am grateful for the hard work that Rory Stewart has done. I used the station only this weekend, and with a heavy suitcase the limited disability access was a major problem, so this installation will come as a relief to a lot of people like myself.”

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Rory Continues the Fight to Keep Eden’s Citizens Advice Bureau Open

Rory on Friday chaired a meeting between the Eden Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and several other local bodies to discuss ways in which the service could access sufficient funds in order to continue providing its 3 day per week generalist advice service to local residents.

Eden CAB is currently facing a funding crisis, and may be forced to reduce its services to one day a week unless a solution is found. Given that a 2011 audit rated the CAB service as being in the top 20% in England and Wales, assisting residents in every Eden Ward, it is felt that a reduction in services would be a real loss to the local community.

Rory helped steer the debate between the Citizens Advice Bureau and various local stakeholders – including Eden District Council, Cumbria County Council, Eden Housing Association and NHS commissioning trusts – in an effort to negotiate additional funding for the Eden office. The meeting produced some positive results in Eden CAB’s efforts to diversify its funding streams, with help offered by local NHS commissioning trusts, but much still needs to be done to guarantee the long-term condition of the service.

Speaking after the meeting, Rory said: “Eden’s Citizens Advice Bureau provides an invaluable service to local residents and a drop down to a once a week advice service would be a huge loss. I have received many, many notes of support from local councillors, organisations, volunteers and, of course, users of this service. This meeting was a step in the right direction, and advances have been made in securing the required funding, but much more still needs to be done.”

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Rory Celebrates Wigton’s 750th Market Charter

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Rory had the pleasure of joining the Wigton community on Saturday to celebrate the 750th anniversary of Wigton’s Market Charter, in the culmination of a fortnight of events commemorating King Henry III’s decree in 1262 permitting Wigton to hold a weekly market.

Rory attended a civic service at St. Mary’s Church in Wigton on Saturday morning, before following the procession to watch a fantastic re-enactment of the handing over of the charter and the unveiling of a new commemorative market cross. The event saw a large turnout from local “Wigtonians” keen to celebrate in Wigton’s rich and colourful history.

Speaking at the event, Rory said: “It really is great to see Wigton celebrate its past in such an imaginative and personal way. The town has an incredible history for its size, and seeing the local community come out to celebrate it in such numbers is fantastic. I really did enjoy the occasion and think that those who put a lot of time into organising it have done a brilliant job.”