Monthly Archives: December 2012


rory visits ‘excellent’ new national uplands centre at newton rigg

Rory met on Friday with the Principal of Newton Rigg, Wes Johnson, and welcomed the new director of its National Centre for the Uplands, Julia Aglionby, in a meeting to discuss how the college can develop to be a national centre of excellence in uplands-related issue, and how more generally it is continuing to expand and meet the needs and demands of prospective students.

The meeting focused on the importance of the National Centre for the Uplands which now operates through Newton Rigg. Part-funded by the Prince’s Countryside Fund, the centre aims to support and develop the next generation of upland farmers, land managers and businesses by providing the only course in the UK which focuses specifically on the necessary business skills, knowledge and practical considerations unique to the uplands area.

Speaking on the National Centre for the Uplands, Rory stated: “A National Centre for the Uplands is an excellent thing for us to have right here in the heart of Penrith and the Border, and indeed in Cumbria. The past 18 months of terrible weather conditions in our region has made life incredibly difficult for many of our local farmers – straining the viability of their businesses to the limit. A centre like this one, which offers courses and advice and which recognises the very specific demands that the upland environment places upon a farm, will be of enormous local and national benefit. Julia and her colleagues have clearly put in a lot of hard work on this project, and I am sure that under her guidance it will be a fantastic success.”

Julia Aglionby states that there are around 13,000 upland farm holdings in England and there is the prospect of over 60% of these farmers giving up within 15 years. She said: “In order to maintain a healthy upland hill farm industry, farmers must be flexible in the way they manage their farms. Being able to assess if your land might take a hydro scheme, a tea-room or the like is as important as continuing with your livestock – that’s where the centre really helps.”

Under new leadership, Newton Rigg has recognised the need to innovate and attract new students to ensure its future viability. One potential option that has now also been put forward by the local MP is whether Newton Rigg could act as a satellite site for outdoor activity courses currently only available at Plas Y Brenin in North Wales.

Rory continued: “I have been and always will be supportive of Newton Rigg. The nature and type of courses that it is able to offer make its value to the local area far greater than a college of a similar size would perhaps otherwise denote. I am always looking for ways in which I can help to further secure and guarantee its future. Uplands is a great beginning, and there is also, I believe potential in working with the outdoor industry in Cumbria.”




rory awards constituency christmas card prize to plumpton school

Rory this week presented the prize for his annual Christmas card competition to five year old Erin McCanny from Plumpton Primary School.

Her card was chosen from dozens of entries from primary schools across the constituency, Rory awarded first place  Erin’s ‘three-robins’ design will form the cover of Rory Stewart’s official Christmas card which will be sent out to individuals and organisations across his constituency in Penrith and the Border.

Rory received a warm welcome from pupils at Plumpton, and after a few festive songs, Rory presented Erin with her card, and vouchers to spend in the Rheged Centre. He commented: “I really liked the modern simplicity of Erin’s design, and the reception I got at Plumpton School has definitely put me in a very festive mood. Choosing a winner is always a challenge when I receive so many fantastic designs, and so I would like to thank everyone who sent in such an array of colourful and festive cards. I have no doubt that everyone will enjoy Erin’s card and think it is fantastic to know it will be adorning mantelpieces across the constituency in what I hope is a very merry Christmas period for everyone.”




rory opens hunter hall primary school’s new library

Hunter Hall Primary School this week officially opened their new library, and Rory had the honour of being invited to cut the ribbon.

Hunter Hall is one of the very few remaining independent primary schools in Cumbria. On the day, the headmaster Dr Tony Winzor explained that the vision of a school library was over 10 years in the making and the project had required £25,000 to make it a reality. Countless fundraisers from the pupils and their parents however have actually seen the school beat this target and successfully raise over £26,000.

Speaking in front of the school’s 130 pupils at the opening ceremony, Rory Stewart said: “The great thing about this library is not just that it presents you all with a fantastic opportunity to read such a brilliant collection of books, but that it also represents what is possible when we all work together for a common good. This library is the result of all your hard work and fundraising, and you should be proud to think that new pupils will continue to benefit from it long after you have grown up.”

Many of the schools governors and parents were also present for the ceremony, and particular thanks were given to Sarah Eubank for her involvement. Speaking afterwards, Rory said: “This is another fantastic example of community action. The school realised the need and value of a library, and through their own collective efforts were able to make it a reality. It is yet another example of why we must continue to devolve power down to the most local levels, where the results are most visible and most valued.”



rory calls for cumbria pilot to fight ash dieback following emergency meeting

Rory has called for Cumbria to take the national lead in protecting our ash trees from Ash dieback disease. On Saturday, the local MP called a meeting of the Penrith and the Border forestry and woodlands ‘think-tank’ specifically to discuss the issue. The extensive conversation drew in representatives from the Forestry Commission, the National School of Forestry, the National Trust, the Lake District National Park Authority, Natural England, as well as local businesses such as AW Jenkinson’s  and local silviculture and environmenal experts Ted Wilson, Sir Martin Holdgate and Chris Starr.

Rory has now written to the Secretary of State of DEFRA, Owen Paterson MP, proposing that Cumbria could take the lead in mitigating the spread of the ash dieback disease.

The Chalara Fraxinea fungus which causes ash dieback has decimated the ash populations on mainland Europe, and hundreds of cases of infected sites have now been found across the UK. Import and movement restrictions were placed on all ash seeds, plants and trees at the end of October when it was evident that imported trees had brought the fungus into the country in early March. Hundreds of staff from government agencies have since checked ash trees across the UK for signs of the disease during early November which has now allowed the Forestry Commission to produce a map highlighting distribution of the disease in known sites to date.

Speaking after the meeting, Rory said: “We are in a unique situation here in Cumbria to take the lead in this issue. We find ourselves in an isolated geographical position, with few reported cases of the disease and a significant distance from the current epicentre of the infection down in the southeast of England. Cumbria has examples of very rare and unique ash – some examples associated with ancient viking settlements – and we have already shown how monitoring and documentation through civic engagement is possible through the success of local osprey and red squirrel conservation work. We are also a great example of community action in general. All of this combined makes Cumbria the ideal location for a national test case pilot which would aim to record instances of ash outbreak, eliminate infected trees, create a clean area, and do all we can to delay arrival of the disease.”

“I have now written to the Secretary of State and will hopefully be meeting with him in the near future, to ensure this project is quickly up and running in time for next Spring when it becomes much easier to identify the disease’s presence in infected ash trees.”

rory takes affordable housing on the road

Rory attended Culgaith Parish Council’s most recent council meeting to better understand the local community’s potential interest for local affordable housing.

Rory recently wrote to all the parish councils within his constituency asking them to get in touch if they felt affordable housing was something their community was interested in and keen to learn more about. Culgaith was one of the first to respond, having identified the importance of affordable housing in their Community Led Plan and Housing Needs Survey. A Parish Council meeting therefore offered the perfect opportunity to learn more and Andy Lloyd from Cumbria Rural Housing Trust was invited to talk to local residents, answering their questions and explaining how they could potentially take control of their own affordable housing project.

Much of Rory’s drive to engage other local communities follows the recent success of an affordable housing project in Crosby Ravensworth which now provides a model for others to replicate. Residents of Crosby Ravensworth were keen for affordable housing to ensure local families could continue to live in a community whose average house price is £315 000. They were unhappy however with the suggestions put forward by Housing Associations and the District Council, so decided to take on the project themselves. By setting up a Community Land Trust, Crosby Ravensworth was able to take complete control of the decision-making process, from the number and size of the houses, to the houses’ design, to the business plan they would use to ensure the project was financially viable. The end result was twelve affordable houses – each with a local occupancy clause – that remained very much in keeping with the aesthetic of the village.

Speaking on the subject, Rory stated: “I have now had positive feedback and interest from several parish councils on the issue of affordable housing which is fantastic news. I hope that these communities can follow Culgaith’s initiative and take that initial, tentative step to learn more about the options now available to them. It is easy to feel to feel that projects of this nature are the responsibility of Housing Associations or District Councils, but there is no reason this should be the case. There is now a wealth of experience, expertise and knowledge to draw upon for future projects, and I urge anyone uncertain of how to move forward to get in touch. By creating a model which puts the local community in control above anyone else, keeping local families in our communities need not come at the expense of a village’s character, as many might otherwise fear.”

rory presses case for longtown defence munitions site in parliamentary hearing

Rory has continued his high-profile campaign to retain the Ministry of Defence munitions site at Longtown in his constituency, raising the matter in a parliamentary Foreign Affairs Select Committee hearing yesterday into the Foreign and Security implications of Scottish Independence.

Rory used the meeting to question Sir Richard Mottram – former Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and a Cabinet Office Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator  – on the wisdom of the Ministry of Defence’s 2008 proposals to potentially close Longtown and move defence munitions sites to Scotland whilst retaining only one site in England (at Kineton in Warwickshire). Rory suggested that Longtown should be kept open, because of the possibility of Scottish Independence. He asked Sir Richard Mottram whether it was wise for the government to go ahead with the plan to close sites such as Longtown.

Sir Richard Mottram responded that, were he still in government, he would go “slow” on the plan.

Speaking after the committee meeting, Rory said: “This was a very important reply from one of the most senior and respected figures in British security and defence. If Scotland were to go independent, the rest of the UK would be even more dependent on Longtown. I am delighted Sir Richard feels that it would be prudent of the government to “go slow” on such a decision. The Scottish referendum is not till late 2014. No decisions to should be taken until we see the result of that referendum  – and I am delighted that such a senior figure is also expressing caution. DM Longtown’s potential closure is in and of itself disastrous to the area and our employment – but it is also important terms of national security. I shall continue to lobby Ministers to think very, very carefully about these ill thought-out proposals, and of course continue to do all I can to fight to retain this important site at Longtown for the good not only of our county, but of the country.”

changing the world from cumbria

Last Sunday I sat with six professors who were discussing how ‘to change the world.’ They included Central European dissident, a computer specialist, and a seventy-five year old French communist.  At times they seemed hardly conscious of each other, and the words they used were puzzling (the Frenchmen for example liked to talk about ‘the happiness of dissatisfaction’). But it was also moving. At least they were trying to answer the question.

For most of us, most of the time, the world is too complicated. We don’t understand how a microscopic speck of liquid can transform in less than nine months into something, like us, with rigid bones, hair, and fingernails. We don’t understand what an element is, let alone quivering quarks: which have a place without time, and a time without place. And that’s before you get onto Norway’s European policy, or Chinese trade. Or whether we have free will. Which is one reason, perhaps, why we prefer to concentrate on our particular job and our own family. But these professors had the confidence to debate world change, and not in the comforting slogans of a self-help book. They knew a lot, spoke well about philosophy, psychology and history; and they had ideas about human  nature.

Their conclusions, however, were not cheering. All agreed that something very important was missing. For the Frenchman the problem is that we are too obedient – our democracies are not real – they are simply a theatre, behind which all the decisions are taken by a small elite. We have forgotten how to be happy. The American said that the problem was that we are atheists. We have lost a sense of the sacred. The psychologist said that we have become manic; and lost our sense of balance.  The computer specialist said that we treat our society as a ‘bug’ which can be fixed; and we have lost humility. Everyone agreed that we have become lonelier and more obsessed with money. The person who had a solution was the Frenchman. He said we will only become happy through revolution, and the pursuit of communism. No-one else agreed. But no-one had much alternative.

They may have missed something.  They were correct that the modern world makes individuals more isolated, and that many have retreated to a space that does not stretch much beyond the office or the front door. But the problem is not that a powerful secret elite is in charge; the problem is that no-one is in charge. Politicians, journalists, civil servants, farmers, bishops – even, difficult though it is to believe, bankers –  feel they can alter very little about the world. Instead society is set in an immovable – if slightly wobbly – jelly, of conventions, regulations, and procedures that makes change feel almost impossible. Our problem is not that we are oppressed, it is that all of us – right to the top – are increasingly inert.

The solution may be to rediscover the energies of the local. If Cumbrians do not generally seem powerless, it is because they are often changing or protecting their surroundings. We have groups taking on projects which in other parts of the country would be the monopoly of state specialists. It is not just that we have parishes challenging central decisions on a cycle path, or on winter gritting, and if they don’t like the answer, doing it themselves. We also have some of the very first villages in the country buying and running their own co-operative pubs and breweries, setting up their own independent planning policy, design their own fibre-optic cable networks. And we are moving into specialist areas of education (where we have a record number of schools going independent), housing (some of the country’s first community land trusts) and health (we have the only community-owned ambulance in the country).

We normally see this as something forced on us – just a way of getting a job done. But we underestimate how much the process of organising in order to change or protect an area is good for us as people. Why? Because I think the Frenchman may be right that we are happiest, as
humans, when we are dissatisfied, and when we not only want something to change, but become personally involved in making that change. It is not only that working alongside your neighbours is less lonely; it is that driving a project for which you are not paid, and which benefits other people, brings dignity. And building something in your neighbourhood – a hall, a school, an affordable housing estate, or even something as intangible as a planning policy, or a broadband network – brings pride – gives you a communal achievement you can see and live alongside.

Our challenge is to make such local action a bridge into participating in much larger struggles, and choices: to move from action to ideas, and put bolder ideas into action. We have not yet gone from simply supporting a school, or a community hospital, or a housing scheme, into debating the future of education, community health care, or our local architecture. We have not combined our different brains and energies in order to define what we would like our civilisation to be. But I suspect that the local is the best place from which to do such things: to understand not only what dissatisfies us about the modern world, but also to decide what we would like that world to be. I should have told the French professor that – perhaps – you could change the world from Cumbria.


rory praises successful penrith ‘bid’ campaign

Rory has this week welcomed the almost unanimous vote by local businesses to set up a Business Improvement District (BID) in Penrith, praising all involved in the campaign for their hard work and commitment.

The BID proposal had been months in preparation prior to the voting period which took place over November. It involved the hard work of the Penrith Chamber of Trade, Eden District Council, and behind the scenes lobbying from the local MP to ensure the initiative’s success. With 81% of votes cast in favour of the proposal however, equating to 86% of the aggregate rateable value of Penrith businesses, the BID vote passed by a significant margin.

Following the successful vote, an elected BID management board will now be set up, with all businesses contributing to the BID levy eligible to stand. This board will be responsible for managing the BID and aims to make the control and delivery of improving Penrith town centre the responsibility of the local business community. With a projected budget of £500,000 over five years to invest in developing Penrith as a more attractive place for trade, it is hoped that the BID willhave real potential to stimulate the town’s economy.

Speaking on the vote, Rory said: “This vote in favour is fantastic news for Penrith – I genuinely believe that putting Penrith’s business owners back in control of local business initiatives will ultimately lead to a more competitive and commercially attractive town centre. I have always been in favour of more local democracy and this initiative could prove to be an excellent precursor to an elected Town Council and Mayor for Penrith – possibly the best way to give a single organised voice to our community.”

“I would like to congratulate everyone who put in such a tremendous amount effort to ensure the BID was a success – particularly Kelvin Dixon and Chris Kolek, who originally drew my attention to the project. The BID campaign was only ever going to be a success if it was what local businesses wanted, and so it’s great to see them decisively choosing to take control of Penrith’s future.”


rory’s cumbrian broadband campaign reaches contract milestone

On Thursday 29th November Rory joined BT’s Managing Director of NGA (Next Generation Access) Bill Murphy and Cumbria County Councillor Elizabeth Mallinson at the historic signing of the £40 million pound rural broadband contract between BT and Cumbria County Council – just over two years since the local MP pledged to secure for Cumbrians the best super-fast broadband in Europe at the high-profile conference he hosted at Rheged which kick-started the campaign.

Rory’s campaign has involved many high-profile successes, such as securing for Penrith and the Border some of the most innovative 4G mobile broadband and Open Femto pilots; supporting the very first community broadband project in the UK, Fell End, in receiving a Rural Community Broadband Grant from DEFRA; nominating the 2011 Digital Hero winner, Libby Bateman, for her work with the East Cumbria Community Broadband Forum; and, importantly, bringing the campaign to the forefront of parliamentary debate. Broadband Minister, Ed Vaizey, has said “Rory Stewart’s… ability to gauge the issues which concern the house are second to none” whilst DEFRA minister Richard Benyon praised “Rory Stewart’s visionary speech and the leadership he is giving in broadband and on improving mobile coverage.” The former 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.”

Speaking at Thursday’s event, Rory said: “We are here today thanks to the tireless work of our communities, government staff too numerous to name, our elected local councillors, and their officers, all of whom have worked extraordinarily hard behind the scenes over the last two years to help us get to where we are today: at a point where we can begin to connect our villages, towns, homes and businesses to some of the fastest fibre networks in Europe. I very much look forward to working with BT to make this process as comprehensive and as successful as possible. I urge anyone who has concerns about their location to be in touch, since I am now collating a list of those who are worried that they may be left behind. With our excellent community broadband projects showing how the final few hard-to-reach homes and premises can also be connected, we will work very, very hard to make sure that no-one is left behind. We do, however, have to be patient: as Bill Murphy from BT says, this isn’t just a question of flicking on a switch, but undertaking a major engineering project and covering one of the most difficult terrains in England. But we will rise to the challenge, and make sure Cumbria has the connected networks it deserves.”

Councillor Elizabeth Mallinson said: “We recognise that broadband opens doors – for businesses, for households, for public service providers including the county council – and today we are making sure we get our foot in that door permanently. Although we’re still awaiting the final green light from Government for state aid and confirmation of EU Major Project status, signing this contract is a clear message that Cumbria is ready for action. We’re all desperately eager to roll our sleeves up and begin the task of actually delivering super-fast broadband to people who simply would not have got it without the intervention of the Government and county council. We have a tremendously exciting three years ahead of us, but I would ask people to be patient and allow us to deliver this huge programme in a strategic way which is in the best interests of the county as a whole. The hard work starts now and we need to work together so that by the end of 2015 Cumbria has one of the best fibre networks in Europe.”




rory’s talk helps raise over £500 for st lawrence’s church in appleby

Rory recently delivered a fundraising talk on his journey by foot across Afghanistan to a packed out audience in St Lawrence’s Church in Appleby.

Accompanied with a slideshow, Rory spoke not only of his walk from Herat to Kabul, but also offered an historical, political and cultural narrative of the region which allowed the audience to gain a much deeper appreciation of Afghanistan. Juliet Kay who helped organise the event said: “Rory Stewart’s talks are always popular and his willingness to share his extraordinary experiences has helped to raise £564 for St Lawrence’s church for which we are very grateful.”

The funds will be used to help in the renewal of the church’s facilities to ensure it can continue to serve the community for future generations.

Speaking on the event afterwards, Rory said: “I always enjoy spending time in Appleby, and anything I can do to help raise funds for the local community church is fantastic. Although I have delivered this talk on my journey across Afghanistan many times now, the way the audience reacts and their particular interests are always different. This was a fantastic opportunity to reflect on how walking can be a powerful way of learning.”