‘This was clearly a very difficult decision. I know that many supporters of the repository will be very disappointed, but I feel that this is such an important issue that the county councillors had every reason to be cautious. ‘The fundamental question here was, “would the repository have been safe”? Parts of the waste will be radioactive for more than a hundred thousand years, so this was a decision that affected unimaginable generations to come. The concrete in which we store the waste cannot be guaranteed to last. In the end the waste will be protected by the surrounding rock and soil. The French concluded that Oxfordshire clay was the safest environment in which to place a repository. This is not an option in Cumbria. Unlike other parts of Britain, we have no clay. Many people who wrote to me felt that they did not trust or understand the process. I personally believe that we should have followed the Scandinavian example and set up a new completely independent scientific body to provide a critical analysis of the geology. A key to this would have been defining clear criteria of acceptability on velocity and volume of water flow. This sounds technical but it is the key to how quickly radioactive waste would be able to surface into a living environment. There is no doubt we must find a solution to dispose nuclear waste. I cannot overemphasise the importance of independence and public trust in any future discussion.’
Following concerns raised by a number of constituents, Rory has visited an area on Fell End Clouds near Ravenstonedale, where Natural England has outlined plans to erect fencing to protect areas of land marked as an SSSI and to reintroduce a specific breed of cattle to the fell.
Local residents have raised concerns over the scale of fencing currently being proposed at Fell End Clouds, which Natural England hope will limit any overgrazing by sheep on the area designated an SSSI. In addition to this, residents told their MP that the introduction of cattle could make the public highway a more dangerous place to walk, and fear the cattle could affect the local water supply which drains off the fell. The area often has supply problems in periods of low rainfall and some residents feel the introduction of cattle could exacerbate this. The Penrith and the Border MP has now written to Natural England highlighting residents’ concerns, and Natural England officials subsequently agreed to meet with the community next week to discuss the proposals.
“Fell End is an incredibly beautiful and rugged landscape, and I can understand Natural England’s desire to preserve the area’s unique and interesting features. At the same time, it is important Natural England recognises and addresses some of the issues residents have raised. I am very pleased therefore to see it is now meeting with the Fell End Clouds community and will discuss their concerns about the project in greater detail. I am confident that further dialogue will help us find a sensible way of reconciling the needs of communities and the environment.”
Following his ongoing work on behalf of smaller local charities, and a campaign to simplify lengthy tendering and procurement processes, Rory has welcomed a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) which has highlighted the need for a more flexible approach to funding for small local charities. The report echoes the local MP’s strong lobbying efforts for small charities to be better supported, and comes after his comments in support of Cumbrian charities in last week’s Westminster Hall debate on Local Government Procurement.
The IPPR report highlights the importance of grants to Voluntary and Community Sector organisations’ capacity to function, but suggests that at the moment the complexity and time-consuming nature of the grant process is to the disadvantage of those small charities who would profit most from grant support. Rory argues that these are precisely the sorts of charities that are the lifeblood of the constituency’s voluntary sector, but whose future is endangered by challenging processes. The Government would like to see 25 per cent of contracts to go to small organisations, and the IPPR report suggests that a greater allocation of Big Society Capital should be invested into micro-finance products designed specifically for VCS organisations, if this target is to be achieved.
Other recommendations include standardising application forms, meaning less time and energy is invested into writing bespoke applications for multiple funders and an awareness-raising campaign to better educate small charities of the funding sources available to them. Currently many small organisations remain confused about what funding and finance is available to them and how they can access it. Big Society Capital’s directory of social investors is a very useful tool in this respect, but awareness of it remains limited in many VCSorganisations.
“This report helps reinforce the argument that many MPs have now raised about the need for a more intelligent approach to small charities funding. Particularly in rural Cumbrian communities, where access to public services is dramatically reduced, the work of small voluntary organisations has become a significant and essential proportion of the care and support available at a local level. If small charities continue to find themselves squeezed out by larger, more corporate bodies who lack the local knowledge and expertise to provide that same level of care, then many Cumbrian communities could be in real trouble. That is why it is so important to support the efforts of Cumbria CVS and Cumbria County Council in making tendering and procurement for small charities a much more simple and manageable process.”
Rory braved the bad weather to visit Alston – recently crowned the UK’s first ever Social Enterprise Town – to discuss with local community representatives and officials from the Department of Communities and Local Government how the area can continue to build on the success of recent community-led projects.
The local MP and DCLG officials had a chance to meet with a range of the social enterprises which deliver services in retail, broadband, transport and leisure that would otherwise not be available to local people. This included representatives from Cybermoor, the community owned broadband co-operative, the local parish church looking to regenerate and renovate the building, and the newly discovered Epiacum Roman Fort, which hopes to become a major tourist attraction over the next few years. An open discussion was set up in the afternoon where residents then had the chance to discuss the structures and projects that could be put in place to further strengthen Alston’s future.
In addition to this, the local MP and DCLG officials also met the team that run the community-owned snow-plough which was in high demand over the weekend. Concerns have been raised about plans to relocate the satellite Highways Maintenance service in Alston to a central depot in Penrith to reduce costs. As much of the Alston community is dependent upon good road access, from the local school, to the voluntary ambulance and fire services, it is feared that a loss of the local Highway Maintenance team could have serious consequences on the community’s capacity to function. Rory Stewart has written to Cumbria County Council urging them to reconsider their proposals and to safeguard the vital community asset.
“Alston Moor faces some of the most extreme challenges of any community in England. Many of these challenges are beyond the comprehension of officials in London, and even those in Carlisle and Penrith. Time and again Alston has had to find its own solutions, doing things government could never do, and its title of “UK Social Enterprise Town” is testament to this.
There has been a raft of new legislation allowing local communities to take control – such as the Neighbourhood Plan being championed in Upper Eden – and it is important local communities are made aware of this. Alston will always know more and care more about the problems it faces and the solutions that will work – the challenge is to ensure the community is made aware of the tools available to them to bring about such change. I have agreed to work closely with Alston to make sure this happens, and extend the offer to any other local community unsure of the next step.”
Following a campaign led by Rory, and with technology, pioneered by Cumbrian communities, OFCOM – the telecoms regulator – has now announced its multi-billion pound “spectrum auction”. The auction target – of covering 98 per cent of the British population, rather than the current “effective” 89 per cent – was agreed after a parliamentary motion introduced by Rory Stewart in 2011. The auction will see rural coverage of mobile telecoms boosted massively in remote areas – and bring the benefits of improved mobile coverage and mobile broadband to constituents in Penrith and the Border and to Cumbria.
Rory introduced a parliamentary motion on the target, in May 2011, and introduced and steered a full debate on the floor of the House of Commons urging OFCOM to increase coverage from their originally proposed 95%, to 98 per cent. At the time, the government consulation had concluded there was no reason to go above 95 per cent. Rory’s motion received more MPs’ signatures than any previous motion in living memory and was carried unanimously at the end of its 3-hour duration. Rory has since been instrumental in bringing a 4G mobile trial to Threlkeld to demonstrate the benefits of the new technology.
It will be the biggest auction of space on British airwaves, and is expected to achieve a one-off windfall of £3bn for the Treasury. Not only will Ofcom improve coverage for remote rural areas as a response to this important lobbying, it has also proposed that the network which takes on this obligation will likely have access to the £150m earmarked last year to ensure better rural super-fast broadband coverage, boosting rural broadband delivery already underway. The obligation would mean ensuring 4G coverage equal to the combined 2G voice coverage currently provided by all national networks, and extending the signal into the UK’s “not spot” areas where there is no mobile signal.
The announcement comes at a time when Rory is working hard to expand the mobile broadband network into the Northern Fells area. At the same time Caldbeck in his constituency is set to become the first ‘open Femto cell’ rural pilot in the UK. The MP will share his expertise at a PICTFOR (the Parliamentary Internet Communications and Technology Forum) panel discussion this week in the House of Commons, where he will be discussing the transition to superfast broadband and 4G/LTE services in the UK alongside representatives from major telecomms providers.
Rory today said: “Major and historic changes are taking place in the world of broadband provision, and here in Penrith and the Border we are at the very heart of these developments. Even before the OFCOM spectrum auction began we were trialling innovative 4G trials in Threlkeld, developing community broadband models that have been used by government to develop national policy, powering up Penrith as the first Openreach market town, and have signed the broundbreaking contract between BT and Cumbria County Council to drive fibre deep into our county to benefit generations to come. As we upgrade our rural communities and switch to superfast fibre and 4G technology, we mustn’t become complacent; the hard work is not over. Government needs to meet its target to deliver the best rural broadband to our communities by 2015, to encourage more local community broadband projects, and to assess the implications of increased mobile data on our mobile infrastructure. There is much to be done, but this is an incredibly promising start to 2013.”
Rory has welcomed the news that both Wigton Youth Station and Eden Sight Support are to receive Big Lottery Fund grants to support their on-going work within the local community.
Wigton Youth Station is to receive a £10,000 grant which will be used to fund weekly sessions with ‘hard to engage’ young women displaying anti-social behaviour including arts workshops, outdoor activities, and team building exercises. These workshops aim to enhance the confidence and self-esteem of participants, raise their aspirations and develop a positive self-image.
In addition to this, Eden Sight Support has been awarded £2840 to run a monthly group, providing information and advice for people with sight loss, including those who are newly diagnosed, and their informal carers. This will enable beneficiaries to access relevant services and explore new equipment, including kitchen appliances that are adapted for disabilities, with the aim of assisting them to overcome their disability and promote independence.
Rory said: “Both Wigton Youth Station and Eden Sight Support are typical of the many fantastic community-led volunteer organisations found across the constituency, and I’m delighted to learn that their bids have been successful. Cumbrians have shown time and again a real desire to help within their local community, but this goodwill does occasionally need financial support. I have no doubt that these Big Lottery grants will help setup what sound like two very worthy projects.”
Rory has, following a meeting on Monday specially convened by the Eden Area Secondary Headteachers (EASH) group, said that he is delighted to have been instrumental in brokering greater dialogue between the schools and Cumbria County Council in relation to the schools’ ongoing concerns about the National Schools Funding Formula. The meeting involved head-teachers and governors from the EASH group (UCC, QEGS, SKS, KSGS, and AGS) as well as Brampton’s WHS and Wigton’s NTS, all in Rory’s constituency of Penrith and the Border.
Rory said today: “I am delighted that there will be enhanced dialogue between the schools and the local authority on this, and would like to thank Council Portfolio Holder Duncan Fairbairn for his ongoing support and assistance. The EASH group raised very valid concerns with me about the funding of some of our largest schools. I have requested this meeting, and more detailed dialogue, in order to assess the projected figures that show that any school with more than 500 students is likely to face significant cuts to their funding.”
The National Schools Funding Formula is used to determine the allocation of resources each school will receive from government, but is administered by the local authority. In an effort to protect small, rural primary schools – extremely exposed in any formula which allocates funds purely on student numbers – the government agreed to include a “lump sum” payment, allocated to every school, which was deliberately designed to ensure small schools remained viable.
Rory Stewart MP continued: “In a rural county like Cumbria, our focus is consistently on the preservation and improvement of our services, and our schools are no exception. I fully recognise the incredibly difficult task Cumbria County Council has ahead of it in administering these funds. The lump sum payment offers additional protection to our small, rural schools and this is to be welcomed. At the same time, however, the formula remains a fairly blunt instrument, and could
create a number of perverse and extreme results. I am hopeful now that any anomalies can be ironed out.”
Rory this week celebrated Wigton’s ‘Alternative Takeaway’ win in the inaugural British Kebab
Awards held in Parliament. The Alternative Takeaway beat off
competition from over 80 nominees to be named the Best Regional Takeaway.
The British Kebab Awards, held in Parliament on Monday night, were the
first of their kind and designed to celebrate and industry that
contributes over £1billion to the UK economy annually and employs
around 250,000 people.
Speaking at the award ceremony Rory said: “I am delighted at the news
that Alternative Takeaway, have won the Best Regional award. They
fought off huge competition and have shown that businesses in small,
rural market towns like Wigton are able to compete on a national
level. I very much enjoyed my recent visit to Alternative Takeaway.
The kebabs were excellent and the service from Mr Morgan and his team outstanding.”
Owner Matthew Morgan said: “It’s really good to get an award, I
couldn’t believe it. I was happy enough to get a nomination because
we’re a small town and often get overlooked.”
In a speech to a Cumbria housing conference, on 18th February, Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Border called for communities to be included much earlier in plans for housing development. He argued that citizens should be able to help determine the look and lay-out, and locations of houses in the area. He was joined on stage by Mark Greaves, an architect from the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community. The joint presentation was made to local council planners, developers, housing associations, and residents at the Growth and Opportunity Conference held by the Eden Community Housing Advisory Board. And it had been inspired by the Prince of Wales’ visit to Wigton last year.
The Prince’s architect, Mark Greaves showed slides from two very different projects – Knockroon in Ayrshire and Poundbury in Dorset – to explain how communities were deeply involved from the beginning in the planning process and end design. Whilst the model of “enquiry by design” can mean a longer initial consultation phase, it typically leads to fewer objections and appeals later on in the development process. The MP asked planners to pilot a similar approach in Cumbria, when considering large scale housing developments. He recommended that they approach communities before any designs have been agreed, and sit down with ‘a blank sheet of paper”, and devote at least a week, of intense discussion, to drawing ideas, and suggestions out of the community, on how they would like the development to look and operate.
Speaking at the event, Rory said: “We already have fantastic examples of what can be achieved when local communities are put in the driving seat of their local housing initiatives – be it the affordable housing model in Crosby Ravensworth or the Neighbourhood Plan in Upper Eden. The “Enquiry by Design” model championed by the Prince’s Foundation, offers yet another opportunity for community engagement in this process. It is fantastic that, following Prince Charles’ visit last year to Wigton, we have been given an opportunity to learn more about his Foundation’s approach to planning. And it was great to see local councils and planning authorities expressing an interest in this model and recognising the value of more extensive community engagement in any new development project. I very much hope that, with council support, we could now put this model into practice.”
Rory continued his campaign supporting local constituents in their fight for better rural broadband when he joined broadband activists in Shap on Friday, assisting their campaign to drum up demand and get better broadband into the village and its surroundings.
Shap is one of six communities identified by Cumbria County Council as likely to fall within the 7% of the county that will not be covered by contract with BT Global, due to their remote nature and geography. This follows the community’s successful expression of interest to Defra’s Rural Communities Broadband Fund (RCBF) for funding. Any application must now demonstrate strong community support and commitment, and local Hub Co-ordinators and Broadband Champions are in the process of working hard to foster local interest by distributing survey questionnaires that will evidence the important local need necessary for the process to move forward.
Rory is encouraging all residents to take part in the completion of surveys, which need to be filled in and returned by 8th February at the latest, in order to allow the Connecting Cumbria project team the chance to collate the data and prepare a bid to be submitted to Defra in April. During his visit to Shap, Rory learned that the 740 properties within the community are all currently served by one central exchange, which has a detrimental impact on the speed and reliability of broadband currently available.
The MP met with local Broadband Champion Patrick Neaves, local County Councillor Tom Lowther and Parish Clerk Jean Scott-Smith (pictured at cafe Cream 17) as they distributed the surveys and fostered local support for the initiative Speaking on the project, Rory said: “It’s fantastic to again find local activists taking the initiative and playing an integral role in securing superfast broadband for themselves and their villages. Initiatives like this are not just about individuals but the community as a whole. The importance of broadband is not just about what it offers to individuals in their home, but the value it can bring to teaching in the local school, or the way in which it can help the local pub or cafe remain open and viable. I am therefore urging everyone in the area to fill out their questionnaires to help bring superfast broadband to Shap.”
Further details of communities covered by this application are available on the Connecting Cumbria website. (www.connectingcumbria.org)