Monthly Archives: February 2013

Rory guest speaker at wordsworth literary festival

Rory  was invited as a guest speaker to talk at the Wordsworth Trust Arts and Book Festival held in Grasmere – the place where the poet, William Wordsworth, famously called home for over 14 years of his life.

The author of “The Places in Between” and “Occupational Hazards” delivered a talk entitled ‘a personal exploration of travel exploration’ in which he discussed the interesting dilemma facing a writer who is turning his attention from the adventure and exotic climes of Afghanistan and Iraq to the more recognisable landscapes of Cumbria and the Scottish borders. Rory explained how his previous two books presented relatively few challenges from a writing point of view, with the unfamiliar subject material naturally engaging the reader.

Speaking at the event, Rory said:

“The challenge now is to write about landscape, culture and experiences with which the reader feels much more familiar, and to test preconceptions without causing offence. I have delivered talks on the experiences in my previous books many times now, but its rare that I get the chance to discuss and reflect upon the actual challenges of writing them. I really enjoyed the Wordsworth Trust festival today, and the discussion I was able to have with the audience has thrown up interesting ideas for my next book.”

rory brings ministers up for second discussion of cumbria’s neighbourhood plan

(left to right) Sonya Canon, Mark Curr, Nick Boles, Don Foster, Rory Stewart, Libby Bateman

Rory Stewart brought Planning Minister, Nick Boles MP, to Cumbria for his second trip in a month to promote Upper Eden’s Neighbourhood Plan referendum. Upper Eden will be the first community in the country to vote for their own neighbourhood plan on March 7th, and if successful they will become the first UK community to take control of their own planning policy. Rory and Nick were also joined by minister from the Department of Communities and Local Government, Don Foster, and all encouraged local residents to vote in the March 7th local referendum on the Upper Eden Neighbourhood Plan in a packed meeting in Brough community hall.

The discussion with the ministers lasted an hour and a half, and contributions were made to the debate by Chairman of Upper Eden Community Plan Group – Tom Woof, leader of Eden District

Council – Gordon Nicholson, and other community leaders such as Councillor Peter Thornton, Council candidate Libby Bateman, and Sir Martin Holdgate. They discussed how exactly their communities stood to be affected by the plan, as well as details of broader planning and housing policy. One of the primary points of concern for many residents was how to prevent further increases in house prices and ensure that young families on an average income can continue to afford to live in the area.

Subsequent to the Parish Hall meeting, local residents and farmers – Mark Curr and partner Sonya Canon – kindly agreed to show the ministers the family farm in Bowderdale, where under the Neighbourhood Plan they would be able to convert one of their existing barns into a property in which they can live. The plan has seven key priorities which includes making it easier for local people to build their own affordable housing, an emphasis on suitable housing for elderly people, as well as measures which will make it much easier for farmers and rural businesses to develop their outlying buildings.


PM-and-Rory-Stewart-MP-with-Suppliers-624x415The Prime-Minister was among a hundred MPs who attended “Cumbria Day’ in Parliament today. The day, held in the Jubilee Room at the Houses of Parliament, and organised by Cumbria Tourism, Taste Cumbria and one of the MP’s offices, celebrated all things Cumbria to raise the profile of Cumbria in the nation’s capital. It was supported by all six Cumbrian MPs: Sir Tony Cunningham MP, Tim Farron MP, Jamie Reed MP, John Stevenson MP, Rory Stewart MP and John Woodcock MP. Among the attendees were Cranston’s Butchers and Sillfield Farm who provided Cumberland Sausages, The Toffee Company with Penrith Fudge, the Dalemain Marmalade Awards, the Ulverston Brewing Company, Hard Knott Brewery and Coniston Brewery, the Lake District Cheese Company and Appleby Creamery, Agnes Rose oils and vinegars, pies and cakes from the Broughton Village Bakery, Green’s Bakers and Confectioner and Grasmere Gingerbread. A selection of Cumbrian businesses also attended the day in Westminster including the Derwent Cumberland Pencil Company, New Balance Trainers, Stobart Air as well as representatives from Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue Association, Visit England, the National Trust, English Heritage, the Lake District National Park and Cumbria County and District Councils.

The event was opened by eminent mountaineer and Cumbrian Resident Doug Scott. Rory Stewart MP then used his question in a packed Prime-Minister’s questions to invite the PM to attend. The PM accepted, saying in parliament “Cumbria is a beautiful part of our country, with so much to offer. I have fond memories of the time I have spent there, not least visiting the Butchers Arms in Crosby Ravensworth, a community owned pub and amazing example of Big Society in action.”

The PM visited the stalls later in the afternoon, trying local produce and adding: ‘I am absolutely delighted to have attended Cumbria Day in Parliament. I have fond memories of an energizing early morning swim in Ullswater! I wish the campaign for Cumbrian tourism every success.’

Following the event, the six MPs formed an Associate Parliamentary Group for Tourism and Business to take forward Cumbria’s priorities in Westminster on a cross-party basis.

Rory said: ‘The day has been an absolute triumph. It has been a wonderful opportunity for all MPs to work together on a cross-party basis for a county we all love. It has put Cumbria, its products and our beautiful landscape in a much-needed spotlight. And I hope it is the beginning of much more cross-party work.’

John Woodcock MP said: ‘I was so glad that this event successfully created a buzz around Westminster and gave local producers a platform to promote their superb wares on a national stage. All areas of the county – including Furness – have so much potential to create jobs by attracting visitors and I look forward to helping take this forward in the months ahead.’

Sir Tony Cunningham MP said: ‘Cumbria Day has been a great success, giving the opportunity for fantastic local producers to show off their produce in the nation’s capital.’

John Stevenson: ‘Cumbria Day has brought focus to Westminster and enabled Cumbrian MPs to work together for the betterment of business and tourism in Cumbria.’

Tim Farron: ‘Cumbria Day, today proved to be the best of its kind in Westminster giving an opportunity to make sure that Cumbria is heard in London.’

Jamie Reed said: ‘“Cumbria Day has been a great success.  Local MPs have long known of the amazing produce available in our region and it has been great to be able to showcase it in Westminster. Next year’s event will be bigger and better.”

Eric Robson, Chair of Cumbria Tourism said: ‘Thank you to Rory and all his colleagues. The day has been a tremendous success; it shows the diversity and quality of Cumbrian products. We know how good Cumbria is, we just need to sell it to other people. The Lake District-Cumbria is a very successful brand. I think following on from today, the real triumph will be the ongoing work with the All Parliamentary Group’.


cumbrian MPs launch cumbrian tourism and business APG

Following the success of ‘Cumbria Day’ held in Westminster, the six Cumbrian MPs – Rory Stewart MP, Tim Farron MP, John Stevenson MP, John Woodcock MP, Sir Tony Cunningham MP and Jamie Reed MP – have launched an ‘All Party Group’ (APG) focusing on Cumbrian tourism and business.

The APG will be non-party political in nature with the six MPs standing as joint chairs, and it is to be open to associate members as well to ensure a broad base of support and local expertise. Its remit will be to ensure issues closely affecting Cumbrian tourism and business are better represented within Westminster, and the group aims to focus its energy on a few specific issues relevant to the county’s tourism and business sectors, where the APG may be able to exert influence.

Following discussion among the MPs and other key representatives from the industry present at the inaugural meeting, three issues were put forward as being particularly important. The first was to raise the profile of Cumbrian tourism through a more targeted marketing campaign. The group will seek to hold organisations like Visit Britain to account in the promotion of the region to international markets – where huge scope exists to expand – and make better use of the international reputation of the Lake District as an ‘attack brand’ upon which to boost tourism and business across the whole county.

The second issue raised was that of the region’s transport links. Whilst many people are attracted to Cumbria for its stunning landscape and sense of isolation, this in itself poses problems on how to get visitors and businesses to the area in the first place. It is hoped a more integrated approach, with a particular focus on improved rail and bus links may be able to address some of the problems.

The third issue upon which the group will focus will be advanced manufacturing in Cumbria. Manufacturing constitutes a significant part of the Cumbrian economy, but is often overlooked due to the attention placed on tourism and agriculture. Yet manufacturing comprises 20% of Carlisle’s economy, and is also particularly significant along the West Coast and South of Cumbria too. The APG aims to put together an event which will highlight the strength and depth of the manufacturing industry in Cumbria and make efforts to expand its export market.

Rory said:

“A Cumbrian tourism and business APG is an excellent way in which to bring together key individuals, outline a strategy and ensure that tangible improvements can be delivered for the Cumbrian tourism industry and Cumbrian businesses more widely. Following an incredibly successful ‘Cumbria Day’, we now have a platform upon which to capitalise from this extraordinary momentum, and ensure Cumbria continues to be the vibrant and successful place we all know it to be.

Tim Farron said:

“This APG offers the ability to make sure Cumbria is heard in Westminster. Today’s event – which is comfortably the best of its kind in Westminster so far – is a great start, but we now need to pick specific issues where we can add real value to make sure Cumbria gets a bigger slice of the cake.”

John Stevenson said:

“This group brings focus at Westminster to the interests of Cumbria. It covers tourism and business across the whole county and gives Cumbria’s six MPs the opportunity to work together for a common goal.”

John Woodcock said:

“I was so glad that this event successfully created a buzz around Westminster and gave local producers a platform to promote their superb wares on a national stage. All areas of the county – including Furness – have so much potential to create jobs by attracting visitors and I look forward to helping take this forward in the months ahead.”

Jamie Reed said:

“We saw the enthusiasm at Cumbria Day and we want to tap into this to help the region to flourish.  The Cumbrian APG will bring people who care passionately about our area together and we will work hard to continue to promote Cumbria as a place to visit and a place to do business.”

Tony Cunningham said:

“The launching of an APG on Cumbrian tourism and business was a fantastic way to conclude ‘Cumbria Day’. The energy on the day was incredible and very much typical of the dynamism found in businesses throughout the entire county. This APG must now work hard to do these businesses proud, and ensure we are getting Cumbria the very best deal.”

rory shows his support for penrith AFC


Rory had the opportunity this week to show his support for Penrith AFC in a match against Marske United, where the home team unfortunately lost 2-1.

The match provided the Penrith and the Border MP with an opportunity to meet with many of the club’s local officials and organisers, getting a better sense of how the club is run, and its importance to the town – the club has over 200 playing members in its various teams, of all ages, and both genders.

In the past, Rory has acted as an important conduit in negotiations with Eden District Council over the club’s future and helped to secure favourable terms over its lease of the ground at Frenchfields – terms the EDC have again recently agreed to for another year at least. The club continues to face long-term funding issues however and officials, although positive about the club’s future, continue to look for new ways in which to augment it’s revenue streams.

Ian White, Club Secretary, said:

“We welcome Rory’s involvement and his help in planning how the club will move forward in these difficult times. It is important for the club to maintain a productive working relationship with Rory and keeping him informed is key if we are to ensure the club can overcome any on-going uncertainties about its future.”

Rory said:

“I really enjoyed the opportunity to come down and see Penrith AFC play this afternoon, despite finding them on the losing end of a close game on this occasion. It is very easy to see the hard work that goes into organising the club and the the support they receive is nothing less than I would expect from a town as dynamic and passionate as Penrith.

Penrith AFC makes a vital contribution to the provision of local sport and leisure in the town – particularly for younger generations, and its importance to the community should not be underestimated. I am glad to see Eden District Council have again agreed to look kindly on the club for the next year at least, and I personally remain committed and willing to doing all that I can to ensure the club continues to flourish.”


rory demands fairer funding for rural communities

Following months of lobbying and campaign work, Rory and Chair of the APPG on Local Democracy, has called on Government to recognise the significantly higher costs faced by local authorities in rural areas in a backbench debate on Monday. The debate precedes a local government financial settlement bill for 2013-14 which faces a vote by MPs on Wednesday, 13 February.

Figures released by the Rural Services Network show that on average, rural residents pay council tax which is £75 higher per head of population, yet receive substantially less support for service provision. Current proposals will see rural residents receiving approximately 65% of the grant given to urban dwellers, and for significantly rural areas – like Eden – authorities will face cuts of close to 5% as opposed to an average cut of 2% to urban councils. This equates to a reduction in spending power of 2.10% for authorities in rural areas. As their service levels, out of necessity, start at a thinner level and are more expensive to run, it is feared the impact of current proposals will have a severely detrimental impact on rural communities.

Speaking in the House of Commons chamber, Rory said:

“Rural councils have inherited a situation in which they are significantly less well funded per head than urban councils.”

“We are talking not about individuals, wealthy second-home owners or people who retire to the countryside, but about organic, living communities of the sort that we prize in this country and that everyone in the Chamber prizes—communities containing young families, living small farms and a living school. Those things desperately depend on how rural councils are funded,  however, and they face a perfect storm. Ministers are not the only people putting pressures on them. It is important to understand the overall context in which agri-environmental schemes, the huge movement towards supermarkets and capitalism itself have eroded rural communities.”

“The decision that Government makes today will determine whether instead of a network of small farms, organic communities and vibrant villages, we end up with nothing but a wilderness for millionaires.”

rory chairs community affordable housing event

Rory chairs community Affordable Housing Event

Rory chairs community Affordable Housing Event

Rory has welcomed the significant level of interest among Eden parishes for community-led affordable housing schemes, following an event he chaired in Crosby Ravensworth to showcase the 12 affordable houses, built and owned by the local community.

Following the official opening of the Stoneworks Garth site by the MP back in October last year, Rory subsequently wrote to all local parish councils asking any with an interest in local affordable housing to attend the event in order to see for themselves what Crosby Ravensworth had accomplished. Much of the MP’s enthusiasm for this model has stemmed from the centrality of the local community in the decision-making process. By setting up Lyvennet Community Trust, Crosby Ravensworth community put itself in control of decisions about the site, size and style of their affordable housing development, and critically ensured an allocation policy that prioritised individuals and families local to the area who could not otherwise afford  market value rates.

In attendance were representatives from Lazonby, Brough, Rockcliffe, Morland, Temple Sowerby, Barton, Pooley Bridge, Warcop, Bampton, Great Asby and Culgaith. Each community had a different reason for attending, different local housing needs, and each were at different stages in their respective local affordable housing projects. All who attended however, had the chance to listen and discuss their ideas and concerns with the Chairman of Lyvennet Community Trust, David Graham, the CLT officer from Cumbria Rural Housing Trust, Andy Lloyd, as well as representatives from the Housing and Communities Agency (HCA) – the Key Government organisation involved in the allocation of funds for projects of this nature. The event included a tour of the Stoneworks Garth site, to showcase the traditional build and style of the properties, as well as some of the innovative features which ensure the properties are as affordable to live in as they are to rent. Each property for example has an air source heat pump which currently means heating and electricity bills of only £10 per week for most residents – a cost unimaginable to many other households in Cumbria.

Following the event, community representatives will now report back to their respective parishes, where it is hoped several may now find themselves in a better position, to build on what they learned over the afternoon and advance their own housing projects.

Rory said:

“Crosby Ravensworth has proved magnificently what can be achieved when the local community is able to take control of its own locality. It has shown it is possible to build affordable houses without alienating local residents, and it has shown that the end result is more than just the bricks and mortar, built around a village green. The mere act of community engagement can be a very uplifting and rewarding thing, and the sense of community in the village is incredibly tangible.

This dynamism, energy and community spirit is by no means unique to Crosby Ravensworth however. Indeed I see it time and again in nearly every local community I visit. That is why it was fantastic to see such a range of parishes present at today’s event, and why – if they decide to replicate this model – I am confident they can achieve the same great results. We cannot find ourselves in a position where local families can no longer afford to live in the communities in which they grew up, and I will now follow up with every community that attended to see if I can in anyway help ensure the replication of this model across Cumbria.”


Rory Speaks on Rural Communities


There is the possibility that those on the Front Bench will have a weary cynicism about this debate—a feeling that statistics are being thrown around, that special pleading is going on, names of councils being showered down on them, and figures of 50% or 2% and different definitions and so on being mentioned, but the point, of course, that hon. Members are making on both sides of the House is not about councils, but about rural communities and the very particular situation in which rural communities in Britain find themselves after 50 years of intense fragility.

We are talking not about individuals, wealthy second-home owners or people who retire to the countryside, but about organic, living communities of the sort that we prize in this country and that everyone in the Chamber prizes—communities containing young families, living small farms and a living school. Those things desperately depend on how rural councils are funded, however, and they face a perfect storm. Ministers are not the only people putting pressures on them. It is important to understand the overall context in which agri-environmental schemes, the huge movement towards supermarkets and capitalism itself have eroded rural communities. This is simply the last straw on the camel’s back. For all the reasons we have heard in the House—sparse population, fuel poverty, cost of living—these communities now face a serious crisis. Whatever we do with the 50% or the 2%, rural councils have inherited a situation in which they are significantly less well funded per head than urban councils.

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): As my hon. Friend points out, this situation has been going on for a long time, so does he share my disappointment that, although we thought that this would finally be dealt with and that rural communities would get their fair share, that does not appear to be happening?

Rory Stewart: That is an excellent point. Perhaps Ministers will address the fact that this is an inherited situation, stretching back to the ’60s and the ’70s, and relating to the debts of urban councils and the types of assets that urban councils possess. The financial settlement was not designed to address real instances of deprivation or to take into account the indexes of deprivation that we all experience day to day—the cost of heating rural homes, the cost of living and so on.

The nub of the argument, however, has to be about the communities themselves—about why we care about them and wish to keep vibrant, living, organic communities alive. There are three reasons: first, there will come a time when we treasure the food security offered by those small farms, which do not exist independent of the funding that the council is prepared to provide for schools, transport or housing; secondly, tourism, which is one of the most rapidly growing sectors in the rural economy, is dependent not on our weather or food, but on a living landscape of humans; and finally, the fact that this is something deeply precious to Britain. In this the 21st century, our country has the privilege of being one of the most advanced developed countries in the world. We can set an example to other countries of how an advanced industrial economy should behave, what kind of civilisation and future we want and what kind of landscape we imagine for our grandchildren. The decision that Ministers make today will determine that: it will determine whether instead of a network of small farms, organic communities and vibrant villages, we end up with nothing but a wilderness for millionaires.

rory congratulates llama karma kafe on “rural oscars” award

Rory welcomed the news that local family-run business – the Llama Karma Kafe – has been crowned regional champion in the Countryside Alliance Awards, nicknamed the “Rural Oscars”. Mary Walker and her family who run the cafe will now travel down to Westminster on March 13th to receive the regional award, and find out if Llama Karma Kafe has been successful in its subsequent nomination for the national award as well.

The Countryside Alliance devised these annual awards eight years ago as a means of celebrating rural communities, skills and enterprise, and with an aim to highlight the diversity of rural enterprise and showcase those who have managed to survive and prosper, against the odds. Penrith and the Border has already seen two regional Northwest winners in the past – Crosby Ravensworth’s Butcher’s Arms community pub and Milburn butchers NB Taylor and Sons – and the Llama Karma Kafe, located just outside of Penrith, is now to become the latest addition to this list.

The cafe is well-known locally for the opportunity it offers to visitors to enjoy home-cooked and locally-sourced products in front of a viewing window that looks on to the resident herd of Llama. The business’ success has enabled it to retain all of its staff since it opened four years ago – a noteworthy achievement in the current economic climate – and they are now looking to expand by building an adjoining “themed” B&B which will again play on the South American feel of the cafe.

Mary Walker said:

“We are all thrilled to have been chosen over so many other worthy nominations and I hope it will mean good news, not just for us, but for Eden and Eden tourism. I feel our success is down to the unique experience we are able to offer our visitors, and everyone who visits the cafe is always immediately struck by its fun and quirky atmosphere. All the staff at the cafe work really hard, and this award wouldn’t be possible without them.”

Rory said:

“This is absolutely fantastic news. As an MP, it is very easy to feel a sense of partisanship towards your own constituency, but when so many local businesses continue to receive national recognition, it reinforces my view that this really is one of the most dynamic and hard-working communities in the UK.

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Llama Karma Kafe a number of times now, and for anyone who has enjoyed its local produce alongside some not so local wildlife, it should be immediately obvious why it has won this award. It is a worthy testament to their hard-work and entrepreneurial dynamism and I hope to be there on March 13th, where there is no reason why Llama Karma Kafe could not win the national award.”

rory encourages government to help local farmers

Rory last week encouraged Government to ensure a local official was present at an NFU meeting, organised to help farmers better understand and cope with the extremely challenging conditions in which many now find themselves.

The meeting, held in Longtown, attracted over 30 local farmers from the surrounding area, where veterinary experts and representatives from Eblex took time to address concerns over both the dramatic rise in Liver Fluke and the extremely difficult trading conditions for lamb producers in the current market – described as the worst in over half a decade. When taken in  conjunction with the disastrous weather conditions over the past 18 months which has led to a severe shortage of silage for winter feed, many farmers in the region are facing severe hardship this Winter. Eager for Government to remain abreast of the situation and understand the scale and extent of local farming problems, Rory wrote to Defra, who agreed for a local official to be present at the meeting. The meeting helped to clarify for the farmers present, the way in which the markets are likely to head and how best they can plan for it, as well as guiding them on how best to mitigate Liver Fluke through careful drug choice.

Rory said:

“Cumbria is particularly vulnerable to the consequences of a struggling farming sector, because agriculture forms such a significant part of our local economy. If the problems many of our local farmers are facing prove sufficiently severe as to put them out of business, the impact extends far beyond the farm and into the heart of our local communities.

Meetings like this one organised by the NFU are vital if farmers are to be kept as informed as possible on how best they can manage during such difficult periods. It is equally important that government is fully informed as well however, if policy is to reflect the reality of farming on the ground. I am very pleased to see Defra sent an official to the meeting, and I hope the feedback will lead to a strategy that ensures the on-going viability of our small, Cumbrian farms.”