Monthly Archives: July 2013

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RORY DEMANDS LONGER-TERM UPLANDS STRATEGY FROM DEFRA

Rory, Secretary of the APPG on Hill-Farming, has welcomed the announcement from DEFRA that all 1,600 Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) schemes will be renewed, citing this “a real triumph and a relief for our uplands farmers”. He has also requested that DEFRA produce an overall strategy statement on the future of the uplands.

Speaking after today’s meeting Rory said: “This is great news and a huge relief for our upland farmers, who require stability of income. I believe this is an indication that we will be able to strengthen Pillar One payments for the uplands. However, we need a more detailed outline from Government on what its uplands strategy will be from 2015 onwards, which is currently looking less clear. We need to be aware that the mid-term review last year resulted in uplands farmers being disadvantaged, and we do not want to risk this happening again.”

RORY WELCOMES FLOOD INSURANCE AGREEMENT

Rory has welcomed the proposed new deal between Government and the insurance industry which will look to ensure all households are guaranteed affordable flood insurance cover.

Rory has been a vocal campaigner for those in flood-risk areas, and has hosted flooding Minister Richard Benyon in Penrith and the Border on a number of occasions to highlight local concerns. Having spoken and worked with local Flood Action Groups, the National Flood Forum and industry specialists at the North Cumbria Flood Conference, the local MP lobbied Defra ministers directly on the concerns raised to him about the substantial increase in insurance premiums many communities in high flood risk areas would otherwise have faced had the Statement of Principles framework expired.

The new deal announced will cap flood insurance premiums, linking them to council tax bands so that people will know how much they have to pay. According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) consultation, a householder in the average band D property will pay no more than an estimated £800.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: “Flooding is terrible for anyone affected by it. We have worked extremely hard with the industry to reach an agreement on the future of flood insurance. There are still areas to work through but this announcement means that people no longer need to live in fear of being uninsurable and that those at most risk can get protection, now and in the future.”

Rory said: “I am very pleased by this announcement, and I hope it will come as a relief to so many of my constituents who have campaigned with me on improving local flood defences, and ensuring appropriate policy safeguards are in place for those who live in flood-risk areas. We cannot find ourselves in a position where homeowners face extortionate home insurance premiums, or discover that their house is uninsurable.

Having worked with communities and Flood Action Groups across my constituency, from Eamont Bridge to Caldbeck, I have seen some fantastic and innovative solutions to reducing flood risk, and I recognise where residents remain eager for further improvements. If anyone remains concerned about flooding in their area please do get in touch, and I would be happy to offer all the assistance I can.”

RORY RECEIVES MINISTERIAL ENCOURAGEMENT FOR DISABLED ACCESS AT PENRITH STATION

In response to a parliamentary debate, initiated and led by Rory yesterday on disabled access at train stations, Minister for Transport Norman Baker, confirmed that Penrith station was a “strong candidate” for new investment in disabled access, and promised also to assess existing criteria and ensure that it took account of a station’s rurality also.

The debate, which drew broad cross-party support from a number of colleagues, was the culmination of Rory’s long-standing campaign to improve disabled access at Penrith Station in his constituency. Rory’s campaign began with strong lobbying of all franchise bidders ahead of the West Coast tendering process of 2012, during which time Rory met with each bidder to request a commitment to the necessary upgrades to the station. The commitment came from First Group, the original franchisee, but stalled when Virgin Trains successfully challenged the tendering process. Rory resumed his campaign with numerous meetings and conversations with Virgin, Network Rail, and the Department for Transport, receiving in June strong indication that the station would be included in the next tranche of Access for All funding.

Currently, the station remains without northbound access for wheelchairs and other users, even though the station receives fourteen booked requests for disabled assistance per day and many more unbooked and – as Rory raised in the debate – are forced to be guided across the extremely dangerous and outdated barrow crossing. The MP raised the story of his constituents and local businesspeople, Adrian and Elaine Waite of Appleby, who are forced to use Carlisle station given Mrs Waite’s reduced mobility due to severe arthritis.

Rory said: “Disabled access matters enormously. The number of disabled people using trains has risen by 58% over the past five years – that equates to 72 million rail journeys by disabled people in 2012. Not only the disabled at Penrith are affected, but the elderly, those with push chairs, even tourists, who have to negotiate 45 steps with a 35kg suitcase.

But it remains challenging to make the necessary improvements in many smaller, more rural train stations, like Penrith. The Government tends to focus on footfall when deciding where to prioritise access funding, and misses a lot of detail in so doing. It misses the fact that a remote, rural station already likely suffers from issues of poor public transport provision. It misses issues of demographics – the fact that constituencies like my own have significant ageing populations. I have been struck by how generous the Government has been over the last 20 years, supporting those with disabilities in education, in providing mentoring in the workplace. We have worked well in hospitals, libraries and community halls, but the great remaining challenge I feel is transport: a sector which has not quite reached the same standard of other public service provisions in meeting the needs of disabled people. Every party should be proud of the extraordinary amount Britain has achieved for disabled rights and disabled access since the 1970s. We must combine this achievement with the infrastructure commitments of this Government, and in so doing, look forward to the day when visitors can step off the train at Penrith and see a new lift which is not just an article of public convenience, but a symbol of British civilisation.”

Transport Minister Norman Baker’s response was extremely positive: “Penrith station is a strong candidate for upgrading. It has come very close in the past to being nominated for Access for All, and I am aware that it is one of very few stations on the West Coast mainline without proper access. I expect the nomination process to be completed by the end of the year, and we should be in a position to announce successful stations by April 2014. It is an important link in the chain of National Express coaches, and for bus services to other parts of Cumbria. We have a huge task of opening up the full railway network to disabled passengers – which is of course what we want to do. The Government remains committed to providing further support, and has expanded the “Access for All” programme, providing a further £100m for rail improvements up until 2019. Based on what I have heard today, I will ask officials to consider the fact that future criteria should also take into account rurality.”

Rory will continue to campaign to improve access at Penrith railway station, and would like to thank all constituents who contributed their stories for the purpose of his campaign and the parliamentary debate. Rory concluded: “What Penrith needs and would dearly love, is a footbridge, with a lift either side, that allows safe and easy access to the northbound platform. It is already an extraordinary achievement that you can get from London to Penrith in 3 hours and 15 minutes, and this has had a huge transformation on our economy – for tourism, for small businesses, for connecting Penrith to the rest of the country and abroad. We are still being held back however, by what would probably be a relatively small investment of a few hundred thousand pounds, to make Penrith properly accessible.”

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RORY DEBATES FUTURE OF CONSTITUENCY ECONOMY WITH LOCAL FINANCE LEADERS

Rory has met local finance directors from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, for a wide-ranging discussion about the Cumbrian economy and, more specifically, the issues facing small businesses in Penrith and the Border.

The event, organised by local ICAEW representatives Jeanette Brown of Dodd & Co. and Keith Proudfoot, ICAEW regional director, was attended also by Andrew Heron of the University of Cumbria, Elspeth James of Penrith Building Society, John Bamforth of Direct Rail Services, Charles Watt of Cranstons, David Ryan of Keswick  Convention, Martin Hall of Dent’s, and Patrick Sharman of CHOC.

The debate centred around issues of encouraging professionals to see north Cumbria as an attractive place to live and work; the importance of infrastructure, such as broadband. Rory proposed the idea of a small dedicated fund to make micro-loans to smaller businesses in Cumbria and took advice from the group on how it might be developed.

Rory said: “Society is changing quickly, and with it our economy and our business sectors. Cumbria has been particularly good at adapting to change, but more needs to be done to encourage people that Cumbria and in particular north Cumbria is an excellent place to develop a career and to enter a profession. The quality of life here is second to none, but that need not be at the expense of a serious career in many, many sectors. I very much enjoyed our debate today around the things we can do to better promote this part of Cumbria as a great place to live and work and do business. Cumbrian business deserves to thrive and flourish by attracting the very best people to this area. I am particularly interested in what we can do to make finance more readily accessible four our small businesses, who seem to be too often ignored by the banks.”

Keith Proudfoot said: “The exchange of thoughts around business issues was very useful.  Our members, who all hold senior positions in businesses and organisations important to Cumbria, were encouraged to hear what Rory had to say on the challenges facing the region and to know that he listens to the views of his constituents.”

Jeanette Brown of Dodd & Co. said: “I thought it was very admirable that Rory put time aside to speak to us. From my point of view it was a really useful opportunity for our chartered accountant members in business to discuss the issues they are facing in the Cumbrian economy. What was fascinating for me, was that even though we are from substantially different organisations, there was broad agreement on those issues, the main one being ‘recognition’ for the area in terms of opportunity for progression. I consider that Rory’s presence facilitated this engagement and provided an invaluable basis and contribution to our discussions.”

RORY VISITS SHAP QUARRY

Rory visited Tata Steel’s Shap Fell quarry for the first time last week, meeting with the quarry’s Managers Alastair Dunn and Chris Queen in a visit that enabled Rory to see at first-hand the workings of the limestone kilns on the outskirts of Shap in his constituency.

It was an opportunity for Rory to discuss with the quarry’s team their plans for the future, and the initiatives that they undertake to engage with the local communities in and around Shap, particularly on issues around traffic reduction through the village and the restoration of historically quarried land on the Fell.

Rory said: “It has been fascinating to see how Shap Fell quarry operates. I am particularly encouraged by the quarry managers’ positive attitude to the local community. I have raised a number of community issues with them recently, and I was pleased that they have made a real effort to engage with residents of Shap and surroundings, particularly taking steps to try and minimise traffic through the village.  I am also pleased with how serious Tata steel has been in addressing the environmental concerns relating to permissions to resume quarrying at the site: from the effects of dewatering, to the restoration of the landscape, and the conditions of the baseline geology. These are all vital areas for our area, and it is great that the quarry is taking them seriously.”

Alastair Dunn, Quarry Manager, said: “It was good to meet Rory and show him some of the work we do here at Shap. We were also able to talk to him about our planning submission to restart taking stone from our own quarry and the positive impact this would have on the local community with the reduction of heavy traffic passing through Shap village.”

Shapfell Manager Chris Queen, said: “Tata Steel was delighted to host Rory on his first visit to our site at Shapfell. We have been at this site, providing employment, for many years and so it was good to be able to discuss with our MP our vision of the future and how we hope to be able to continue to serve and protect this close-knit community.”

RORY SEES “ENERGY OF CUMBRIAN BUSINESS” AT KINGMOOR PARK

Rory visited three flourishing local Cumbrian businesses in Kingmoor Park in his constituency on Friday, guided by Chief Executive Tony Goddard and Property Manager Ross Nicholson. Design company Print Graphic showed the MP their state-of-the-art printing presses that are amongst the greenest in the UK and run virtually chemical-free. Explosive Productions introduced him to young artists who provide entertainment to some of the biggest names in the cruise and tourism industry. CAD Works, a small independent engineering company, introduced the design and production of a variety of steel products including conveyors, mixers and industrial pipework.

Rory focused on the growth, the training, and the turnover of these Cumbrian companies. He called it a “fascinating look at what is best about Cumbrian business”. He emphasised the important role played by Kingmoor Park in providing a space for local businesses, and endorsed their plans to expand into storage warehouse space with the £60m construction project ‘[email protected]’. This would involve the building of a one million square-foot warehouse that would increase the site’s storage capacity and bring in businesses using the site as a logistics facility.

Rory said: “Kingmoor Park is a great example of the resilience, innovation and energy that is characteristic of so many of our businesses, as well as a symbol of how old and new can integrate to propel our economy forward. I was enormously impressed by the way in which the businesses here are adopting modern, indeed cutting-edge, technology and techniques to deliver their work, whilst at the same time holding on to the core values of hard work and strong workforce relations. I think that the site has enormous potential to make north Cumbria and Carlisle a great place to do business, and I wish Kingmoor Park every success with their exciting ‘[email protected]’ project.”

Tony Goddard, Managing Director of Kingmoor Park Properties Ltd said: “We were delighted to welcome Rory to Kingmoor Park.  It is a very exciting time for the site as we have just launched our [email protected] initiative at the House of Commons. This launch was the start of positioning Carlisle and our site at the forefront of the big shed marketplace where we can cater for a single development of up to a million sq ft.  This is an extremely exclusive part of the property market as there are not many industrial estates in the country that not only have the land availability but also the infrastructure such as location, motorway connection, workforce, broadband etc to support a development of this size.  We were delighted to explain to Rory what we are doing and why his support is important to us.   His visit was also an opportunity for us to showcase some of our fantastic small to medium sized businesses including Print Graphic, Explosive Productions and CAD Works who are the large occupiers of the future”.