§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Dowd.]
§ 10 pm
§ Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne)
As Members of Parliament, we are in a privileged position to see the wider view of what is happening in our constituencies. That is why I sought the debate. Few are privileged to see the big picture as we do. It is worth looking at in some detail in my constituency.
Every hon. Member knows by now, I hope, that Cornwall has major structural problems in its economy. Indeed, that is one reason that we won objective 1 status nearly two years ago, but the situation is changing and it is time that the House and the wider country woke up to that fact.
In the past, my constituency boasted the richest square mile in the world, as the area basked in the warmth of a strong tin price. One hundred plus years later, some parts are among the poorest in the country. Tin mining, farming, fishing have all suffered from a massive decline in recent years.
There can be no doubt that the latter two industries still face structural changes and difficulties. There was genuine shock and dismay when the last tin mine in Europe closed at South Crofty. People saw that as the end, but life moves on. It is now time for the county to stand up and to hold its head up high because, as the song goes, "The Times They Are A-changing."
I hope to sketch out some of the ways in which my constituency is moving forward and to tell the Government that those are areas that will need help. To industry, I say, "Get involved and build for the future." To some in the county who either choose not to look or do not look, I say, "Things really are getting better. Open your eyes and see."
Let us look at some facts. Unemployment in my constituency has fallen by 33 per cent. since the general election. Last month's fall was the biggest recorded in all the Cornish constituencies. Youth unemployment has fallen by two thirds. My constituency is the industrial heartland of Cornwall. The Falmouth-Penryn and Camborne-Redruth areas both offer great potential for Cornwall's economic resurgence and are our most under-used assets.
The Government's efforts to help Cornwall have been considerable. Objective 1 status was won for Cornwall through the collective efforts of many, but critically through the intervention of the Prime Minister. Since then, the Government have committed themselves to match fund objective 1. With the involvement of the private sector, that programme could be worth up to £1 billion to the county in the next six years.
The Government have protected Cornish jobs. CompAir Holman, which used to be Camborne's principal employer, received a £5 million Government grant two years ago to help it to remain in business in the town, saving literally hundreds of jobs. Cornish Yarg cheese is produced in my constituency using local farmers' milk and employing local people. Regional selective assistance was critical in getting that scheme off the ground and the cheese on to our plates at Westminster.
412 Cornwall has assisted area status, an education action zone in the Redruth and Camborne area, a health action zone and record capital investment in our schools. A long list of initiatives is equipping Cornwall for the future. Only this week, the Government have confirmed an additional £3.6 million for Kerrier district council, including Redruth, Camborne, Penryn and St. Ives, over the next three years through the neighbourhood renewal fund. That provision is a recognition that the area contains some of our most deprived communities. The minimum wage and the working families tax credit have started to tackle poverty pay. That is a turnaround from the past.
Cornwall had become very used to being let down, time and time again, under the previous Tory Government. By 1997, good news had become something of a shock to the Cornish system. Indeed, the tradition in Cornwall after 18 years of Tory Government is to expect the worst. However, Cornwall has always had a much-loved and unique cultural identity, and it is now constructing a new economic identity for the future, building on that cultural heritage.
I do not believe that we should turn our back on our traditional industries—far from it. Under one recent proposal, the prime sites for mining would be identified and protected for possible use in the future, when we could be confident that the industry could be profitable again. However, over-reliance on struggling industries would be myopic. We must build on traditional strengths and adapt them for the future.
There are several specific examples of what is being done and what can be done.
§ Mr. George
Is the hon. Lady aware that, today, as I understand it, Baseresult completed its purchase of South Crofty mine, although the regional development agency had proposed compulsorily purchasing the site and not to use it for mining? Does she welcome the fact that, because of the purchase, mining may continue there in the years ahead?
§ Ms Atherton
I also heard in the media that Baseresult may have completed its purchase. That is obviously interesting news and will be welcomed by many people in the county. However, I ask the hon. Gentleman to wait a little longer, as I shall deal in my speech with all the different options and opportunities to which my constituents can look forward.
This afternoon, I led a delegation of representatives from the renewable energies sector to meet the new Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe, although he has barely got his feet under the table. The renewable energies industry generates more than £10 million annually in the region. The hope is to increase that to £50 million in five years, making Cornwall the green equivalent of silicon valley. That is not far-fetched.
Cornwall has a rich history in the earth sciences, including the Camborne school of mines and the hot rocks project. One of Mrs. Thatcher's great acts of vandalism was to cancel the hot rocks project. Given the world's increasing search for new and cleaner technologies, 413 her shortsightedness can only be marvelled at. Cancelling that project has certainly cost the United Kingdom and Cornwall dear. Fortunately, however, companies such as Geoscience—which is in my constituency and whose representatives attended today's meeting—have struggled to ensure that all was not lost.
I want everyone to be clear about this. We are talking not about more wind farms in Cornwall, but about exporting technology and renewable energies to the millions, if not billions of people around the world who are seeking new, clean power.
Another local company, Seacore—its representatives also attended today's meeting—is developing such clean power technology through its design of offshore turbines for export internationally. The Government have been supportive thus far. I hope that their support will continue so as to ensure that a genuine cluster of companies is nurtured. A new, green energy park is under construction near Redruth, and I had the pleasure of cutting the first sod in the project. The park utilises the technology of our Cornish earth sciences.
National television often uses pictures of west-end Redruth and Camborne to depict the county's run-down aspects, but they should come and see the revamped west-end drapery stores, which for a generation were left derelict and were a town eyesore. Now, it and other parts of the town are completely rebuilt, providing new homes, jobs and communities.
I received a letter from a constituent in Camborne earlier this week. He wrote:The town's spirit has risen, and someone remarked to me that there is hardly an empty shop in the town. We are moving in the right direction.He is absolutely right. The town centres of Redruth and Camborne are already being regenerated.
The RDA has massive plans for the Camborne, Pool and Redruth area. It is being suggested that the plans—currently out for consultation in the community—will mean that the area will no longer be classed as the poor end of Cornwall.
I am a member of the board working to fulfil the dream of a new community. It consists of representatives from local authorities, local enterprise agencies, the objective 1 fund, the Prince's Trust, local companies, the Government office of the south-west, and the RDA.
I am delighted that the RDA has chosen the area as one of the five top sites in the wider region. That is a sign, visible from Camborne to Westminster and all points in between, that a line has been drawn. The message is, "This area must be regenerated." The people deserve it.
That is not to say that I do not have concerns. Chief among them is that this proposal should be effectively managed and that it will protect Cornwall's unique heritage. I am concerned that the local and national consultants really do consult with local people, and that they talk to people at the local recreation centre, Carn Brea, of which I am a trustee.
I am proud to say that I reopened the centre on behalf of the trust, after its closure by the local council. The council wrongly believed it to be uneconomic, but today 6,500 people use the centre every week and it flourishes. If new leisure facilities are to be developed, I would argue that their development must go hand in hand with the Carn Brea trust and the local community.
414 There are a number of proposals for the heart of the Pool area. One company wants to mine some tin and use the mine for pumping paste backfill. We would all love to see economic tin mining back in Cornwall, but there are genuine concerns about possible pollutants from an energy plant in the heart of a community of some 45,000 people.
Another group wishes to build Cornwall's equivalent of the Eiffel tower to commemorate that great Cornishman, Richard Trevithick. Meanwhile, the RDA proposals incorporate new clean technologies, the greening of the whole area, and the possibility of thousands of new jobs. All of these schemes are out for discussion. I believe that local people, and not just those who shout the loudest, must be heard in the consultations. All the facts must be on the table so that local people can study them and make their choice.
I am talking about the regeneration of my constituency, and the focus is often on the towns. However, our villages are benefiting too. Four Lanes is a model for regeneration, as are the mining villages of St. Day—my own village—Carharrack and Gwennap. Local people are taking a lead. When Cornwall stops using such villages as landfill dumps, they will be even better.
Improvements are apparent not only in the economy and they include programmes such as sure start, which helps children of three years of age and upwards by tackling poverty before they go to school. They also include our education and health action zones, which assist our schoolchildren through to adulthood. In effect, such programmes ensure that our young people are getting the best possible start in life.
A major initiative is our plan for the combined universities of Cornwall, which builds on our current strengths at the school of mines and the Falmouth school of arts. The project has received substantial help from the Government and the regional development agency. It will be crucial in developing intellectual wealth for the county, and will generate economic wealth in years to come. I am delighted that much of the university will be sited in my constituency. The hub will be at the new Tremough campus in Penryn, while the rim or access points—such as the business school in Pool—will be elsewhere.
In the mean time, in Falmouth and Penryn, regeneration continues apace. The fabulous small boats collection of Greenwich, which is to be housed in the new Falmouth maritime museum, is growing daily. The sea will flow in and out of the building, perched, as it is, on the quay in Falmouth. I am told that it will rival the Sydney opera house. Although I feel that that might slightly overstate the case, with the magnificent Eden project up the road and the Tate at St. Ives just down the road, there is much to attract visitors to the county all year round—a fillip to the Cornish tourist industry that employs 10 per cent. of our work force.
I am hopeful that we will be able to rebuild a new Falmouth docks that will bring together companies from across my constituency involved in high-tech maritime work. Pendennis shipyard has won international acclaim as a designer, builder and renovator of fabulous yachts. It also designed and built the Lords media centre which looks like a yacht hull tipped 90 degrees.
Last week, Sir Michael Lickiss, chairman of the regional development agency, visited the Falmouth docks at my invitation and met some of those who are 415 developing plans for the future—a high-tech maritime park based on the historic docks. A feasibility study has just been completed, and everyone agrees that to do nothing is not an option. Again, it is our wish to develop a cluster of high-tech business and industry, creating quality, high-skill employment.
I hope that with a fair wind from the landowners, support from the RDA and the Government, and with all the companies assisting, we can rebuild the Falmouth docks to make them a maritime park that could be the envy of the world.
That is just one example of how skills and intellectual wealth can delivery prosperity for Cornwall. Many of the issues that the Government have sought to push forward—the knowledge economy, research and development, information and communications technology—offer so much to Cornwall. It is vital that support for ICT is rolled out from the existing concentration in the south-east.
Transport is critical to all these plans. I am very pleased that the Government have finally allowed progress on the vexed question of the A30, including its infamous bottleneck at Goss Moor. The rail network in Cornwall must also be developed. If our plans for the Falmouth-Penryn area are to succeed, we need to invest in the Falmouth and Truro branch line, serving the docks and the university. I take this opportunity to ask the Minister to make her views known to companies proposing to take away our high-speed trains and send them to Wales. That is absolutely scandalous, and is viewed with dismay right across Cornwall.
We must also ensure that many of the ideas are not shipwrecked by over-zealous interpretation of funding rules. It is very important that funds are administered properly but, equally, that they reach local partnerships as quickly as possible and enable theory to be put into practice.
There are other risks, of course. Almost all these initiatives depend on the involvement of the south-west RDA, which the Tories—whom I notice are absent tonight—want to abolish. All our plans for the future would be under threat, as the money would not be there to regenerate these communities.
I have sketched just a few of the projects that are going ahead in my constituency. Change is happening apace. I am proud of what is happening—things really have got better. I am grateful to all those who have worked so hard to make the Falmouth and Camborne constituency a better place for all the people to live in.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Beverley Hughes)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) on securing the debate and on the passionate and sincere speech that she made about partnership working by all the agencies, with Government, in support of regeneration in her constituency. She said much—it was like a helpful case study—about how Government mainstream policies such as back to work, new deal, training for young people and education for very young children can kickstart change. When Government mainstream policies and local regeneration policies are linked with regional and local 416 activity, and there is pressure from local Members of Parliament, they can act as a catalyst for regeneration. Significant changes can then take place.
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said about Government assistance and its role in the regeneration of Cornwall. What she could not mention was the role that she has played. She is well known for the assiduous way in which she has pursued Ministers—I say that in the nicest possible way, because it is what all hon. Members should be doing. Testimony to that is her meeting this afternoon with a very new Energy Minister to discuss that industry in Cornwall. She has pursued Ministers up to the highest level to ensure that her area and Cornwall in general get as much as possible—indeed, what they undoubtedly deserve—from the Government.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for recognising what the Government can do, and I put on record the invaluable role that she has played to ensure that Ministers are aware of the problems. She has assiduously pressed again and again for resources to be allocated and action to be taken.
I too am delighted that we were able to secure objective 1 for Cornwall and Scilly, which will bring in around £315 million in the next seven years. As my hon. Friend recognised, that represents a unique opportunity to help turn around Cornwall's economy.
The programme has had an encouraging start. It has been only five months since it was launched, but even so projects to the value of £13 million have been approved. They include—
§ Ms Hughes
Many Liberal Democrat Members do not have any experience of Government or of local administration. If they had such experience, they would know that to have approved projects to that value in five months is an incredible feat in its own right—to spend it takes a little longer, but I have no doubt that it will be done and that it will be spent wisely.
Some of the projects include, in the Falmouth and Camborne constituency, the new £4 million Tolvaddon energy park for environmental technology businesses, which is under construction by the regional development agency. In addition, projects to the value of more than £75 million are undergoing appraisal. That is an incredibly fast start to ensure that all those resources get where they are supposed to be. If all those projects were approved, 16 per cent. of the European Union funds available would have been committed to projects, which is commendable.
My hon. Friend mentioned the RDA's investment in Falmouth and Camborne. As she said, the Camborne, Pool and Redruth area is the RDA's first priority for regeneration in Cornwall—one of only five such priority areas in the south-west. Current RDA commitments in the area total about £10 million of investment, including the £4 million energy park project.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and the Regions saw at first hand during her visit to Cornwall in the summer of last year work to put the heart back into Redruth town centre, including the West End stores and Alma place projects to transform derelict buildings into social housing and a new Cornish studies centre.
417 The RDA is also investing £6 million in the Falmouth maritime project that my hon. Friend mentioned, to create a major tourist facility on the waterfront, including a new flagship building for the National Maritime museum and the Cornwall Maritime museum.
§ Mr. Taylor
The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) rightly mentioned the RDA involvement in the area. What is the Government's attitude to the proposals to reopen South Crofty mine by Baseresult and to the RDA's opposition to that proposal?
§ Ms Hughes
As I understand it, Baseresult wants initially to develop a waste-to-energy plant, using the mine to dispose of the power station ash and debris, later possibly reopening part of the tin-mining operation. As the hon. Gentleman says, there are alternative possibilities for the area—one of which was proposed by the RDA. What is important is the point made by my hon. Friend: the views of local people on those alternatives should be canvassed assiduously and should form part of the overall and final decision on what may happen at South Crony.
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)
Is the Minister saying, on behalf of the Government, that no option is ruled out?
§ Ms Hughes
On behalf of the Government, I am saying that we will have to see what develops. As we do so, the views of local people will be an important part of the process.
I am delighted that the RDA is working in partnership with the local authorities, the Prince's Trust and others through the Camborne, Pool and Redruth partnership board—of which, I understand, my hon. Friend is also a member—to plan strategically for the future regeneration of that area. Early proposals by consultants are currently the subject of local public consultation—rightly so.
My hon. Friend mentioned the innovative combined universities of Cornwall project. The collaborative approach taken by the higher and further education institutions through that initiative for developing higher education in the county is exceptional. The CUC has recently submitted a business plan, which—as my hon. Friend knows—has been endorsed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England as a sound and realistic way forward that it and other funders can treat with confidence. I understand that HEFCE has agreed to contribute just over £2.3 million to working capital, and has responded positively in the past two years to joint bids for additional funded student places in Cornwall.
That is another example of the way in which regeneration must be conducted at several levels in order to be sustainable and to have an impact that will continue over time. Important as jobs are, regeneration is not just 418 about jobs or about money; it is about making sure that we invest in the people of an area, providing them with the opportunities to pursue economic development.
As my hon. Friend mentioned, we announced that the Kerrier district is one of four areas in the south-west that will benefit from the neighbourhood renewal fund to help improve housing, raise school standards, reduce crime and improve health. That fund, too, will play an important part in the Government's and Cornwall's wider strategy for improving prosperity. There will be a total of £3.6 million, with just under £1 million—together with this year's settlement—to begin the process.
The Department of Trade and Industry has made 27 offers of regional selective assistance grant, totalling £8.5 million, towards an investment of more than £29 million by companies to create and safeguard more than 1,100 valuable jobs in west Cornwall. That is another important element.
My hon. Friend referred to the renewable energy industry in Cornwall. We welcome recognition that the sector provides opportunities for growth in Cornwall.
§ Mrs. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton)
Does my hon. Friend also give credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) for her support for the Wainstone power station application? That will mean a great deal to her constituents. I know that, in Devon, it will result in a rise in the gross domestic product per person of £180 a year. I hope that it will bring the same result to Cornwall.
§ Ms Hughes
I was not aware of that achievement, but it is an important ingredient in the development of the renewable energy industry in Cornwall. I am sure that the meetings that my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne held today will help to develop that.
In conclusion, the Government are fully committed to working in partnership with communities in Falmouth, Camborne and Redruth to deliver economic and social regeneration. As we have heard, the area is already the focus of a range of regeneration and economic development programmes. Gratifyingly, significant progress is already evident. My hon. Friend outlined the reduction in unemployment—especially among young people. Various indicators demonstrate that progress. That shows the added value that we can obtain from partnership—where Government programmes, regional and local authority activity and especially MPs, together with local people, can effect significant change. I am sure that my hon. Friend will continue—
§ The motion having been made at Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at half-past Ten o'clock.