This week in Parliament we debated two big topics that directly relate to pressing issues here in West Cornwall.
Firstly, MPs sought to draw attention to the opportunities that a town or village plan can offer and the challenges associated with trying to deliver a coherent plan that enjoys public support. Conservatives created the Neighbourhood Development Plan concept early in the 2010 Parliament. Yet today, just a handful of plans in Cornwall are anywhere near completion. A number of plans are in development and the process has brought communities together around a few key priorities engaging them in conversation about what homes are needed and what can be done to improve local roads and employment opportunities etc. Whilst the workload is intensive and not everyone will agree on the final document I believe neighbourhood plans offer a real opportunity for local communities to begin to put their stamp on their local area. In recent meetings I’ve held across West Cornwall it’s clear that local residents are keen to take part in efforts to improve their area and both Government and Cornwall Council must be more proactive in supporting and empowering town and parish councils to support these local ambitions. You can find out more at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/neighbourhood-planning–2.
The second debate in Westminster was brought forward by Government and concerned the High Speed Rail Bill. This is a contentious programme and generates firmly held differing views across all sides of the House. The debate gave MPs from the South West an opportunity to press the need to accelerate investment in the rail link between Penzance and Paddington. I joined the Peninsula Rail Task Force in 2015 and together, local authorities, enterprise partnerships and MPs responded to the then Prime Minister’s challenge to draw up a twenty-year strategy for the rail network in the South West. This we did and presented to Government in late 2016 a plan to deliver resilience, greater capacity and shorter rail journey times. It is deeply frustrating that the Government is still yet to respond formally to this plan. It’s fair to say that £millions have been spent to repair sections of track prone to flooding, the Train Care Centre at Long Rock is now built and new rolling stock will increase capacity and reduce journey times. In addition, work to deliver electrification of the line between Reading and Newbury is due to commence soon. These are all a step in the right direction but the line is still at risk of prolonged closure in the event of a landslide in the Dawlish area. Four years on from the Valentine’s Day storms of 2014 there will be little patience shown to Network Rail and the Department of Transport if such disruption were repeated this winter. MPs from the South West used the HS2 debate to press Government for more action for the West Country rail network.