Good afternoon! Another warm welcome to my regular e-newsletter where you can read what I have been doing as your local Member of Parliament for Torridge and West Devon. This edition covers my work in April and May.
These past two months have been a busy period for me as your Member of Parliament with visits across Torridge and West Devon, as well as pressing the Government in Westminster for more action.
In March, we heard the news that Torridge would be one of the twenty areas selected for a Levelling Up partnership a share of the initial £400 million investment. I am delighted that April is no different: Torridge and West Devon’s councils have been awarded almost £2 million from the Rural England Prosperity Fund.
In Westminster, I was granted a Westminster Hall debate on farming on Dartmoor. This came after meetings with local farmers and Dartmoor commoners who had expressed their concerns about Natural England’s intentions for moorland grazing. At that debate, I secured commitments from the Minister for an independent review into the management of Dartmoor.
This month we also saw the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III and I was pleased to plant a celebratory cherry blossom tree in the grounds of Tavistock Hospital. Whilst there I also met nurses and the League of Friends who keep our local hospital running.
Finally, I continue to hold my regular surgeries and have been handling many hundreds of requests for help and support from my constituents. You may get a feel for the range of issues I can help with below. As ever, if you are a constituent of mine and require my help or advice with any issue, please do not hesitate to contact me. I would be delighted to hear from you.
You can read more about what I have been doing on your behalf below.
Rural England Prosperity Fund Success
This month, I am delighted to confirm that Torridge and West Devon’s local councils have been awarded grants totalling nearly £2 million from the Rural Prosperity Fund. This fund, introduced by the Conservative Government, is intended specifically to help “level up” rural areas like ours by supporting local businesses and community organisations, creating job opportunities and boosting productivity.
I have supported bids by both councils, submitted to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Funding can be used for initiatives such as farm diversification, projects to boost rural tourism, and community and digital infrastructure, including village halls, broadband and electric vehicle charging stations. The funding will also help people start up local businesses to supercharge growth and create employment opportunities for rural areas.
Torridge District Council has already outlined plans to use the money for a variety of projects, including the renovation of Great Torrington’s Market Hall for £195,000, as well as Bideford’s Victoria Park. West Devon Borough council has also developed its proposals which will dovetail with its new Transport Hub. This is to be built with investment from the Government’s Levelling Up Fund of £13.5 million and will create an integrated transport plan for the area. This investment comes on top of an already unprecedented amount of direct investment from the Government into Torridge, through the £16 million Marine Research and Development Centre in Appledore, and in West Devon which will see a new school for Tavistock College, and £13.5 million for a new railway station and transport hub at Okehampton.
Celebrating Tavistock Dementia Alliance's success
I am always delighted to visit Dementia Alliance in Tavistock, but my most recent visit was particularly enjoyable. It was great to be able to join Lyn Roddy and Heather Rayne, who runs the Tavistock Memory Café, to celebrate the successful National Lottery bid. The National Lottery has awarded Dementia Alliance more than £130k. I understand that this is to help fund a dementia community worker, who will be with them for the next five years.
Independent Review Into Dartmoor Secured
As many readers will know, in March, Natural England announced that it would require dramatic reductions in grazing, for both livestock and the famous Dartmoor ponies. They did so without consultation and just as the lambing and calving season commenced. I had hoped that, after my Dartmoor Farming Forum last year, there would be a fresh start in the approach of the agency to Dartmoor’s complex environment – rebuilding trust and cooperation.
Upon learning of this, I consulted widely with local farmers and Dartmoor commoners regarding Natural England’s intentions for Moorland grazing, before meeting Natural England and the National Park Authority. Having written with Sir Gary Streeter MP and Anthony Magnall MP to the Secretary of State for the Environment calling for an independent inquiry into the management of Dartmoor, I also requested a Westminster Hall debate from the Speaker of The House of Commons. He granted the debate for 18 April, and you can watch the debate here.
In this debate, the Government heard calls from myself and others for an independent process to inquire into the proper balancing of public interests on Dartmoor. In response to Natural England’s plans, I am pleased that the Minister recognised “we need time for people to adjust to that, form a business plan and work with those in Natural England who want to achieve the same as the farmers who farm on that moor.”
I am very glad the Government has acceded to this necessary request for an independent process. It is essential that there should be a partnership between all those involved in managing Dartmoor’s precious heritage and it is clear the relationship between our farming communities and Natural England requires urgent repair. I am determined to support our local farming families to sustain viable businesses on the Moor, which are vital to the wellbeing of our communities on Dartmoor, while enabling the condition of our natural landscape to be improved. The independent process shall begin shortly and will last twelve months; I will monitor this closely and play an active role on behalf of my constituents.
Visit to Tavistock Hospital
It is always a pleasure to visit Tavistock Hospital to meet the wonderful nurses, League of Friends and the whole team who keep our local hospital running. As always, it was good to discuss the particular challenges that the hospital faces with matron Helen Gregory, as well as the issues faced by rural hospitals more broadly.
On this visit I also had the distinct honour of planting a cherry blossom in the hospital garden, over looking the town, to commemorate the Coronation of King Charles III. I very much hope that the tree, like the hospital, will go from strength to strength. It would not have been a Coronation weekend without superb brass band music from the Sydenham Damerel Blowers and a great Coronation tea!
I know many of my constituents are concerned about the XLinks solar project. Those already familiar with the concept will know that XLinks intend to transfer power generated in Morocco to the United Kingdom via undersea cables. These will make landfall at Cornborough Range, before being transferred through approximately 14km of underground high voltage cabling to a new converter station in Gammaton. Understandably, there have been concerns raised by local residents.
Therefore, I am pleased that XLinks have listened to the concerns I raised with them and have announced two promising steps. First, they extended the consultation period; second, they will be conducted a second round of public exhibitions this month. Updated details of the XLinks proposals have also been forthcoming. They have now proposed to relocate the converter station site to the old Webbery Showground, closer to the existing National Grid substation. The route for the underground cable has also been altered to avoid Abbotsham, and there is more detail regarding the proposed construction phase, including the transport routes used for the project.
I am pleased that XLinks have already listened to local residents, however, I have also asked the CEO of XLinks to attend an additional and final public meeting, which I shall chair. I will keep you updated via my social media, so do make sure to check these regularly.
Visit to the SS Freshspring Trust
It is always a good day in Bideford to visit the SS Freshspring, so I was pleased to join the Trust a few weeks ago to celebrate its wonderful success in winning a National Lottery Heritage Fund Grant of £141,000. I know how hard everyone at the trust works and this award is richly deserved. I also took the opportunity to discuss the work towards making Bideford a marine heritage centre.
Copyright © The Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Cox KC MP. All rights reserved.