Peter Heaton-Jones MP
Working Hard for North Devon
News Update -
Date: 15th April
Welcome to my latest Newsletter.
I hope you are having a relaxing Easter break – and to those who have to work during this long weekend, thank you.
We’ve Hit The Jackpot!
That was the headline on the front page of last week’s Journal, alongside pictures of Barnstaple Museum, the Ilfracombe Watersports Centre, and myself, looking suitably happy.
They were reporting on the brilliant news that North Devon has secured not one, but two huge grants from the government's Coastal Communities Fund.
Firstly, the proposed Ilfracombe Watersports Centre is to receive more that £1.5 million. This is a vital project for the area, and I've been delighted to work with the local councils to push our case. This included a visit to the site by government officials last year, following which I raised the matter in Parliament. This scheme will be a real boost for Ilfracombe and it's great news that the government has recognised its importance with such a large grant.
Secondly, the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon is getting £500,000. This is the final piece in the funding jigsaw and should mean the exciting plans for an extension can go ahead. It comes on top of the Lottery funding announced just a couple of weeks ago. After visiting the museum to see the plans, I wrote to the minister to support the bid because this project is so important both for our local heritage and our tourism economy.
I want to congratulate all the councils, organisations and community members - many of them volunteers - who have worked so hard to make this happen. To achieve two big government grants totalling more than two million pounds in one day is something of which North Devon should be incredibly proud.
You’ll recall that in the past I’ve written here about the ongoing concerns over Braunton’s flood defences. Millions of pounds has been spent in the last few years, but the local community want reassurance that the work will provide adequate protection, and that ongoing maintenance will be carried out.
That’s why, on Wednesday, I hosted a return visit to the village by the Environment Agency’s regional manager. We walked the riverbank from one side of the village to the other, and reviewed some of the areas of concern we’d discussed during a similar visit last summer.
The main news is that the final installation of the vital new pumping scheme will take place this autumn. Preliminary works have been completed, and thankfully the road closures around Caen Street did not last as long as had originally been feared.
There will also be some further remedial works carried out in two locations: close to Tesco and adjacent to the school, which I have asked to be kept informed about.
While the EA’s senior people were in North Devon, I took the opportunity to discuss other live issues such as ongoing housing developments and bathing water quality at our beaches.
It was a productive meeting and I’ll continue to monitor the situation carefully.
The photo shows Braunton Rural Devon County Councillor Caroline Chugg, myself, and Alan Burrows and Jim Vaux from the Environment Agency during the visit on Wednesday.
This week the University of Exeter published some research which painted a less-than-rosy picture of GP services in the southwest. They carried out a survey which suggested we’re facing a looming shortage of family doctors caused by a recruitment shortfall and plans by some GPs to leave the profession.
GPs are the backbone of our NHS and the first point of contact for many patients. They do fantastic work. That's why the headline figures in this report are certainly worrying, especially the concerns over the number of doctors.
However the findings are puzzling, because according to the most recent official figures, the number of GPs has actually increased by nearly six thousand in ten years. That doesn't seem to suggest there's a recruitment crisis, so I'd want to look further at what's behind this survey.
Of course nobody would deny that GPs work under a great deal of pressure, and we must ensure they can continue to provide the best possible care to patients. That's why I'd be very happy to meet the Devon Local Medical Committee to discuss their concerns, and to raise them with NHS England.
On Thursday I attended a special meeting of North Devon Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee to discuss the future of RMB Chivenor.
The Council is quite rightly making an early start at reviewing the challenges and opportunities that arise from the possible departure of the Royal Marines.
You’ll recall that the MoD announced at the end of last year that the Marines would be vacating Chivenor over the next decade. Last month the Secretary of State for Defence, Sir Michael Fallon, came to Chivenor at my invitation, and during the visit said that the plans were ‘not a done deal’.
At Thursday’s meeting, there was general agreement that North Devon must be ready for any eventuality, and that it’s difficult to predict what the final outcome might be.
I made the point, as I have all along, that we must not turn our backs on the opportunities that an alternative use of that site may provide. I also repeated my view that North Devon must not have anything imposed on us; we will decide what happens at that site, if it’s no longer to be used as a military base.
Given what the Defence Secretary has said, some future military presence at Chivenor is certainly still possible, but we must be ready for all eventualities. That’s why I welcome North Devon Council’s forward planning, and of course I’ll keep closely involved as events move forward.
Nice to See You….
Finally, just two little vignettes (love that word!) which put a smile on my face this week.
While having a drink at the Williams Arms in Wrafton, a lady came up to me to say that during the general election I’d knocked on her door in Lynton, she hadn’t forgotten and thanked me for doing so. It just shows how important old-fashioned face-to-face campaigning is, even in this age of social media.
And then in Sainsbury’s in South Molton on Thursday, a lady stopped me in the dairy aisle just to say hello and chat about local issues, and wish me a happy Easter.
North Devon is such a friendly place. Judging by the high numbers of holiday-makers currently coming here for the long weekend, many other people realise that too!
Peter Heaton-Jones MP
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Mail: 1st Floor Office Suite, Church House, Church Lane
Barnstaple, North Devon, EX31 1DE
Telephone: 01271 327990