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10.19 pm

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

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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--

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell): Not a penny has been spent.

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.

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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 Crofty.

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

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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.

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