Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Sandstone Way between Berwick and Hexham is a great Northumberland cycling success story

The official map for Northumberland’s most exciting new mountain bike trail - The Sandstone Way, is now available, together with a brand new website. 

The 120-mile (193 km) mountain bike trail between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Hexham passes through numerous villages and small communities including Wooler, Belford, Rothbury, Elsdon and Bellingham, hugging the coastline before taking in the Simonside sandstone ridge and other features of Northumberland National Park.  Cyclists will ride through an amazing, ever-changing landscape, rich in history, geology and iconic scenery.
Maps can be purchased either through local retail outlets such as Tourist Information Centres or on-line at: Northern Heritage or

The new Sandstone Way website: , created by Blaydon-based social enterprise, The CyclePAD Ltd, goes live on the 21st February 2015 and will become an essential aid to all those planning to ride the route, with information on local facilities and cycling-friendly accommodation along the way.

Most riders are encouraged to take 3 or 4 days to complete it, whilst the ‘fit and the fast’ could possibly ride the route in 2 days. Organisers hope that families will be encouraged to ride safe, traffic-free sections of the Sandstone Way with older children. The route is clearly waymarked with the distinctive green and yellow “S” roundel, and ten optional loops are also offered to appeal to ‘day riders’ who wish to cycle back to their starting point or follow a more challenging option. Package holidays to cycle the Sandstone Way are being developed by Skedaddle.

The Sandstone Way is the brainchild of local passionate cyclist, Ted Liddle, and was seed funded by Northumberland National Park Authority, Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural 
Beauty Project, Northumberland County Council, Tyne Valley Mountain Bike Club and the Rural Development Programme for England through the Northern Lands Project. Full credit to one and all. The County Council are genuinely making an effort to improve cycling in Northumberland. 
Ted Liddle is one of Northumberland's cycling champions and we are encouraging people to try and do some or all of the ride sometime this summer. He said this about the Sandstone Way:
“The Sandstone Way was designed to link some of the best lengths of off-road track in Northumberland taking mountain bikers into Northumberland’s hidden corners on centuries-old tracks and historic byways. Cycling the Sandstone Way really is an adventure which guarantees a truly memorable experience for all the right reasons.”

Cycling tourism is on the increase in Northumberland with many visitors making the most of the county’s quiet and scenic roads and challenging hills. The boost has come about through a wide range of new events and facilities that have made it easy for people to bring their bikes north to enjoy challenging but unpressured rides.  

Both Hexham and Berwick upon Tweed are served by rail, and there are bus connections along the Northumberland Coast AONB and into the valleys of the National Park for those wishing to make a holiday of it and leave the car behind.  

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Immigration: good or bad?

I believe that Britain is one of the most tolerant places on earth.  We have always been a country of immigration.  We have welcomed those with skills and sheltered those in need, where neighbouring countries have persecuted these people.

To suggest that we should close our borders and not welcome immigrants, especially those who offer skills and economic value to our nation is a tragic position. 

However, it is a madness to open our borders without any constraint, management or consideration to the benefits being offered by those who arrive and the pressure on our finite resources in this small & densely populated island we inhabit.

In some parts of the UK, this uncontrolled, unchecked immigration has created social tension due to the former Labour Government's failure to manage migrant communities & ask language skills and inclusion into their new community.

We need to work harder to skill up British people, encouraging businesses to make maximum use of the apprenticeship scheme brought in by this Government over the last 3 years.

I would like us as a nation to adopt an Australian-style model of border control management for skilled foreign migrants and refugee arrivals.  If we cannot set this in motion within our present EU framework I would support leaving the EU.

My view on the NHS

Despite the scaremongering by opposition parties and union representatives, David Cameron's Government has ring fenced, and pledged to continue to protect NHS spending.  I share David Cameron's commitment to increased access to GPs, out of hours and at the weekends, as we are seeing an inefficient use of medical resources as people end up in A&E. We need to train more GPs to work in the NHS.

I believe that we should maintain our free-at-point-of-delivery approach and find effective ways to educate people on how to access non-emergency medical care more effectively, both for the patients and so that the medical professionals can make best use of their time for us.

The NHS, which is the fifth biggest employer in the world and will cost over £112billion to run this year, needs to be much more robust in tackling waste and inefficiency.  This is about cutting out red tape, bureaucracy and layers of unnecessary management to protect the service and support a decent salary and working conditions for the nurses, doctors and those who operate on the front-line.  It is about embracing new technology and trusting the medics,and getting civil servants in Whitehall who understand how pricing tariffs affect a hospital's ability to plan.

I am concerned about morale in some parts of the NHS.  As a governor on our local Northumbria Healthcare Trust, I see first hand just how lucky we are to have such first rate stroke, cardiac and cancer care on our doorstep. But other parts of the UK don't have the excellent leadership we have here, and that needs urgent work to turn around ailing healthcare centres.

When I visit hospitals and GP surgeries, I hear a lot of frustration from medics about too much paperwork, and think there are better ways to spend taxpayers' money for even better health outcomes.

A girl born today has a 1 in 3 chance of reaching 100 (a boy, 1 in 4).  We need a health service which meets this new horizon- not more cash, but better use of technology & lean management with clinical leadership.

I hope that political parties can try to come together and find solutions which will protect our NHS and free health provision and not use it as a political football. Doctors & nurses hate all that, and so do I. Let's listen to them and give them the tools to best look after us.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

My position on UK renewables

Following Councillor Scott Dickinson's comments in last week's newspaper about my views on subsidies for renewables,  I am happy to be able to set out my position in this matter.  I believe that any subsidy used by Government should be a short term one to help the technology reach a commercial level.  If it becomes clear that this is not going to happen then the subsidy should not be used forever.  The taxpayers money is hard earned and should help towards future improvement not lining the pockets of foreign investors whilst taxpayers, and those struggling to pay, see their fuel bills rise as a direct result of these subsidies.

Within the onshore market I believe it is clear that we already are generating more electricity than is required for usage within the national grid and this technology is not proving to be efficient.  Turbines that run, at best, at 25% of potential capacity is not what I consider to be a good piece of technology.  They also are industrial giant pieces of machinery and were we to suggest that building giant factories on the ridge along our coastline were acceptable,  I think it is safe to say that there would be an uproar.  I do not believe that scarring our unique landscapes, which have enormous economic value for us as a county, is acceptable either.

In terms of other renewables the benefit of offshore is that there tends to be a higher economic output because the weather is more consistent and there is not the same negative visual impact.  I am not convinced that they are the ultimate solution because the reality is that until technology reaches a point where giant battery technology exists to hold electricity generated through renewables this continues to be only a small part of our future. I want to see renewable energy generation as part of our long term energy mix if it is efficient, effective and not underwritten by the taxpayer in perpetuity.   We will I am certain harness the power of the sun and other natural resources but I do not believe that the destruction of our Northumberland landscapes is an adequate reason for spending taxpayers money here on onshore wind.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

£290 million to be invested in the A1!

So what happens now?  A huge milestone for the Dual the A1 Campaign but there is more to do.  
Last Monday, the Prime Minister, David Cameron MP came up to North Northumberland to announce that £290m will be committed for a major upgrade of the A1 road north of Morpeth.  This was confirmed by the Chancellor, George Osborne MP in his Autumn Statement on Wednesday, as part of £3 billion of investment into North East roads.

We will be building 13 miles of modern dual cariageway - 8 miles of it from Morpeth to Felton, then a further 5 miles of it from Alnwick to the Brownieside dual carriageway section, both stretches which have continued to have the highest accident rates. 

We will also be building 3 mile-long stretches of overtaking lanes on the longest hill climbs north of Ellingham, to help educe the tail-gating problems caused by slow lorries or farm vehicles.

We will also see key junctions improved, again to help improve safety and traffic flows.

This is a significant investment and fantastic progress after decades of inactivity and neglect.
When I launched the Dual the A1 Campaign back in 2007, there were those who laughed at me and said it would never make any progress, that nobody cared about us up here.  By 2011 we had made a strong enough case for the Transport Secretary to agree to reclassify this stretch of road back into the National Road Network, and in 2013 were given funding for a feasibility study to review all our work on safety and the economics of investing here.

We have worked closely as a campaign team with the departmental officials throughout the year to help them with economic data and links to businesses who have spoken up about the economic benefits that dualling will undoubtedly bring.

I have always made it clear that our campaign's ultimate aim was for full dualling from Morpeth
to the Scottish Border, so whilst we celebrate this great news and recognise that we have come an incredibly long way in changing Government's mind completely, we now move to the next phase of the campaign.

I am committed to carrying on our campaigning efforts, first to get this £290 million spent and tarmac down for 16 miles of new roads, and then to start to build the case for the remainder of the undualled road.
My co-founder of the Dual the A1 Campaign, John Lamont MSP, across the Border, has worked with me in lobbying the Scottish Government on the A1 and is now calling on the Holyrood Government to follow Westminster's lead and commit resources to dual the A1 between Dunbar and Berwick.
I feel the need to use the cliché that “Rome was not built in a day” and as the Prime Minister said, we are not China, the state cannot just run roughshod over rights and steamroll this through.  There will be planning applications to be made and proper processes followed.  Through compulsory purchase arrangements, landowners will be fairly compensated for parts of their land, predominantly sections of fields, being used for the road extensions.  I also anticipate that there will be some issues raised to do with animal habitats and rare plant and species protection.  I am meeting with environmental groups to make sure we link in all the stakeholders as early on in the process as possible.
The Dual the A1 Campaign has had many messages of support and appreciation particularly from businesses and drivers who regularly use the A1.  On Wednesday, when we unveiled our banner “£290m to get started, thank you George”,  a succession of lorries and other vehicles tooted their horns in appreciation and recognition at this achievement.
To those who have expressed disappointment that the announcement did not involve full dualling up to Berwick, I emphasise that this is, and always has been, the ultimate goal of the Dual the A1 Campaign, that there will be safety and other improvements made all the way up to the border, which will probably be the work which commences first, and everyone in the region will benefit from this investment in our road.  
The Dual the A1 team, who lobbied the government to launch the feasibility study, a necessary first step, had to present our argument based on hard economic facts.  My campaign team and I have built the case as strongly as we could on the economics which is the only thing which would sway the Government.  The Chief Secretary of the Treasury, LibDem Danny Alexander has said that the (current) case for dualling the entire A1 “would not have stood up to scrutiny”.
Now we must encourage business investment into Alnwick & Berwick to help prove that investors believe in the town and its economic future.  The investment so far committed will reduce unpredictability of journey times and accident blackspots are being tackled, so this is a significant improvement.  

The investment has to be justifiable - it is after all taxpayers money and the country is still running at a deficit after the economic crisis.  The levels of HGV traffic on the northern stretch beyond Alnwick fall away dramatically so we have to work on building this up with the improvements in place.

We will be carrying on, both to get the work underway as quickly as possible and to keep building the case for the northern stretch, and working with the Scottish Government now for the 8 miles north of the border to Dunbar.    
This campaigner is in it for the long haul !
For more information on the Dual the A1 Campaign contact Anne-Marie Trevelyan on or 07970 653 258

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Intermittent, inefficient, inadequate and blighting the Northumberland skyline.

After years of educating myself in order to campaign effectively with local people, I remain sceptical of the UK Government's £3 billion a year spend on subsidy to the renewables sector which I consider to have serious inadequacies in meeting our modern, long-term energy needs. 

I believe that the Government needs to adopt a common sense and mixed energy policy, tapping into the huge potential of indigenous shale gas, and investing for the long-term in nuclear power.

I have a particular interest however, in the specific and controversial issue of on-shore wind turbines, an issue which countless, concerned residents have raised with me.  I believe that onshore wind is, as a source of energy, intermittent, inefficient, inadequate and is blighting the skylines in many parts of rural Northumberland. This is why I have spent the last ten years campaigning against their relentless spread and working with residents to oppose inappropriate applications.

There is mounting evidence to support the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Lawson's assertion that “windpower is about the most stupid way of generating electricity you can imagine, it produces very expensive electricity only when the wind is blowing at the right speed, which is only 25% of the time”.

A recent study published by the Adam Smith Institute and the Scientific Alliance, concluded that wind farms, considering both in-shore and off-shore wind turbines, were “expensive and deeply inefficient.” Their research found that wind farms produced 80 per cent of their potential power output for less than one week annually and they managed 90 per cent output for only 17 hours a year. The accepted industry norm seems to be that on a long term basis they work at around a 20-25% efficiency.  No rational person would invest in a car which only worked 1/4 of the time.

As well as being inefficient, the building of these wind turbines have been subsidised by the taxpayer & every family in their electricity bills, putting up their monthly bills.  This is an entirely unacceptable situation affecting the poorest the most as they struggle to pay their fuel bills. These policies were set in place by Labour, with Ed Miliband MP, the Energy Secretary at the time, and run under the coalition by Ed Davey MP, a Lib Dem.  I just do not understand how Labour and Lib Dem MPs claiming to support the poor should think that this subsidy culture to the investor at the direct expense of the poorest is acceptable. 

As well as being expensive and inefficient, further controversial aspects of on-shore wind are  the negative visual impact and devastatingly detrimental affect on the Northumberland skyline including in areas of outstanding natural beauty.  Anecdotal evidence of the death of rare birds in the blades is starting to emerge which is deeply concerning.

We have made great strides in fighting off large scale onshore turbines thanks to the policy set in place in 2013 by Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities.  He has given local planning committees leave to properly take into account the views of local people. Where this has not been done, he has been looking again, at developer applications, and determining whether the application should be rejected. 

I am committed to supporting David Cameron's pledge, opposed by the Liberal Democrats, to end the public subsidy for on-shore wind turbines. Conservative Ministers have said that we can meet our EU renewable energy obligations without building any more wind turbines in rural locations. I will be ensuring that the manifesto commitment on this is robust.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Climate Change and Energy Policy

The UK needs a mixed, common sense, robust and efficient energy policy.

I will be blogging up until the election, on all sorts of matters but especially in relation to policy, issues of national importance and public interest. It is important that electors know what I believe in, as someone who hopes to become the MP for Berwick in May 2015, and see how I will contribute to national debate.  These views are my own- they may well be, but are not necessarily, shared by all my political colleagues. 

Firstly, I will be setting out my thoughts on energy policy and the renewables sector.

Owen Paterson MP, the former Environment Secretary, made a very important contribution to this debate in his recent speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation when he called on Government to scrap the Climate Change Act, because we should be abandoning  our current climate change targets.

Since leaving the Cabinet, Owen has conducted some detailed analysis and research. His findings include the startling figure that the cost of the current Climate Change Act policy will be £1,300 Billion up to 2050. He maintains that it fails to meet emission targets (to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050) and that this target is unrealistic because, for example, it would require the complete abandonment of natural gas in all homes and for 65% of private cars to be electric. He points out that, because the targets are unrealistic, no other EU country, apart from the UK, has made it a legal requirement to meet these.

Personally, I am sceptical about the effectiveness of our Government subsidising the renewables sector to the tune of £3 billion a year for technologies which are still so intermittent & inefficient, and in many cases are not even carbon neutral.  I am very concerned that the inadequacies of the renewables sector to meet modern energy demands has long-term implications, and I am keen to see the UK Government do more to tap into the huge potential of indigenous shale gas. Reducing our reliance on the import of foreign electricity from Europe should be a key target for us.

One aspect, which causes me significant concern, is the fact that the renewable energy subsidies result in an increase in energy bills, affecting the poorest most as they struggle to pay their ever rising fuel bills.  The inexorable increase of electricity bills for people on lower incomes to pay huge subsidies to wealthy landowners and mostly foreign investors seems inately wrong, and I believe that we should stand up to those in a Government who think this is an acceptable way forwards.  These policies were set in place by Labour, with Ed Miliband MP, the Energy Secretary at the time, and run under the coalition by Ed Davey MP, a Libdem.  I just do not understand how Labour & Libdem MPs claiming to support the poor should think that this subsidy culture to the investor at the direct expense of the poorest is acceptable.  

In my opinion, Government policy should do its very best to provide energy security for its population & its businesses.  Labour's policies talked the "carbon free" talk, but in practise much of our taxpayers money spent so far has not improved our carbon reduction targets as it should.  Shale gas is, for instance, a good step in the right direction which would allow us to stop burning higher carbon fossil fuels without compromising the economic development of our nation.  I will continue to speak up for Government support in the energy sector to go towards those technologies which help our CO2 emissions reduce without crippling family budgets or forcing business shut downs.

Next time...
My thoughts on the controversial issue of on-shore wind turbines which are blighting the sky-lines of many parts of rural Northumberland.