Staffordshire Moorlands is a uniquely beautiful part of the country and a wonderful place to live. Dramatic hills, nature reserves and lakes lie alongside bustling market towns and traditional villages. The landscape provides the setting for our country shows, Christmas markets and Church fetes – and those are some places where we get to show our distinctive strong character. We have a duty to preserve the environment and promote tourism and economic growth too. It’s a difficult balance.
Protecting our countryside
Wind turbines present a challenge to preserving the beauty of the Moorlands. The need to generate renewable energy has to be balanced with the environmental impact on local areas from erecting turbines. I think in general the best place for them is out at sea, but each case needs to be judged on its merits. Those judgements are rightly taken by locally elected councillors who are responsible to the people directly affected. I have urged ministers to introduce national safeguards so that turbines are placed in the right locations and have local democratic support, and the new National Policy Statements provide a simplified framework for planning applications. Local councillors can use it to help protect our environment from unacceptable proposals.
I was one of over 100 MPs to sign an open letter to the PM in February 2012, raising concerns about the high subsidy for turbines. After this, the Government decided to reduce the subsidy for onshore wind by 10% - a sensible step to help preserve our countryside.
A better deal for rural schools
The rural way of life needs vibrant villages and local schools are vital to that. During Labour’s time in power, over 200 rural schools were closed. But the Conservatives cherish the rural way of life and so do I. I have constantly campaigned to keep small schools open, and with innovative ways of working, including sharing resources between rural schools, there is much more hope than before.
For more than a decade, Staffordshire education funding has been particularly low, and this is something that I have fought and will continue to fight to change. As well as maintaining our policy of a presumption against the closure of rural schools, the introduction of a new national funding formula will iron out inconsistencies that see bigger schools receiving more money per pupil than smaller ones.
I have also spoken to the former Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, about making sure that successful rural schools that expand year-on-year are not penalised because they aren't getting money for the pupils they've taken on since the last funding round.
Positive about the Moorlands
As well as preserving our environment and our villages, we need to promote our area to keep and create jobs. In Leek we are lucky to have some great independent shops that are helping the town thrive. As the fantastic Totally Locally Leek campaign shows, using our local shops – especially those that sell produce from local suppliers – has a major impact on our local economy, and that keeps our towns going and makes them the vibrant places we want to live. The businesses involved have shown how new ideas, positive attitude and good products and service can work wonders. I’m a big advocate of the campaign and always work to promote Leek, Biddulph and our village businesses, so I was really pleased to see Leek voted as runner up in the UK Best High Street competition in 2013. I tried to do my bit by showcasing the wonderful range of shops on offer by running my Independent Retailer of the Year competition, which so many of you voted in, too. We’ve all got a part to play in promoting our area - we must be positive about the Moorlands to bring in visitors from outside to spend their money, as well as encourage investors to support our local companies. The new Premier Inn in Leek is a good example of tourism in action - I know from my conversations with local retailers that footfall in the town has increased significantly since its opening, which is good news because more customers means more jobs and growth for Moorlanders.
We are not starting from scratch. We have wonderful scenery for walkers to enjoy, great antiques shops and independent stores for bargain hunting visitors and in Alton Towers we have one of the best known attractions in the UK. I am confident that with the right leadership, the Moorlands can have an even stronger economy, and with careful management preserve the great scenery which attracts so many people in the first place too.