This post is by Sarah Newton, the Conservative MP for Truro and Falmouth.
Last July, Cornwall was the first county to sign a devolution deal with central government, giving Cornwall Council, NHS Kernow and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) greater control over how the county’s taxes are spent and our local public services are run. The deal is a great opportunity to improve the health and well-being of people in Cornwall, and to grow our economy sustainably. The questions are how we can use the deal to our best advantage and, in relation to issues like climate resilience and extreme weather, whether Cornwall has the answers to its own problems.
A strong starting point
We already know that Cornwall’s green economy is strong: it has been a pioneer of low carbon technology and renewable energy development and is home to some of the UK’s most striking natural landscapes. So developing our green economy will be central to our plans. As a result of the deal, locally shaped investment and support opportunities are now available for low carbon businesses and social enterprises in Cornwall.
In November last year, I was pleased to join members of Cornwall Council, academics, local businesses and community groups at a workshop hosted by Green Alliance. We discussed opportunities and challenges around how we can enable environmentally sustainable growth while protecting our natural environment.
Exeter University, based in my constituency, has mapped the natural capital value of the land in Cornwall and we discussed how this information could be used in Cornwall Council’s planning decisions.
The Duchy’s many high quality food and drink producers are a key part of our sustainable growth plans, so making the right decisions about land use will be vital. We need the land to generate energy and produce food as well as space for homes, business and recreation, while protecting the ecosystems and natural environment we all value.
From our discussion, it is clear the LEP is on the right track, as a driver of low carbon growth and renewables. It has recognised Cornwall’s advantages in relation to growing the green economy and exploiting its wealth of renewable energy sources, particularly marine and geothermal energy. It’s performing a valuable role in creating closer links between business, the public sector and the environment and making the most of local expertise. This includes developing the electricity grid in Cornwall, local ownership and community energy models for renewable energy and a local energy market, as well as an energy efficiency framework.
Why it’s essential to involve residents
The recent floods have served as a strong reminder that climate change is Cornwall’s problem too. The work of Cornwall Flood Forum is building community resilience and involvement in flood prevention and mitigation. The devolution deal has also offered the chance to develop an integrated, evidence based flooding and coastal defence investment programme, which will help reduce risks to residents and economic activities from severe weather events.
Balancing responsibilities and priorities is complicated, but we have to take the community with us to be successful. We know we need to engage Cornish residents on the nature of our energy future and in thinking about how we value our natural capital, recognising that the Cornish natural landscape is an asset, to be enjoyed and handed down safely to future generations.
Infrastructure change is too often felt as something done to people, not by them. If we increase engagement and information sharing among Cornish communities on issues around energy, climate change and the natural environment, we will foster a better understanding of our personal environmental responsibilities. An existing initiative showing great results is Carbon Logic, a project tracking people’s personal commitment to tackle climate change through ten ‘pledges’. It has already delivered real carbon reductions while supporting local farmers and businesses.
To increase local action in Cornwall on global challenges, greener growth needs to be made a more tangible concept for local people, and it is vital that we increase their sense of participation and ownership of the means to achieve it.
You can follow the progress of devolution in Cornwall in the Devolution newsletter.