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Skipton MP Julian Smith reflects on the past 12 months and looks forward to 2013
7:00am Tuesday 1st January 2013 in News
2012 will be remembered as the year that the UK staged the most successful Olympic and Paralympic Games ever and, here in Craven, we played a key role in that.
It has always been my aim to ensure this constituency benefitted from the London games so to see thousands of people lining the streets as the Olympic Torch passed through Skipton was fantastic.
We also had sporting achievement with Hebden’s Andy Triggs Hodge and Lothersdale’s Danielle Brown among those inspiring a generation.
And, let’s not forget the amazing Gamesmakers including Craven’s Emily Yates who was highlighted by Lord Coe in the Paralympics’ closing ceremony.
I hope the lasting legacy is that more people take part in sport in the future. I was struck by comments I heard from Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson saying that everyone, be they able bodied or disabled athletes, deserved the opportunity to be “bad at sport”.
It was a brilliant summing up of the fact that sport is not just for those who will be Olympians, it’s for those who go for a jog round the park on a Sunday morning or lose six-love six-love at a game of tennis.
Competition is important but the Olympics is all about taking part and I hope more people do take part in sport as a result of the events of this year.
Elsewhere during 2012, I completed my first On Your Doorstep Tour in the autumn. For four days I travelled across the constituency to 27 towns and villages. Skipton and Ripon is 900 square miles – one of the largest constituencies in England and that means I’m not able to get to every town and village as often as I would like. So the aim of my tour was to go to a few locations for a short period and meet with residents and hear their issues and concerns.
Broadband has continued to be a key issue for communities and businesses. BT and North Yorkshire County Council unveiled their plans for the roll-out of high speed broadband to the county at a conference I organised in September.
At the moment around a third of households and businesses have very low speeds or are unable to access the internet at all.
I hope all that will change over the next two years. BT were awarded the multi-million pound contract to deliver at least 2Mbps to every household in North Yorkshire by the end of 2014 and I, along with other Members of Parliament in North Yorkshire who campaigned for the tens of millions of pounds of Government investment, will be holding them to that promise.
Ninety per cent of properties should get at least 25Mbps which will give businesses the opportunity to base themselves in North Yorkshire and give residents the same opportunities as those who live in big towns and cities.
I have continued to have discussions on wind farms at Westminster during 2012. I know that many of our communities are facing applications and scoping and I am committed to ensuring we protect the beautiful landscape we live in from being covered in metal. I have been calling on Ministers to reduce the subsidies and my hope is that this consultation leads to less money being available for firms to put up turbines that often don’t make economic sense without subsidies and threaten some of the most spectacular landscape in the country.
On planning more generally, I have been concerned that too often the local view is being overruled by the Planning Inspectorate. I have met with the organisation’s chief executive to express that view and urged him to ensure that decisions made locally, so long as they are made in the right way, are respected.
One of the most important issues for me as the MP for a rural constituency is the challenges facing our farmers and agricultural industry. This year, I hosted my annual Agriculture Summit (the third one I have held) in Kettlesing and was joined by farmers and representatives from the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Natural England and the NFU.
This event is always good chance for me to talk directly with farmers and those working within the local agricultural industry.
I heard about the challenges that continue regarding milk prices, the use of pesticides and relationships with agencies like the Rural Payments Agency. It has been a particularly challenging 12 months for dairy farmers and a number across Craven have decided to stop farming. We must ensure we have a strong dairy industry for the future so I am fighting hard to represent the industry’s issues with Ministers, supermarkets and producers and, more generally, will be making sure the voice of our agricultural community continues to be heard at Westminster.
Another vital part of our rural communities are post offices so I was delighted that the Government decided to give the DVLA counter services contract which, under European law had to be opened up to competition, to the Post Office. It means that items such as car tax and other services will continue to be available from branches. More banking services are coming to Post Offices and I will urge Government to ensure other contracts and arrangements are encouraged to keep Post Offices profitable.
We also had some excellent news at the end of 2012 with the decision that the Tour de France’s Grand Depart will start in Yorkshire in 2014. This is something I have been campaigning hard for and met with the bid team earlier this year to show the political support of the bid. It will bring huge economic benefits to the area and I will now be working with colleagues at Westminster and in Yorkshire to ensure we capitalise on the opportunity.
2013 promises to be another busy year and I look forward to continuing to represent Skipton and Ripon at Westminster. I hope you and your family have a peaceful Christmas and I wish you all the best for the year ahead.