The end of the year always brings the opportunity to reflect on what has been achieved. Despite 2021 passing by in the blink of an eye and the dreaded pandemic raging on, there is a great deal of positive news to talk about in South Devon.
First, our fishing industry is developing at a rate of knots (excuse the pun). In Brixham, Salcombe and Dartmouth, record sales have boosted our local markets and seen not only the domestic demand for fine British seafood increase, but our exports reach their destinations. Despite the problems faced earlier this year, the system appears to be working well. To put it into context, Brixham, which publishes its sales numbers early next year, is on course to beat all previous records and its projections for 2022 are even bigger.
Of course, the Levelling Up Fund Mark II and the Fisheries and Seafood Scheme could both help South Devon’s fishing communities further by helping develop key infrastructure as well as encourage a new generation into this highly skilled industry. I hope that 2022 will see even further investment into South Devon’s coastal communities from the above funds as well as the Shared Prosperity Fund.
Second, digital connectivity in South Devon is being improved ahead of schedule and providing more households with broadband. Of the total 52,249 premises in the constituency of Totnes and South Devon, a total of 42,631 have been connected to broadband and the remaining 18% of houses and businesses premises are expected to be provided with enhanced connectivity by 2024. This will bring the total level of connectivity in South Devon to over 96%, above the UK average.
The taste of home working remains for many, however, if South Devon wants to accommodate those who wish to live and work in the area full time, we must have the appropriate digital infrastructure in place. Fortunately, we are on track and the likes of BT Openreach and Connecting Devon and Somerset are working to rectify the mistakes of the past and improve our links at record speed.
Third, developers and second homeowners are being held to account. For the last two years, I have been leading the charge in Westminster to ensure that developers can no longer ignore the rights of local communities, while also being required to build on brownfield sites first and in the style of the existing local property. At the same time, I have also lobbied to change the law so that second homeowners can no longer benefit so easily from being able to avoid paying council tax by claiming business rates.
South Devon is only in part a tourist economy. We have thousands of businesses across hundreds of industries in the area. If we wish to see investment and for local communities to thrive then we must pay attention to those who wish to live and work in the area and the properties that we build for them. In 2022 I will be launching a new initiative specifically designed to address this issue.
Fourth, our high streets need greater support. South Devon can boast of better, more vibrant, high streets than many other parts of the UK. However, we have all noticed key facilities such as banks and post offices closing their doors. This trend must be reversed. After much lobbying, Brixham is set to receive a new ‘Banking Hub’ which will offer a permanent banking base for residents.
Our high streets are part of our identity, heritage and culture so they must be protected and preserved. Through localism and supporting our local businesses, we can safeguard them for future years.
Despite the pandemic, there are some success stories and I am pleased that over the last two years I have been able to move the dial in some key areas. I look forward to being able to go further and faster next year. Until then, may I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and here is to a better year ahead.