South Devon is blessed to have beautiful moorland, coastline and rural areas. Our towns and villages are as picturesque as any could imagine and they continue to hum with busy high streets, farmers' markets and festivals and events. We are all fortunate to live in such an area and to benefit from such vibrant and active communities.
Such an environment is not only to be protected but cultivated for future generations. As town high streets dwindle across the country, South Devon appears to be bucking the trend. Of course, investment from the High Street Funds and Stronger Towns Fund has helped as does the significant influx of visitors each year. Our independent shops, high-quality local produce and enticing atmosphere are a draw to those from further afield. It is also in no small part because we appreciate local produce being made available in our local shops.
South Devon’s localism is readily on show. Yet, its supporting infrastructure is often overlooked. From supply chains to public transport services to digital connectivity, there is a plethora of areas in which our way of life is supported by these essential structures.
It has been my argument that the answer to globalisation is localisation. From shortening supply chains to using more local produce to encourage the regional economy as well as to build resilience against future shocks. It should be a cause of great concern that our supermarkets, for instance, fail to make use of what is on their doorsteps. The fact that not a single local supermarket stocks fish that has been freshly caught from Brixham should make us consider how to improve the circumstances in which local producers are more able to feed into the public market space; especially when it comes to public run institutions and large domestic chains.
Fortunately, this week the Procurement Bill will have its second reading from the House of Lords. For the first time in decades, a significant piece of legislation is being brought forward to address our supply chain’s inadequacies. If successful, this bill will offer the chance to shorten those supply chains, improve access for smaller producers and strengthen our rural economy.
From selling in the marketplace to selling online, it is clear after two years of working from home that the digital network is a leveller-up, but also a requirement for every region of the UK. Our network pre-2019 was laughably behind schedule when compared to other parts of the country. Fortunately, the pandemic has concentrated efforts to address this shortcoming and it is expected that by the end of 2024, over 95% of South Devon will have strong digital connectivity.
Those who want to run their businesses from home or have flexible work arrangements are already playing a helping hand in turning homes back into primary residences. Our schools are seeing more pupils, volunteer networks are swelling and our high streets and villages are booming.
From buying to selling to working, we must not overlook the need for a better more extensive public transport model. Our train lines have long gone, but the campaign to open the likes of Goodrington and South Brent stations continues. However, buses make a huge difference and the recent update of Tally Ho’s 164 service to connect Totnes train arrivals with Kingsbridge and Salcombe is not only proving to be good value but hugely popular.
We must encourage more suitable buses onto the roads and encourage greater use. Failure to do so will not only see residents isolated but more cars clogging our narrow and winding lanes. The 164 example shows that new routes linking together can be successful and economically viable as well as environmentally friendly.
Our towns and villages are in demand because people either wish to live or visit the area. Much of my work is spent supporting and attempting to enhance those often-overlooked parts of our infrastructure in the knowledge that small continual improvements can make a long and lasting difference.