Secretary of State decides not to call-in Solar Farm planning application at Coombeshead

I was very disappointed when I received the following correspondence from Kris Hopkins, Minister for Local Government to tell me that the Secretary of State has decided not to call in the Coombeshead Solar Farm application.


Thank you for your letter of 8 May requesting the Secretary of State to call in the above planning application.

We remain committed to giving more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues, and believe that planning decisions should be made at the local level wherever possible. The call-in policy makes it clear that the power to call in a case will only be used very selectively.

In deciding whether to call in this application, I have considered my policy on calling in planning applications. This policy gives examples of the types of issues which may lead me to conclude, in my opinion that the application should be called in. I am satisfied that the application should be determined at local level.

I appreciate that this is not the preferred outcome for you and your constituents. However, it is now for South Hams District Council to determine the application and a copy of our letter to the Council is attached for your information.

The following is a copy of the letter sent to South Hams District Council.

Town and Country Planning Act 1990

Application for the installation of up to 45,000 ground mounted solar pv panels, erection of ancillary buildings and structures and access tracks at Coombeshead Farm, Diptford, nr Totnes, Devon.

I refer to the above application.

The Secretary of State has carefully considered this case against call-in policy, as set out in the Written Ministerial Statement by Nick Boles on 26th October 2012. The policy makes it clear that the power to call in a case will only be used very selectively. The Government is committed to give more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues, and believes planning decisions should be made at the local level wherever possible.

In deciding whether to call in this application, the Secretary of State has considered his policy on calling in planning applications. This policy gives examples of the types of issues which may lead him to conclude, in his opinion that the application should be called in. The Secretary of State has decided, having had regard to this policy, not to call in this application. He is content that it should be determined by South Hams District Council.

In considering whether to exercise the discretion to call in this application, the Secretary of State has not considered the matter of whether this application is EIA Development for the purpose of the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011. South Hams District Council is responsible for considering whether these Regulations apply to this proposed development and, if so, for ensuring that the requirements of the Regulations are complied with.

The Article 25 Direction issued pursuant to the Secretary of State's letter of 14th May 2014 is hereby withdrawn.


Storm Bertha forced Box and Leith Hills to be closed, so cycled 86 miles on the tandem for MIND charity in 5:39:43!!

A big "Thank You" to everyone who sponsored me.









The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation

Helena Seager from South Brent (currently about to start her final year at University) has taken the brave decision to have her long hair cut off and her head completely shaved to raise funds for The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. This is a cause close to her heart having lost two grandparents to this terrible disease. If you would like to support this young person please visit her Just Giving page.




Simon Stevens visits Dartmouth

I was delighted to welcome the Chief Executive of NHS England, Mr Simon Stevens, to the constituency after inviting him to come to discuss the importance of community hospitals and the voluntary sector to the NHS.

I arranged for a number of meetings to be held at Dartmouth Community Hospital, hosted by Matron Nadine Brooks. The morning started with a tour of the hospital, followed by meetings with local Matrons, commissioners and representatives from Devon's Leagues of Friends about the value of community hospitals and how they could expand their role.

Mr Stevens heard how, in rural areas, community hospitals are key as long distances and weak transport links increase the need for people to be able to access excellent care as close to their own homes as possible.

Mr Stevens spoke about the need to use community hospitals fully and effectively and took away several concerns raised both locally and nationally around the issues of inpatient beds, increasing access to clinics and services such as investigations and minor injuries units, ownership and the difficulties with recruitment.

Powerful representations were made to Mr Stevens from voluntary groups representing a range of bodies supporting people across South Devon about the value they add to help keep vulnerable people living well at home. He also heard about the rising demand on their services and increasing complexity of issues at a time when access to long term funding is under great pressure.

This was an opportunity to discuss the challenges faced by local charities when applying for NHS and social care funding and the need for these processes to be simplified. For small local groups, Mr Stevens and local commissions from across health and social care heard that the pressure and complexity of repeated grant applications is becoming an intolerable burden with valuable volunteers' time taken up trying to compete with national organisations which may have no local presence in South Devon. The difficulty in quantifying the value added by volunteers was acknowledged as well as the impact that loss of voluntary sector partners would have not just on individuals but in adding costs to the wider NHS and social care.

Suggestions for different commissioning strategies for voluntary groups were discussed as well as the advantages of nurturing voluntary organisations and reducing bureaucracy and keeping them flexibility to meet local needs. Representatives from the Clinical Commissioning Groups stressed that they recognise the value of the voluntary sector and are trying to utilise their experience. Staff from the Care Trusts also noted that they could not do without the support from the various Leagues of Friends.

I am so pleased that Simon Stevens came to visit Dartmouth to hear about the importance of community hospitals and the voluntary sector to Devon. He heard a clear and consistent message about the importance of stable core funding for the work of the voluntary sector. NHS and social care commissioners need to make it easier for these vital groups to apply for grants so that the funds go to those who are actually delivering the services in our local communities. It is evident that a small amount of money in the voluntary sector goes a very long way. I would like to thank all our volunteers for the extraordinary service they give both to individuals and to our communities.

The following volunteers met with Mr Stevens and myself:


Intern Vacancy in my Westminster Office

I am looking to appoint a reliable, proactive and hardworking intern in my busy Westminster office on a fixed term contract until the dissolution of Parliament in April 2015. The successful applicant will have the opportunity to gain experience in parliamentary research, briefings, event planning and a range of written tasks and to gain an understanding of how Parliament works.

I am always keen to ensure my interns gather some useful experiences during their time in my office and strive to ensure they are able to undertake varied and interesting tasks. I know it can be difficult for many to break into the political world and this is why I am offering the London Living Wage for this position. I would certainly encourage local people with an interest in politics to apply.

The position would suit someone with strong writing skills who is able to take the initiative and proactively develop ideas to help me work on a range of issues.

Main responsibilities will include:
• Researching issues in preparation for events and debates.
• Monitoring proceedings in Parliament.
• Taking responsibility for a number of issues and campaigns – monitoring and progressing work on them.
• Preparing summaries and briefings for upcoming business in the Commons.
• Assisting with research for written correspondence.
• Using a range of sources to write website pieces.
• Assisting with various administrative and diary tasks.

Essential qualities
• Excellent writing skills.
• Ability to take the initiative and work proactively.
• Strong verbal communication skills, good telephone manner and confidence in talking to external contacts.
• High standard of IT literacy.
• Ability to manage own workload and work to tight deadlines.

Desirable qualities
• Previous experience in Parliament or a similar organisation.
• Interest or familiarity with South Devon.

It is hoped that the internship will begin on 6th October and will be based on a fixed-term contract lasting until the dissolution of Parliament – expected to be in April 2015.

Upon appointment you will be required to comply with the Baseline Personnel Security Standard, undertaken by the Members' Staff Verification Office (MSVO). See Members' Staff Verification Office (MSVO) page for further info.

Closing Date:

27 August 2014

Interview/Start Dates:

The deadline for applications is 5pm on Wednesday 27 August and interviews will take place in the second week of September possibly in London and Devon depending on the number and location of applicants. The interview process will include a short written exercise.

How to apply:

To apply, please email your CV (no longer than two pages) and a covering letter (no longer than one page) to – quoting 'internship application' in the subject line. Please also direct any questions to that email address. All applications will be acknowledged.

To view the post online please visit:



Consultation on the implementing of regulations for the Flood Re Scheme has been launched

These regulations will ensure that domestic property insurance continues to be widely available and affordable in areas of high flood risk without placing unsustainable costs on wider policy holders or the taxpayer. The Flood Reinsurance Scheme (Flood Re) will be established as a not for profit, industry run and managed scheme and will be directly accountable to Parliament for the day to day operation of the scheme

Flood Re will provide transitional support to households at flood risk over a 25 year period as part of a gradual transition towards more risk-reflective prices; this will provide time for choices to be made and risk management action to be taken.

Regulations are to be introduced to enable the insurance industry to implement Flood Re next year. The proposed regulations will cover the legal framework around the Flood Re Scheme, its funding and its administration.

Groups, individuals and businesses at flood risk, insurance industry participants and property and mortgage sector participants are advised to respond to this consultation.


1 World-Kids

1World-Kids.Com a children's guide to climate change and the world...

1World-Kids is a platform for social change and an opportunity to teach our kids more about the world and the impact our lives have upon it. With greater understanding children will have an opportunity to live lives where they respect people, place and planet.

You can sign up for their free monthly newsletter, look out for facts packs, competitions and more.

Become a 1World-Kids friend and donate and see your name on the friends pages, whatever you do, do something good.

Find out more by logging onto their website


Harberton's Family Fun Dog Show!



An event not to be missed on Sunday 17th August at Harberton Village Playing Field

  • Events start at 12.00 noon
  • Licensed Bar and BBQ
  • Cake Stall
  • Local Stall Holders

Take your pooch along and enter him into one of the many categories. Only a £1 entry for each category at the ringside. Fun for all the family. Proceeds to Harberton Cricket Club and Harberton Playing Fields.






Head Up, Heart Strong

One in five women experience mental health problems in their pregnancy and beyond. A small number of these will experience a mental health crisis.

Head Up Heart Strong is a film about recovery from perinatal mental health problems, starring 6 women from Devon and Torbay. From Devon Partnership NHS Trust, Head Up, Heart Strong captures the stories of six incredible women who have experienced the most extreme episodes of perinatal depression and post-partum psychosis and who have been supported by Perinatal Mental Health Service.

These stories have been told so that in sharing them people can gain a deeper understanding and bring hope to those who most need it.



In 2011 a public meeting was held to discuss the possibility of improving the amenity, environment and facilities of the Rotherfold Square at the top end of Totnes for the benefit of the local community, local business and visitors and in approximately two weeks the work is due to start. The  image was used as a basis for the consultation with the local  community; do keep your eye out for the transformation!



European Health Insurance Cards.

The summer holidays are approaching and many of you will be preparing for holidays in Europe and applications for the European Health Insurance Cards (EHICs) rise significantly.

Your EHIC should be free and if you are being asked to pay you are not on the official EHIC website. Further information, including how to apply can be found at or by calling 0300 3301350

If you already been affected by this issue the government has set up a webpage so that you can report a misleading website


Check for signs of skin cancer - it is treatable if detected early on

Now the beautiful weather is with us, many take to the beaches and usually in our bags is a tube of sun screen, but care needs to be taken when working in the garden, cycling and whenever you are undertaking an outdoor activity.

There is a new campaign in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset that aims to raise awareness of skin cancer by being alert to changes in your skin in addition to changes in moles.

The key message is if you are not wearing sun protection while you are outside you are exposed and you increase your chances of developing skin cancer.

Spotting skin cancer early

  •  A new growth or sore that won't heal
  •  A spot mole or sore that itches or hurts
  •  A mole or growth that bleeds, crusts or scabs

You're more likely to get it if you have:

  •  Lots of moles or freckles
  •  Fair skin that burns easily
  •  Red or fair hair
  •  Light coloured eyes
  •  History of sunburn
  •  Personal/family history of skin cancer

For more information on the signs of skin cancer, visit


Health Select Committee

I am delighted to have been elected by fellow MPs to Chair the House of Commons Health Select Committee. I am so grateful to all those who have sent such kind messages of support. Whilst this will be a huge commitment, it will also be an opportunity to highlight so many of the health and social care issues raised with me from across the constituency and make sure that the voice of South Devon is fully represented in Westminster.

Click here to watch the announcement and Sarah's response





The Review of Polling Districts and Polling Places by Torbay Council

Torbay Council is conducting a general review of polling districts, polling places and polling stations within the Torbay Constituency and the part of the Totnes Constituency within the South Hams District Council area. Full details of which are available on the Council's website





Malborough's Scarecrow Trail

Malborough's Scarecrow Trail was a great success and made a profit of £1612 to be shared between Malborough Village Hall and All Saints Church Malborough. The Judges' best scarecrow was Sir Francis Drake and the Judges' favourite scarecrow was "Women who changed the world".










Resignation of Stephen Dorrell

Stephen Dorrell MP, has been an outstanding chair of the Health Select Committee; I am sorry to hear that he is standing down from this role with immediate effect. Over the past four years, under Stephen's leadership, the cross Party Select Committee has impartially and effectively scrutinised government policy and held many outside institutions to account.

Stephen has never shrunk from his role in leading challenging inquiries on behalf of the public.




Ride London

I have been training for Ride London and have added two more routes to my cycle blog, which you can view here.  Both are suitable for cyclists wanting to come to Devon by train.  Devon miles count double!  Try this one from Dartmoor to Dartmouth, taking in the English Riviera for 68 miles of bluebells and blue sea.




The Shark Trust

The Shark Trust has launched its No Limits? campaign in response to the crisis posed by unlimited and escalating shark fishing pressure. With no catch limits set for many shark species, landings have soared over the past decade, placing huge pressure on shark populations. The Trust's No Limits? campaign highlights the urgent need to introduce science-based catch limits for Blue Sharks, Shortfin Mako, Tope, smoothhounds and catsharks – species accounting for over 97% of reported Atlantic shark landings.

No Limits? appeals to you to support the campaign by signing the online petition urging governments to act before it's too late, and today's commercial shark species follow other previously abundant Atlantic shark stocks into collapse.


South Devon Business supports a Great British Sucess Story

There has been another sharp drop in unemployment both in the Totnes constituency and across the country as a whole. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics show that unemployment in our area of South Devon dropped by over a third (34%) since this time last year and by 15% over the past month.

The strength of these figures are particularly welcome as they include a fall in youth unemployment, which decreased by 30% in the past year and by 14% in the past month.

I am delighted that our area is following the national trend, which has seen 1.5 million more people in work since the General Election. Unemployment is now at a five-year low and the number of people in work is the highest since records began in 1971.

While in Parliament I have continued to support the Government's plan to create jobs and build a strong economy. These figures, along with economic growth which makes the UK the fastest growing economy in the developed world, show that the plan is working.

The national economic success story has been achieved in large part by policies which encourage apprenticeships and jobs and by the businesses that give opportunities to young people.

Locally, I am working with South Devon College to organise a Careers and Skills Fair

On Friday 6th June at the South West Energy Centre from 10.00am-12noon there will be a chance for employers to discuss the wide ranging issues on developing the skills needed to grow and sustain businesses across the region as well as receiving information on funding and grants. Please click here to register

To coincide and celebrate the official opening of the South West Energy Centre, there will be a Careers and Skills Week at the Centre, the week commencing Monday 9th June. During this week there will be a wide range of interactive activities taking place, ranging from employer talks, apprentice skills showcases, displays and master classes.

On the Monday, Wednesday and Thursday of that week there will be a carousel of activities for young people to participate in, including:

·Meeting with employers to gain an insight into a diverse range of industries·Discover a wide range of careers and apprenticeship programmes·Learn what it takes to secure employment in what can be a challenging marketplace·Hear first-hand from employers what qualities they are looking for and how to stand our from the crowd·Talk to current apprentices to find out what it is like to earn while you learn

On each of these days there are 2 x 2 hours sessions running from 10.00- 12.00 or 13.- 15.00

For more information on these sessions please contact Farrah Goodwin on 01803 540809 or email

My thanks to Barclays Bank for their sponsorship of these events and to Torbay Development Agency for their support.

Flood Support

I know many are still recovering from the severe weather we experienced earlier in the year and I want to ensure that everyone is aware of the government financial support schemes that are on offer to those adversely affected.

The following link will take you through to a summary guide of all the schemes that are being supported by government funding and I would urge all eligible businesses and individuals to apply for any pertinent schemes.


Littlefootprints Sands Memorial Garden

On Sunday the 1st of June at 2.00 pm South Devon Sands, a local branch of the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, will open the Littlefootprints Sands Memorial Garden at the Follaton Arboretum in Totnes.

Work began on the garden some months ago and the idea behind it was to create a baby memorial garden for those who have suffered the tragic loss of a child. The land was kindly donated by South Hams District Council. There will be remembrance events held at the garden several times a year.



Coombeshead Solar Planning Application.

Today, South Hams District Council's Development Management Committee were minded to approve the planning application by AEE Renewables to install 45,000 ground mounted solar pv panels, near Diptford.

The Secretary of State has now exercised his powers under Article 25 of the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) to direct the Council not to grant permission on this application without specific authorisation. This direction has been issued to enable him to consider whether he should direct under Section77 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 that the application should be referred to him for determination. This direction does not, of course prevent the Council from considering the application, forming a view as to the merits, or, if they are so minded, refusing permission.


Consultation on changes to financial support for solar PV

This week, the Government announced the launch of a consultation on proposals to close the Renewables Obligation for large scale solar farms from April 2015. If the plans are approved, developers will no longer to receive Renewable Obligation Certificates for solar farms with a capacity greater than 5MW – removing their incentive to build large scale developments. This would mean that developments such as the proposed Coombeshead Farm solar plant near Diptford which would produce 7.86MW over 23.4 hectares would be ineligible to receive the Certificates.

I welcome the announcement as I believe that the Government should encourage community energy solar developments on roof tops rather than larger industrial scale developments. This will allow us to continue increasing the percentage of renewables in the UK's energy mix while ensuring that our natural environment is protected.

Also this week, I wrote to Nick Boles – the Planning Minister – asking him to consider calling in the planning application for the proposal at Coombeshead Farm near Diptford. This of course would only be put forward for consideration should the application be approved by SHDC's Development Management Committee.

The strength of local feeling on this development has been made clear – many people have written to me directly and over 200 people have submitted objections to South Hams District Council. My overriding concern is that this industrialisation of the South Hams landscape would not only damage our natural environment – it is also less than a mile from an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – but it would also set a worrying precedent nationally.

The Government recently added to national planning guidance to ensure that the cumulative impact of developments on the landscape should be taken into account when considering an application. There are currently three solar farms within three miles of Diptford, totalling an area of 41.4 hectares of land and the proposed farm at Coombeshead would see an extra 23.4 hectares being developed. If this site were to be approved, it would mean that there would be the equivalent of 92 football pitches developed as solar farms within three miles of Diptford. Local people do feel that that this proposed development would have just such a cumulative impact and so I have asked the Minister to review whether the decision, should approval be granted, is in line with new guidance. If the Committee does approve the site, the National Planning Casework Unit at DCLG may issue an 'Article 25 direction' which will instruct the Council to place the application on hold until the Department decides whether the Minister is able to review the application – this is a process which will take several weeks.

Ultimately it will be a change in the financial incentives that will stop communities feeling under threat from inappropriate solar. These tend to benefit only a tiny minority whilst leaving communities blighted for 25 years.


Dementia Awareness Week (18-24 May 2014)

Dementia affects the lives of many; there are 800,000 people in the UK living with dementia and across the UK. On average less than half of those people have received a diagnosis. Diagnosis is the key that unlocks access to support services.

If you're worried that you, or someone close to you, may have dementia, it can be difficult to talk about. You may feel scared, confused or even ashamed. You may also be hoping that the problem will go away so you don't have to deal with it.

We all bury our heads in the sand from time to time. But if you're seriously concerned, and the problem continues, it's important to talk to someone about it. The sooner you know what you're dealing with, the sooner you can get on with your life and feel in control again.

That's why this Dementia Awareness Week is all about opening up. Anyone who's concerned about dementia should stop bottling it up and to talk to their doctor, their family but also to contact the Alzheimer's Society.

Alzheimer's Society national dementia helpline 0300 222 1122 has specially trained advisers on hand to discuss any concerns around dementia and provide information, support, guidance and signposting to other appropriate organisations. The helpline can help in many ways but specific areas of expertise include:

  • Understanding dementia and treatments available
  • How to get help locally
  • Maintaining independence
  • Financial and legal matters
  • Caring for people with dementia
  • Community care and long-stay care

People with dementia sometimes need a helping hand to go about their daily lives and feel included in the community. Dementia Friends initiative is run by the Alzheimer's Society to improve people's understanding of dementia and its effects; more information about this initiative can be found at this website.

For local services in Torbay click here and for local services in Devon click here



Keith Makepeace enters the Triathlon on the 1st June!

I was delighted to hear that Keith Makepeace of Soar Mill Cove Hotel is entering a triathlon to raise money for Hope Cove Life Boat, which is a registered charity. The life boat is so important to our area and I wish Keith all the best with this challenge.

Keith has a donation box at the hotel and you can also sponsor him via his just giving page



South Hams District Consultation on Planning Policies

The consultation closes on Friday 20th June

The Council is preparing a new strategic plan for South Hams which will set out a vision, long term priorities and planning policies for the area to 2031.

They have prepared a consultation document which sets out

  • What they think the challenges are for the future
  • What topics they think the new plan might cover

SHDC would really like to know:-

  • Whether you think they have identified the right topics and challenges for their Plan
  • Whether there is anything else their Plan should contain.

The consultation document is available to view and comment on their website or at the Council Offices at Follaton House, Plymouth Road, Totnes TQ9 5NE.


Postcard from Devon Competition.

Thank you so much to all the primary school children who entered the art competition to show that Devon is a fantastic place to work and visit. The judging was extremely difficult because of the high standard of entries and  this task was undertaken by Helen Wood from the Speakers Committee on Works of Art.

The overall winner was Charlotte from St John's 






A very close 2nd place went to Harry from Furzeham Primary






Joint 3rd places went to:-                                                                        







Louie from Park School                                                                                        Olivia from Loddiswell








Zara From St Christophers                                                                           Scarlett from Stoke Fleming


Big Big Sing is coming to Dartington!

Learn new songs and singing styles with the inspiring choirmaster Adey Grummet.

Come along to Dartington Hall on 16th May and join the crowd for an evening of song and fun in mass singing sessions led by Adey, who will have you singing Commonwealth-style. Enjoy some sounds and rhythms from Africa, the Caribbean or India and get into the mood for this summer's Commonwealth Games.

Singing starts at 6:30pm until 9:30pm and no experience is required.

Tickets can be booked via this link or by phoning 01803 847 070

For more information on Big Big Sing click here

Large Scale Solar Planning Application

Many of you have contacted me about the solar planning application for Combeshead and there are some important dates and meetings are just around the corner.



  • There will be a site visit by members of the SHDC Development Management Committee: Tuesday 6th May 2.00pm-4.00pm and they will be escorted by the Case Officer. I believe they will visit a number of critical locations and viewpoints relating to the Combeshead planning application.

It may be that some of you would like to take the opportunity to attend but there is a certain etiquette involved. You are able to listen, but without commenting unless you are asked a direct question by the Committee and please do not bring placards, lobby, shout, berate or speak to the committee members, or be confrontational.

If the rules of behaviour are broken during a site visit the SHDC delegation can get straight back into their vehicles and drive away.

  • Wednesday 14th May there will be a meeting of the SHDC Development Management Committee: at 2.00pm in the Council Chamber at Follaton House

At this meeting the DMC will make its decision either to approve or refuse the planning application by AEE Renewables for a solar PV farm at Combeshead.

So I am sure that many of you may like to attend this meeting to make your Councillors aware of your strength of feeling on this application

I hope this application is looked at carefully and that we see further examination of the subsidies for such large scale solar farms.


Cued Speech

The Cued Speech Association is a national charity based in Dartmouth and provides training and information in Cued Speech, a technique which enables deaf children and their families to communicate in English (or any other language).

Learning to cue is not like learning a new language, like British Sign Language. It is a sound-based language tool, allowing hearing parents and professionals to acquire a new way of expressing themselves. There is no new vocabulary or grammar to learn as it uses eight hand-shapes in four different positions near the mouth to simply clarify the lip patterns of normal speech.

Parents and teachers can learn Cued Speech in about 20 hours, although more practice is needed to become fluent.

Through Cued Speech deaf babies and children can pick up the vocabulary and structure of the English language naturally and without effort. They can use their understanding of English to help with literacy, speech and lip-reading. It complements what they hear through their implant or hearing aid and it works even if they hear nothing!

Young children and babies are not taught to cue, they pick up English by watching it cued, just as hearing children pick up English through listening.

Most children brought up with Cued Speech use it to understand what people say to them but communicate by speech alone. It's never too late to benefit from Cued Speech use.

  • There are many different ways in which Cued Speech can be used:
  • from babyhood in the family to give whole-language access.
  • alongside British Sign Language for true bilingualism
  • before an implant, and afterwards as the child learns to use their hearing and when the background noise is a problem
  • to help deaf children's speech
  • to make education accessible – teachers can use it for literacy, to teach phonics, to give access to the whole curriculum.

Where can I learn more?

Full details of their work can be found on their web site

On their entertaining and informative web site, , you will find videos, parents' stories, a full range of publications and information about learning to cue.


The Devon Digital Inclusion Project

The Devon Digital Inclusion Project aims to support individuals and communities to become more digitally aware. The programme runs until March 2015 and offers help for free!



  • Are you part of a community group who feel they need to get to grips with IT?
  • Do you know someone who needs help to get online?
  • Are you scared of what the internet can offer?
  • Are you worried about how you will claim your benefits when the welfare system goes online only?
  • Do you have a coffee morning coming up where you would want them to come along with some of their gadgets/tablets to have a play without a sales man over your shoulder?
  • Is it difficult for you to keep in touch with your family where video calling would help?
  • Are you unable to afford the internet and not sure how you can access the internet?
  • Would you like to know how you can use the internet for your hobby?
  • Do you need some support with finding your way around the internet but can't afford to attend a course?

If you have answered yes to any of the above questions then the Devon Digital Inclusion Project would love to hear from you!

For more information contact Lizzie Whitchurch, Kate Doodson 0845 094 6108



Dartmouth Caring: " Small is Beautiful" Award

Dartmouth Caring have been awarded the "Small is Beautiful" Award from the South West Forum in Bristol. This award, the first of its kind, emphasises that small charities such as Dartmouth Caring can make a huge difference. The Judges were impressed with the work that Dartmouth Caring does within the community with its emphasis on the elderly and vulnerable and preventative work in enabling the vulnerable to remain in their homes for as long as possible. Many congratulations to Dee Nutt and Alison Stocks and their hard working team on receiving this award; it is well deserved!


Nadhim Zahawi Visits Totnes

I was pleased to welcome Nadhim Zahawi MP to Totnes on Friday the 4th of April for a meeting followed by a Q&A session with a range of local businesses at the Royal Seven Stars Hotel. One of Nadhim's responsibilities is to make sure businesses have the chance to feed back in to the policy making process, he is especially suited to this as someone who has experience of setting up his own successful business,YouGov.

I would like to thank everyone who attended; it was good to have so many representatives from across the business community. As Nadhim acknowledged, whilst tourism, food and drink dominate our local economy we also have manufacturers producing parts for sectors as diverse as satellites to racing cars and lorries and vibrant small and micro businesses.

The meeting was a lively but balanced event. Nadhim acknowledged that for the most part what businesses really want is for government to stay out of their way and to reduce bureaucracy and costs.

Many topics were discussed, Nadhim heard about the ongoing issues with access to funding and finance and talked about regional banks and crowd finance as well as the need for better access to clear advice on sources of the funding opportunities.

It was useful to hear Nadhim highlight the role of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and the importance of working with them especially as they have people with real business experience running them. Locally our LEP has played a key role in the negotiations keeping valued science jobs at the AstraZeneca site.

The issue of correctly labelling ethical and locally sourced products was raised and Nadhim heard from businesses in the constituency how hard it can be to produce entirely British products. He agreed the merit in producing entirely British products and spoke of his concern about misleading labelling.

I was very pleased to hear Nadim's unequivocal support for shared parental leave and measures to ensure that women have equal access to the business and wider employment opportunities. By far the biggest single issue raised was that of business rates. He spoke of the BIS Select Committee Inquiry into this issue due to report shortly and we all hope that government will take note of its findings. It is good news that small business rate reliefs have been extended and that businesses can now pay in 12 monthly rather than 10 instalments but overall the message was clear, that business rates remaIn a serious drain on local businesses.

There was a clear message that the pressure from business rates is contributing to the creation of identical chain high streets across the country.

Creating a business is a tough but vital role and Nadhim has long advocated that when anyone registers a new business they should get a thank you letter from the Chancellor. I agree.


Frogmore Post Office

The Post Office is currently looking to restore services at Frogmore. The proposal is to introduce a Hosted Outreach service which will operate from The Bakery. A consultation is now running on this proposal and it will close on the 16th of May. The Post Office wish to have your comments on the following:


  • How suitable you think the new location and premises are?
  • Do you have any comments on the proposed days and opening hours?
  • How easy is it to get there?
  • Are the new premises easy for you to get into and is the inside easily accessible?
  • Do you have any concerns about the new location?
  • If so, do you have any suggestions that could help us make it better for you?
  • Are there any local community issues which you think could be affected by the proposed move?
  • Is there anything you particularly like about the proposed change?

You can send your views to

In addition you can post them to: FREEPOST PO Consultation

I do hope as many of you as possible take the time to share your views.

Brixham Town Council

Many people have contacted me frustrated that Torbay Council is withholding funds from Brixham Town Council. I do understand the concern on this matter and I have raised it in person with Mayor Gordon Oliver but he is adamant that they will not pass on this money to Brixham. I have also pressed for at least a compromise position, especially given previous commitments and the strain this unexpected shortfall will bring on Brixham Town Council. I am yet to receive a formal response.

Whilst no one doubts the strains on local government finances, the distribution of funding is entirely devolved to local government level and in a letter from Brandon Lewis, dated 21st February to Leaders of Local Authorities, he makes it clear,

"that the Government's intention was that part of the funding provided to local authorities in respect of the localised council tax support should be passed down to parish and town councils.

I am disappointed to learn from the National Association of Local Councils that a number of authorities are refusing to pass down such funding. Without this funding, parishes will be under pressure to increase their council tax precept in order to fill the void or to scale back on the services they provide. In the spirit of localism I would therefore encourage you to pass down funding to avoid indirectly putting pressure on your council taxpayers. However if an authority does insist on not passing down funding I would expect the authority to justify to their council tax payer as to the reasons why."

I am disappointed with this decision which leaves Brixham at a disadvantage and particularly short of funds.


Malborough Scarecrow Trail


Spring Bank Holiday Weekend May 24-26th is Malborough's Scarecrow Trail. There is fun for all the family and the theme this year is historical characters. On the Saturday and Monday there will be Ploughmans / Sandwiches / Cream Teas available in the Village Hall. On the Sunday there will be a BBQ as well as Sandwiches and Cream Teas.

To download instructions on how to make your Scarecrow click here





Palm Oil

Dog walkers are being urged to be cautious when taking their pets to the beach as palm oil has been washed up on several beaches in the area. Palm oil is not thought to be toxic but has proven to be fatal to dogs in some cases and can cause blockages if they consume it.

Palm oil is a waxy, white substance that looks like Styrofoam but has a chemical smell and if you think your dog has ingested any; do take them to the vets immediately. It is recommended to keep your dog on a lead if you are on the beach!

There have been sightings of washed up palm oil on beaches in the South Hams and Torbay, including at Elberry Cove, at South Sands, North Sands and Millbay Beach.


Youth Services

Help shape your local services; following extensive public engagement, Devon County Council's has a proposal for a new model for the Youth Service.

The proposal is that Devon County Council's Youth Service moves from being an open access, universal facility to become a service providing targeted support for those young people most in need. This would mean that DCC would no longer need to manage and run any of the current local youth centres.

Under this model a number of highly-skilled youth service workers would be redeployed to a new role which would involve targeted work with young people most in need of support across a range of early help services such as mentoring, assessment, intervention and relationship-building.

As part of this consultation DCC is also inviting proposals for alternative models of support. There are opportunities for local community groups, charities and private sector providers to develop activities and support for young people in their area. DCC will work with organisations who express an interest to look at options for co-designing services. There will be a meeting at Dartington Hall, Totnes, Devon, TQ9 6EL on Wed 2nd April 2014, from 7pm-9pm. If you wish to attend, you will need to let the Councill know by e-mailing
To have your say, please submit your views to the consultation that closes on the 27th April.


Friday 28th March Wear A Hat Day

WearAHatDay is the UK's largest and most famous national brain tumour awareness and fundraising campaign, created by Brain Tumour Research. WearAHatDay is an awareness raising campaign that supports a deadly serious issue: Brain tumours are the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under 40. Getting involved in WearAHatDay is easy, and anyone and everyone can join in - from schools, colleges and universities to shops, offices and clubs, young or old, baby or pensioner, no one is excluded! The more people wearing hats, the greater the awareness and the bigger the fundraising achievement will be!


Budget 2014

This week's Budget sets out some welcome support for businesses, pensioners, savers and working people. Wages in South Devon are lower than the national average and the Chancellor's decision to further increase the personal tax allowance to £10,500 will help to put more money in people's pockets.

Since George Osborne's first budget in 2010, the amount of income tax paid by someone working full-time on National Minimum Wage has been cut in half. By April 2015, a typical basic-rate taxpayer will be paying £805 less in tax than they were in 2010 whilst the corresponding reduction for a higher-rate taxpayer will be £646.

In the Totnes constituency, unemployment has dropped by over a quarter since this time last year but more needs to be done, in particular to tackle youth unemployment. Extending

Click here to see me being interviewed by Women2Win


Click  to listen to BBC Radio 4 Today programme interviewing Sarah and discussing "Do Westminster Primaries Work?"




07 AUG 2014

Stoke Gabriel

Thank you to Ian and Jennie Jones for their hospitality; it was good to catch up with some of the residents of Stoke Gabriel

07 AUG 2014

Totnes Advice Surgery

My Totnes office was the venue for today's Advice Surgery; thank you to everyone who came to talk to me with their concerns. If you would like to meet with me, please telephone 01803 868378 to arrange an appointment

07 AUG 2014

Simon Stevens Chief Executive NHS England

I was delighted to welcome the Chief Executive of NHS England, Mr Simon Stevens, to the constituency after inviting him to come to discuss the importance of community hospitals and the voluntary sector to the NHS. I arranged for a number of meetings to be held at Dartmouth Community Hospital,...

16 JUL 2014

Cross Party campaign to improve transport links

All MPs from the South West are united in a Cross Party Campaign to improve transport links to our region. It was great to join with council leaders and our LEP to press the case for improving resilience and investment.

07 JUL 2014

Education: Internet: Bullying

Written Answer Sarah Wollaston (Totnes, Conservative) To ask the Secretary of State for Education what steps he is taking to tackle cyber-bullying. Edward Timpson (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education; Crewe and Nantwich, Conservative) The Government believes that internet...

26 JUN 2014

NHS Investigations (Jimmy Savile)

Sarah Wollaston (Totnes, Conservative) May I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the victims? They were not silent. What today's reports show is that very many people witnessed—even directly condoned—some deeply inappropriate behaviour. How could it ever be acceptable for a...

24 JUN 2014

Treasury: Patient Safety

Sarah Wollaston (Totnes, Conservative) Click here to watch Sarah speak I welcome today's announcements. Unsafe care in the NHS carries not only a terrible personal cost, but a terrible financial cost—£1.3 billion a year in litigation alone—and I welcome the announcement of Sir Robert Francis's...

18 JUN 2014

Health Select Committee

I am delighted to have been elected by fellow MPs to Chair the House of Commons Health Select Committee. I am so grateful to all those who have sent such kind messages of support. Whilst this will be a huge commitment, it will also be an opportunity to highlight so many of the health and social care issues raised...

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Sarah's Personal Blog

Click here for Sarah's full blog and to leave comments

Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill

Over the last week I have been listening carefully to the arguments on both sides of the debate over the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill. I am grateful to all those who have written to me for sharing their views and while I respect the concerns surrounding the Bill, I will be supporting it this evening.

In April, the European Court of Justice overturned a European Directive enabling the retention of communications data for law enforcement purposes. The consequence of this is that police in the UK will lose their ability to access the telecommunications data they need to protect the public and prevent crime. The purpose of the new Bill is to ensure that the police continue to have the same tools as they had before the ECJ judgement.

The Bill will mean that in limited circumstances, the police will be able to access details such as the time and data that message was sent as well as who it was sent to. Importantly, the Bill does not change the powers that the police have to access to the content of a message – which can still only be accessed under exceptional and rare circumstances and only once a warrant has been signed by the Home Secretary.

I believe that it is essential that the police continue to have access to this 'metadata'. It has been used in 95% of serious organised crime cases handled by the Crown Prosecution Service and every major counter-terrorism investigate over the past decade. The use of this data has also aided the police in targeting drug dealers, fraudsters and paedophiles.

A recent Europol investigation into child sexual exploitation identified 371 suspects in the UK – leading to 121 arrests thanks to the use of metadata. The same investigation identified 377 suspects in Germany yet no arrests were made because no metadata retention powers were available to the police.

I do recognise some of the concerns which have been raised surrounding privacy and therefore welcome the Prime Minister's announcement of extra safeguards on the use of these powers. Before 2016, the Government will review this and other communications intercept powers and establish a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. Additionally, the Government will restrict the number of public bodies which can ask for communications data.

Fundamentally, this Bill gives the police and security services no new powers. It will only renew the existing tools available to them while enhancing the safeguards in place to protect our privacy. If we were to stand by and do nothing, I believe this would put us at greater risk from terrorism. I am glad however, that a so called 'sunset' clause has be included to allow for an in depth review of the legislation, giving this the time it deserves.


An honest debate is needed about NHS finance

Labour scaremongering that we would end up with a US-style health care system, with people having to pay for their care, was patently false. The reality, after all the Coalition's reforms, is that patients are still seeing GPs (independent profit-making contractors to the NHS since its beginning, by the way) free of charge and being referred to their NHS hospital of choice, free at the point of use, based on need and not ability to pay. Some pundits issued dire predictions that half of those hospital beds would be privatised, likewise completely untrue.

The problem with party political myths is that they distract from truthful debate about the real challenges facing our health service.

The Commons Health Committee, which I chair, has a role to play in helping to gather the evidence that matters to people and to set it out so that they can judge for themselves. The Health Committee holds the health system to account – from the Secretary of State to the doctor's waiting room, including the army of regulators and inspectors, on behalf of patients and taxpayers. Scrutinising related health organisations is increasingly important now that so much power has been devolved to NHS England and Clinical Commissioning Groups.

Systems matter, but mostly in terms of the quality of the care they deliver, how safe and effective they are, how patients are cared for and whether they receive that care in good time.

Nothing wastes money like unsafe care and there is still unacceptable variation in the delivery of safe effective care across the NHS. In my view, it is right to focus on identifying and tackling poor practice, making it as safe to be admitted on a Saturday as on a Monday, for example.

There is also far more to do to reduce health inequality through public health and targeting help at those who need it the most as well as reducing demand through prevention of ill health.

Of course, there are also questions to be asked about whether the increased transactional costs from marketisation have genuinely improved choice and efficiency. Did we get more bang for our buck alongside better care because of the reorganisation, or was that outweighed by disruptive fragmentation? Many aspects of the NHS are improving; greater openness and improving patient safety, for example, alongside better attention to evidence and outcomes.

Overall, the NHS has coped remarkably well with the financial challenges it has faced and despite those pressures has just topped an international league table produced by the Commonwealth Fund. Staff from across the service accepted a pay freeze and an ongoing pay restraint in order to help to protect services for their patients. They should be congratulated and it is important that morale is not undermined by a drip drip of negativity. Most people experience good care delivered by compassionate and professional clinicians, but when workloads

become overwhelming it gets far harder to maintain high standards. It is easy to see why staff can feel unfairly berated for problems, which may have been created by unrealistic workloads.

2015 will be a crunch year for NHS finances and NHS England should set out what can be achieved at different funding levels alongside their plans for dividing and allocating the financial cake.

If there is not an overall increase, it is hard to see how we could maintain current levels of service, given the rising demand from an ageing population living with multiple long-term conditions. The NHS budget has been protected in line with background inflation but that does not keep pace with inflation in health costs.

Now the pay freeze has come to an end that funding gap is set to widen, even with ongoing efficiencies. The choice is stark, and it would help for the implications of different funding levels to be set out by NHS England. I don't want to see any reduction in services, I would like to see further improvements and yes, that will require an increase in funding.

The question is will that be affordable and if not, what would politicians cut elsewhere to fund it? We need an honest debate about that.


A Principled Stand

The appointment of Mr Juncker as President of the EU Commission has put a committed federalist at the head of this powerful body. David Cameron was right to oppose this, recognising the view, clearly expressed in the recent European Elections, that we do not want to be part of a United States of Europe. There were also important arguments about the way that the European Parliament dictated that Juncker was, in effect, the only candidate.

Far from being weakened by his principled stand, David Cameron has secured important concessions and these have been outlined in the mandate to the Commission for the next 5 years.

There is an instruction to focus its efforts on building stronger economies and creating jobs.

Importantly, the principle is set out that the EU should only act where it makes a real difference. Where it doesn't, it should be left to nation-states to decide for themselves with a greater role for

national parliaments.

It also mandates the Commission to address the abuse of freedom of movement by those who move to claim benefits, rather than to work.

All the Heads of Government have agreed that they will address Britain's concerns about the EU and perhaps most importantly there is an explicit statement that ever closer union allows for different paths of integration for different countries and respects the wish of those who do not want deeper integration.

I am all for two speeds to 'ever greater union'. In our case that should mean firmly applying the brakes and coming to a stop until the British people have the opportunity to vote in an in-out referendum. To do so in advance of the promise to address our concerns would however, waste the opportunity to see how a reformed Europe might look.

If there are no meaningful changes to allow greater powers for national governments, to allow greater control over immigration or flexibility for business then, given a referendum in 2017, I would vote to leave. If however, we can negotiate a place within a reformed EU that genuinely allows us greater independence whilst retaining the benefits of unrestricted access to a European free trade area, then it would be in all our interests for Britain to stay.


European Election.

It is now just one year until the next general election but in the meantime we face a vitally important European vote. The UKIP balloon continues to be inflated by the relentless 'celebrity' focus solely on Nigel Farage and corresponding reluctance to turn the spotlight on his own performance and that of his MEPs in the European Parliament. It's a miserable record on both attendance and, where it really counts, fighting our corner in Europe.

In contrast, Conservative MEPs turn up and engage with the issues that matter, like cutting the EU budget (opposed by UKIP) keeping Britain out of EU bailouts and crucially exempting small businesses from new EU regulations. Conservative MEPs have helped to secure vital reforms to the Common Fisheries Policy and led the campaign to ensure the safety of patients by insisting that we should be able to assess the language skills of EU health professionals.

The Conservative message is very straightforward, we are the only Party committed and able to deliver an in-out referendum but in the meantime whilst we remain in the EU we need to be involved and fighting for Britain's interests. We have terrific candidates, two of whom, Julie Girling and Ashley Fox have great track records and experience of fighting on behalf of the South West. This will also be an opportunity to vote for James Cracknell who wants to bring the same determination and grit to our task in Europe as he did to becoming an Olympic gold medallist. Georgina Butler comes from Torquay and, after attending a local state school, went on to serve our country as a diplomat. She has the skills and experience to make a real difference on our behalf alongside our two other women candidates for the South West.

The European Elections decide on the people who will influence a vast number of the laws and regulations that affect our everyday lives in South Devon. That requires commitment and constructive engagement alongside an unbreakable promise to give you the final say in a referendum by the end of 2017 following a renegotiation.

In my view this election is far too important for a negative protest vote.

Childhood Obesity

Almost one in five children are obese before they leave primary school. 85% will go on to become obese as adults with increased risks of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Do you feel that we should do more to help them?

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A Short Life: Devon based Charity Auction raising money for Little Bridge House Children's Hospice

A Short Life was set up by Jon Rowe, who recently lost his 11 year old sister to the disease Mucopolysaccharide (MPS).  Click here to find out more about the charity auction that Jon is organising to raise money for the MPS Society and Little Bridge House Children's Hospice.