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Friday, 25 July 2014

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MP on the key to Copeland's economic future

Copeland's hopes for a stronger economic future must include nuclear new-build, says the borough’s MP Jamie Reed.

Mr Reed told a public meeting in Whitehaven on Friday night that failing to back nuclear new-build, including the potential major waste disposal facility, would “seal the area’s fate”.

The Labour MP called the meeting to discuss austerity and Copeland’s future in the light of the government cuts, in which Copeland Council must save £2.6million by 2015.

He told those gathered in the Civic Hall: “We are in a critical time in the history of our area, and the cuts will results in massive changes, but we have the chance to shapes these changes."

After discussing the situation Copeland finds itself in, Mr Reed told the audience how the area can have a bright future.

“We are at a fork in the road and failure to act now will seal our fate," he said, "and the choices we make need to include three new nuclear reactors (on land just north of Sellafield at Moorside), a new Mox facility at Sellafield, and an underground repository.

“The jobs and community benefits these development will create are key to our future.”

Copeland, Allerdale and Cumbria County Councils will decide on January 30 whether to proceed to the next stage of the process to explore hosting an underground facility in the area.

“This is the biggest decision they will ever have to make – and it would be a disaster if they vote not to proceed. It would be the single greatest betrayal of our community.”

Amid speculation that Cumbria County Council is minded to vote against proceeding to the next stage, Mr Reed was asked by audience member STEPHEN HARALDSEN if Copeland Council could act alone, if the county council opts out. He replied that it is a “genuine possibility” but wouldn't be drawn any further.

The meeting also heard concern from residents about the possible closure of facilities by Copeland Council to make the necessary savings, including the Civic Hall and The Beacon.

Fourteen-year-old HEATHER DEMPSEY said: “Whitehaven’s history and the facilities bring people into town – but there’s nothing for young people and they don’t want to stay here.”

STUART ARMSTRONG added concern about the lack of sporting facilities for local talent.

Mr Reed responded: “Cultural and sporting opportunities come as a result of a thriving economy, and we need to get that first.

“We desperately need to change attitudes towards education and boost opportunities for people, to give skilled and educated young people a reason to stay here.

“But there are good things happening here; Albion Square in Whitehaven, the new West Cumberland Hospital, the new Cleator Moor health centre – and there will be some good news coming from Sellafield in the next few weeks.”

In response to a question from MARK JENKINSON, Mr Reed said that he would welcome one West Cumbrian authority bringing shared services between councils.

“A unitary authority was proposed but fell as a unanimous policy could not be found on the nuclear issue.

“Now, with councils’ roles being reduced, there is a lot to be said for sharing chief executives, officers and back office functions.”

A number of audience members spoke of an over-reliance locally on the nuclear industry.

LES HANLEY, a director of Britain’s Energy Coast Business Cluster, said: “There is a need for diversification – to remove the dependency on the nuclear industry.”

JUDITH WILDWOOD spoke strongly against the industry, raising safety concerns and adding that tourism is being hampered by nuclear’s presence in West Cumbria; claims with which Mr Reed disagreed.

While ANDREW MATTHEWS raised concerns on behalf of local disabled people if the Civic Hall, where a number of social events take place, was to close.

Mr Reed admitted that there would have been cuts if Labour was in power, but added: “They would not have been as swift or severe.”

He urged everyone with concerns to respond formally to Copeland Council on the cuts proposals – only a small number of people have done so far – and concluded: “Austerity will not beat us. Our best days are ahead of us – if we want them.”

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