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Trans-Siberian moment at Long Rock shows we live on the edge

By West Briton  |  Posted: July 24, 2014

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I RECENTLY met Mr Cameron in Penzance. He announced measures, including re- signalling the mainline between Penzance and Totnes, which will enable Cornwall to run a half-hour shuttle by (I hope) 2020, using trains "cascaded" from upcountry electrification projects.

The shuttle will enable us to design an integrated bus/rail public transport network for Cornwall, including increasing community transport.

This will help people for whom transport is a burden (car owning is neither a right nor a pleasure for many, but rather an enforced and expensive necessity) and will ease congestion around our towns.

During his speech, the Prime Minister said: "As a veteran of the trans-Siberian railway in 1985 when there were four bunks in a cabin and all the food ran out after the first stop because the locals got on the train and took it, I'm looking forward to something that is obviously going to be of extraordinarily high quality, leaving Paddington and coming down to Penzance."

This seemingly impromptu remark may illustrate associations in Mr Cameron's mind about Cornwall being a long way away, peripheral, remote, mysteriously exotic, and populated by "locals".

However, peripherality is not simply a marketing tool – it is very much part of Cornish life, and is a key factor to take account of in managing Cornish society and sustaining community life. It affects our culture and our priorities.

Cornwall has been strengthened in its ability to manage its peripherality by the new single council. But, as we face swingeing cuts in council budgets, we must remind central government that peripheral Cornwall needs to provide more for itself than might be the case upcountry.

I suspect that the Prime Minister needs to hear the whole Cornish community speak with one voice, saying: "Don't allow the public purse to shrink so much that people, places and businesses suffer to extents that would not be tolerated closer to the centre."

Peripherality does bring opportunity as well as risk. Cornwall always is tenacious, inventive and quietly robust.

Higher education, high-speed broadband, good public transport, good and safe roads and bridges, a productive agriculture, high quality visitor experiences, competitive products and good service – we are good at this and can do well in the modern world.

But a productive and well-designed public sector is essential to make it all work.

Our excellent staff made the running in securing the "extraordinarily high quality" rail improvements – No staff? No improvements.

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