Big Issue: Mark Harper on why the future of the Forest of Dean is bright
THE Forest of Dean is a great place to live and work. Having lived in the Forest for the majority of my adult life, I know the pride that Foresters rightly feel when talking about their home.
Since moving to the Forest 14 years ago (which I know still makes me a relative newcomer!), and having had the privilege to be its Member of Parliament since 2005, I have been struck by the open and welcoming character of Foresters, regardless of their particular personal or political views.
The Forest strikes a delicate balance between tradition and modernity. It has the advantage of being an idyllic and historical rural location, while being within a short drive of local hubs like Bristol, Gloucester and Newport.
Foresters still hold the traditional rights of Commoners and Freeminers close to their hearts and the Freeminers' Association and the Commoners' Association both ensure that they are properly represented.
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However, the Forest is also becoming an increasingly attractive base for business.
This is one of the reasons that the area continues to have a low unemployment rate compared to the rest of the country.
Groups like the Forest Inspiration Committee show how local businesses can come together to promote mutual aims, while engaging with the wider community. On a structural front, Vantage Point Business Village at Mitcheldean is a great example of how, by working together, businesses can overcome infrastructure barriers and thrive in rural communities, with its facilities on par with those you would find in most city business parks.
Forest businesses thrive on the national stage – last year I met Neill Ricketts of Versarien, a local high-tech start-up, at our party conference where he also had the opportunity to met the prime minister.
His business has grown strongly over the last year.
The future looks bright. Through the work of the local communities, in co-ordination with Forest of Dean District Council, our market towns are laying out plans for the years ahead.
Through the district council's Area Action Plan, and the work of the Cinderford Regeneration Board, the redevelopment of Cinderford is progressing well, with the groundwork being laid for a promising future.
Other communities across the Forest, including Lydney and West Dean, are looking at how they want their local areas to develop over the years to come, now having a real say due to the new Neighbourhood Plans introduced by this Government.
At the moment, times are tough – there is no denying that.
But with all that the Forest has to offer, the future is full of potential – which I and everyone in the Forest will be keen to take full advantage of.