CORNWALL: THE MIX

 


His Royal Highness The Duke of Cornwall

Sixteen years ago, at a conference in Newquay, I outlined what I thought were the challenges Cornwall needed to meet to improve the economic and social prospects for everyone in the years ahead. Firstly, it needed a unity of vision which, it seemed to me, was lacking at the time. Secondly, the business sector needed to concentrate unswervingly on quality, on adding value wherever possible and on applying a more professional approach to the marketplace. Thirdly, Cornwall’s unique attributes particularly its environment, needed to be better marketed - but not to the detriment of everything which make the county so special.

Finally, I said that the single most valuable asset which needed to be capitalised upon was the knowledge of a well-educated workforce, which properly and responsibly applied would lead inevitably to job creation and economic prosperity.

I have been enormously impressed today with the progress made with these challenges, particularly by the advances in promoting Cornish grown and processed food and drink. You will not be surprised to hear me say that I am convinced that a prosperous agricultural sector is one of the most important keys to much wider environmental, economic and social well-being. There are crucial links that are too often forgotten that bind together farming and the environment and everything that can flow from the latter, such as the economic prosperity that high quality tourism can provide. The future of our rural communities, I believe, lies in re-establishing in the public’s mind those links, and in educating people that decisions they make when buying their food does actually have a direct bearing on their own health, on the environment and, ultimately, on the well-being of society, entire families, communities and cultures. And that is one of the most difficult things to get across. I have therefore been immensely heartened to see how Objective One funding is being used to stress the importance of speciality foods of superior quality and with assurances of traceability. The emphasis on quality, rather than quantity, allows producers to operate in a more environmentally sustainable fashion and, I believe, increases financial and non-financial returns over the longer term. I am also delighted to see food producers focusing on adding value to their products and, crucially, Objective One funds are providing financial support to enable them to do so.

I have today learned of an exciting pilot project to be funded by Objective One to use more local produce in Cornwall’s hospitals. Public sector food procurement remains one of the biggest nuts to crack in terms of local sourcing but, the work of the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust in this area should become a model that I do hope others will follow. I would be delighted to see much more local sourcing of food taking place in Cornwall, particularly within the tourism sector. What better a way of highlighting the relationship between agriculture, the environment and the economy than for every tourist to eat food grown and processed in the very environment which they have come to enjoy? And we must not forget about local sourcing of wood products. The way woodlands have been managed in the last century, I believe, has not been sustainable, but now the focus is changing and I feel very strongly we should look at how purchasing policies can be linked to sustainable woodcrafts.

We all know only too well about Cornwall’s stunning natural environment, which has shaped its culture and heritage over the centuries. This and the people of Cornwall are amongst your greatest assets. The perpetual challenge is to optimise the economic opportunities these present – in a sustainable fashion. I have been pleased to see today the ways in which steps are being taken to do this.

Cornwall has also recognised that to make the best of the opportunity that the environment provides, you have to look beyond its attraction as a tourist destination. What you have is a wonderful way of life, and to market that effectively many things must come into play, from the quality of education and skills to the availability of workspace and access to new technologies, to the role of culture and the arts in defining and reinforcing Cornwall’s distinctiveness.

The marketing challenge, I believe, is for Cornwall not only to be, but to be seen to be flexible enough to respond to the opportunities presented by a changing world, without sacrificing the very foundations on which it is based.

The built environment, for example, is one area where mistakes have been made in the past. Many fine, solidly built industrial buildings were lost forever in the name of progress, and it is only recently that they have started to be valued again as icons of an industrial past which have given seed to today’s spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship.

That is why I am so encouraged to learn of projects where new uses are being found for old buildings, so that their fabric can be preserved and the harmony that I believe exists between past and future can be restored and put to new uses.

Harvey’s Foundry in Hayle, with which my Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment is involved, is one such example. There, Objective One investment is being used to create a new use for a fine example of Cornwall’s industrial heritage.

Many redundant farm buildings are also being given a new lease of life as workshops, business units, holiday accommodation and, for example riding centres, and the Duchy of Cornwall is playing its part. These enterprises are also being backed up by marketing support and business advice to help farmers, and others, to establish viable new businesses, so that they can remain in their communities. But here again, sensitivity and sympathy are vital if we are nor to ruin the integrity and attractiveness of the Cornish landscape.

My Foundation, working with local partners, has also been instrumental in shaping new development in Cornwall by promoting good design and a return to human values in architecture. St Austell Urban Village is one such example, where progress is being made with creating a mixed community with its own shops, business units and open spaces.

And so I turn to education. The Combined Universities in Cornwall project is, I believe, the most significant development in the county at present. The CUC will have a fundamental role in equipping people with the skills that they and businesses need to thrive. The new developments across Cornwall will create facilities capable of providing first class Higher Education to thousands of students. I could not be more pleased that Cornish students will increasingly be able to continue their higher education in the county, rather than, as happened in the past, elsewhere. In itself, this will keep wealth here, and provide more opportunities for local businesses.

The CUC will offer courses which will include earth, marine and environmental sciences, horticulture, business studies, tourism, design, media and information communications technology. The synergies between these courses and the needs of local business are, I think, self-evident.

In an increasingly knowledge-based company, education – particularly higher education – is the difference between poverty and prosperity. Failure to invest in people and a research base will hamper efforts to attract inward investment and sustain local industry. And without all of those things, any aspirations Cornwall may have of creating opportunities for all will probably come to very little.

To return briefly to 1987, I argued then that Cornwall required a major catalyst to bring all interested parties together to create a common determination to improve the economic and social prospects for everyone in the years ahead.

I believe that Objective One is that catalyst, and I suspect that partnerships have been forged that were unimaginable then.

But Cornwall cannot afford to rest on its laurels. Objective One presents a finite window of opportunity, with no certainty at this stage that further funding will be available after 2006. I can only say that I sincerely hope that it will be available, so that you can finish the job you have started However, whatever happens, it is imperative to the success of Cornwall’s continuing evolution that whatever you do now must be both balanced and to the highest standard and designed to last, because, as our legacy to our children, it will have a lasting social and economic impact for many years to come.