Thank you for calling me to speak, Ms Ryan. I congratulate my hon. Friend Amanda Milling on securing this debate. I know that the impact of this issue on her constituency has troubled her extremely over the past few months, and that it has been at the forefront of her mind.
I represent the south of the country, but I know what my hon. Friend is feeling. In Rochester and Strood, we had two power stations that closed: our oil-fired power station on the Isle of Grain in 2012, and the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station in 2013. Luckily for the Rochester and Strood constituency, we have been able to maintain the energy industry in that part of my constituency with gas-fired power stations. Obviously, that has been some solace to people who were able to transfer to the gas-fired industry. I support all my hon. Friends here who are encouraging us to look at the new energy markets for biomass and more gas. It is absolutely right that we look at how the old coal-fired power station sites can regenerate the new energy industry.
There has been discussion around the cooling towers and how they look to my hon. Friends’ constituents. We are waiting with bated breath in Rochester and Strood for the Grain chimney to be demolished at some point in the future, and I have been told by my hon. Friend Rebecca Harris, whose constituency is on the other side of the river, that people in Essex will be sad to see the chimney go. As a keen yachtsman, I know the chimney of Grain is often used as a navigation mark; we all know that we are not far from the Medway when we see the old chimney of the Isle of Grain.
In my constituency, the people who have worked in the power stations for a long time feel passionate about the energy industry and the skills that they have, which they want to keep up. It is absolutely right that we should be able to keep those skills and utilise them. We need to do whatever we can to encourage the decommissioned sites to change, but to stick with energy.
I am pleased my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase highlighted the planning process and the need to make sure it is easy for decommissioned sites to regenerate quickly, or change the power type that they produce quickly. In my constituency—this is not a bid, I promise—I would like an Isle of Grain energy island enterprise zone for my constituents, but we will leave that for another time.
Constituencies in the south of England are not unlike those in the midlands. There are a lot of similarities that I have heard about today between the constituents in Rugeley and the issues around Rugeley power station, and the issues in my constituency of Rochester and Strood. We have been lucky in the sense that we, too, have seen a fall in unemployment over the past five years. It is absolutely right that commercial sites be used for the development of new houses, but with regard to our high-tech industries, we need to use the skills and expertise that are around, so that we do not lose them for ever. We still want to be able to create the jobs that we need in the midlands and the south around these sites.
My hon. Friend mentioned that Rugeley was strategically placed, and I can also say that about the peninsula in my constituency. We have always benefited from the energy industry because of our strategic position, and because we are able to feed into the grid and can supply energy to homes. I call on the Minister to support my hon. Friend in her calls for help in regenerating Rugeley, so that there will be a positive outcome for the constituents of Cannock Chase.