Visit by Secretary of State Chris Grayling MP & Suffolk 2050

Here is my article I wrote for this weeks’ EADT and Ipswich Star yesterday.

Last Friday, Councillor Paul West, Suffolk County Council Cabinet Member for Ipswich, and I welcomed the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling MP, to Ipswich for a visit to talk about the infrastructure that is needed in and around the town over the coming years.  We started by driving him across town to see the impact the Upper Orwell Crossing will have. Only polite as the government is committed to providing some £77.546 million towards its cost, with the balance being provided by the County Council. We looked at the design and the landing points, which will change the traffic flows around Ipswich. They will also unlock a significant section of redevelopment land to house world class tech and manufacturing companies, which bring the kind of high value jobs we all want to see more of in our County.

After a whistle-stop tour, we visited the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce. We met with local business leaders to talk about the challenges they face doing business in Ipswich, as well as senior representatives from the ports of Ipswich and Felixstowe who spoke of the challenges they face over the next few years. Conversations centred on the A14, including when the Copdock Interchange is going to be upgraded. The number of times the Orwell Bridge seems to be shut by Highways England, far more frequently than previously and far more than we would all want, was also a pressing issue. We talked about the need to improve the rail links to the West Midlands for the Port of Felixstowe. We pressed the Secretary of State on when the funding might be provided to undertake rail improvement here in Suffolk, and how soon the Ely North junction might be started and completed. This is vital to increase rail capacity on the line from Felixstowe.  What struck me in those conversations was the drive and determination from business leaders to grow their businesses here in Suffolk and to work with the County Council to lobby Government for the funding we need to unlock Suffolk and Ipswich’s potential.

We also discussed the Northern Relief Road and the business case that is being worked up after the Suffolk Public Sector Leaders approved funding.  I promised to have that report on the Secretary of State’s desk by the end of the year, to demonstrate why we need it and to lobby him for funding to enable it to be built. The business case can’t simply be about a new road cutting through the countryside north of Ipswich; nor can it just be about preventing the A14 and its main junctions increasingly grinding to a holt.  It has to be about the future of Ipswich and unlocking growth both in terms of new jobs and new homes.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Suffolk A14 Gateway strategy. A key component of that is to highlight to Government our infrastructure needs and the need for funding.  Importantly, we want to do this in a planned and strategic way – setting out, through strategies such as the Suffolk A14 Gateway, how we intend to grow and develop Suffolk over the next 30 years or so to Suffolk 2050.  Over the next year we will be bringing together the different public sector partners, our health partners, businesses groups, key business leaders, and residents to work on this long-term vision for Suffolk. This year’s growth conference will be about launching the Suffolk A14 Gateway. Next year’s conference will be about launching Suffolk 2050 and going back to the Secretary of State for Transport with our plans. We will remind him of his visit to our county and the commitment we made to lobby him for infrastructure funding that supports our plans for growth to 2050.

Rising to the challenge of Brexit – Suffolk A14 Gateway strategy

fullsizeoutput_216fEADT-image1EST

Whether you believe in Brexit or not, it’s coming and creates opportunities and challenges for local government and businesses. Last year, I hosted the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox MP, here in Suffolk. We visited Andy Drummond, Managing Director of Lettergold Plastics, which is a family-run business in Newmarket. Andy gave Mr. Fox a tour of the factory and then we sat and discussed exporting. Liam Fox spoke about the number of UK companies that actually export – some 11%. His department have identified a further 23% of UK companies that match the profile of the 11% that currently export.  Liam went on to say that, if the 23% exported to the same extent as the current 11%, we would have a positive balance of payment.  At the County Council this has got us thinking about what we can do to help UK business, and Suffolk in particular, as we Brexit.

We are a unique county. It’s a lovely place to live, but we must also provide high value jobs for residents, so that they can enjoy our wonderful countryside and all that Suffolk has to offer. At one end of the county, we have the economic powerhouse that is the Cambridge sub-region. Huge investment coming over the next few years will open up the rail and road links between Oxford and Cambridge and beyond, making the Midlands easier to access. At the other end we have the Port of Felixstowe, linked by the A14 and rail links – both of which need investment to increase capacity and address problems such as high winds shutting the Orwell Bridge. We also have world class companies, some of which export and trade around the world, and lots that just do not. So, this has got me thinking about what we can do here in Suffolk to meet the challenges that face us.

I have often said that local government are regulators of business, with such things as the granting of planning permissions. We also try to be facilitators of business with the creation of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and the support it offers. Recently, the Government announced that, going forward, the support grant to Local Government is to end. If, in future years, our success is to be based on the business rates generated by our Suffolk businesses, then we must become champions of business. The additional business rates collected will also bolster what we can spend on the most vulnerable members of our communities.

There are many ways we can boost business. One of them is a new strategy called the Suffolk Growth Gateway, which we are consulting on. It will bring together Suffolk businesses and provide them with support to grow, expand new industrial areas, and attract inward investment from other UK companies who will be able to take advantage of our unique proximity to the Port of Felixstowe to export quickly and cheaply.

Other than physical infrastructure, we want to create additional business networking support, so businesses have the confidence to access overseas markets. Those thinking about exporting can talk to those in Suffolk who already do. So, we are working with the NALEP and the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, as well as the DTI, to strengthen these networks. The final part of this initial work will be to build on the strong links we have with China, and Hong Kong in particular, to help Suffolk-based companies access this vast market.

We will be starting with a conference in June and I look forward to talking about that in a future column.

 

Close of the School Travel Consultation tonight!

 

Dealine Clock

Heres the article I wrote for the EADT Times yesterday encouraging everyone to make their final submission:

Tomorrow evening, one of the most high-profile public consultations Suffolk County Council has run for many years will close. Over 3,600 responses received so far, 11 public events attended by over 150 people, a petition, tens of thousands of people reached via social media and weekly headlines in Suffolk’s local and regional media.

I am, of course, talking about home to school transport.

The first thing I’d like to say is thank you. Thank you to the thousands of people who have taken time out of their busy lives to be part in this very important piece of work. I’m very clear that I want Suffolk County Council to be a listening authority, but that is only possible when people come forward and share their views.

When we launched the consultation in December, we called on people to coming together to help find a long-term solution to providing affordable home to school transport in Suffolk. We also pledged to listen to people who give their views and give them an opportunity to influence the final outcome.

Let’s just say we’ve had a varied experience. We’ve had some really constructive conversations with people who’ve understood the financial challenges we’re facing and sought to suggest new and creative ways of overcoming them. We’ve also faced outright opposition to any change whatsoever, regardless of the financial implications of doing nothing. Perhaps most worryingly of all, we’ve heard from people who were led to believe that we were cutting home to school transport altogether. No, we’re not! I shudder to think where these inaccurate perceptions came from.

When you put all of this together with the research and discussions we had with headteachers prior to launching the consultation, I’m confident that we’ve created enough opportunities for people to influence the tough decisions we will have to make in the coming months.

This is such an emotive issue, I really get that. This service is hugely valued by many parents, especially those living in rural parts of Suffolk. It potentially means having to pay for their child or children to get to and from school when before the council paid for it – so where is the money going to come from? That’s exactly the same question we’re having to ask. In Suffolk, £21 million of taxpayers’ money is spent each year getting children to and from school. We’ve already introduced a number of efficiency changes to the service – saving around £2.6 million – but this enormous annual bill keeps going up and up. With that happening, and Suffolk providing more than is legally required and more than is available elsewhere in the country, we have to look at the policy. We have to ask what are we going to do to make this service more affordable and capable of meeting growing demand in the future. That’s why we launched this consultation.

Once the consultation is closed, Suffolk County Council officers will be working through the enormous amount of information we have received in order make a final recommendation to Cabinet in June this year. I don’t want people to underestimate the scale of that piece of work, nor the commitment from my officers to read and consider very carefully every piece of information we have received.

What that final recommendation will look like isn’t yet known, but three things are clear. It will be influenced by this consultation. It will be very carefully thought through. And it will make sure Suffolk can afford to provide a home to school transport service for years to come.

Have your say

www.suffolk.gov.uk/schooltravel

schooltravel@suffolk.gov.uk

0345 603 1842

 

 

 

Major new investment in Suffolk’s roads

 

Here’s my column published in the EADT and Ipswich Star last Tuesday:

Yesterday, Suffolk County Council announced plans to further invest into the upkeep of our county’s roads.

While not yet approved, the money we are proposing to invest, a significant sum of £21million, will go some way to improving the condition of our roads in Suffolk.

This is not to say the overall condition of said roads are bad – there will be a perception if someone continuously drives along a road which isn’t in the best condition for a period of time – and we have been told the roads in our county are better than many others.

One of the reasons we were invited to host an entire stage of last year’s Tour of Britain was because the organisers were so impressed with the condition of Suffolk’s road network.

However, we also know the roads aren’t perfect, so we will be using this money to reduce the deterioration of the highway, meaning we can save money on repairing damaged roads – which costs us, and the taxpayer, more money.

This is an indication of us listening to those we are held accountable by – at every ‘we are listening’ event I hosted across Suffolk last year, the most questions we were asked about related to highways. How can we improve their roads, fix the pothole on their route into work, improve the road markings?

These questions were not exclusive to any one town I visited and I am regularly questioned about the roads by the public as well on both Twitter and Facebook. This is us answering those questions and taking action.

This money will be used across the county, for the benefit of Suffolk people and local businesses. It won’t be spent only on one town or repairing every single defect. Nor will it make the roads pristine forever more.

Instead, it will be used to restore roads and infrastructure where deemed most necessary by skilled officers assessing our roads.

And this funding will go a long way as well – enabling us to resurface 1,000 miles of roads by March 2021 – a quarter of the roads we are responsible for.

This is a big investment – and I would like to think it will go a long way to improving the experiences of all of our road users, both travelling within and through our county.

It shows we are a ‘listening council’ too – the people wanted roads improved, so we are planning for it.

And while we have not yet got this funding approved at our Cabinet and Full Council meetings, we are already beginning to plan and prepare for the upcoming financial year so we can start work straight away.

Nowhere has yet been indicated as a road that we’ll be resurfacing. This will be based on how busy the road is, the condition of the road, among other factors. We will be planning this carefully as well, in order to reduce the impact on those using the roads.

But when and where there is work, it is likely there will be some delays while it takes place, or a diversion route. While these can be frustrating, they are needed. Our workers deserve to be safe.

If approved, the first works are likely to begin in the summer, making the most of the warmer summer weather – which is when surface dressing needs to take place.

In the coming weeks and months our officers will be working hard to assess what locations need resurfacing soonest – and I look forward to sharing news of these as and when they are announced.

I look forward to these defect-free, resurfaced roads being of use to all of us in the future.

Two Suffolk towns, two new Bridges

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Just before Christmas I attended the latest Task Force meetings in Lowestoft for the 3rd Crossing over Lake Lothing to hear the results of the recent public consultation and I am delighted that 96% of those who responded were very in favour of the project. The work now progresses towards a Public Planning Enquiry which will start in July.

In Ipswich, Structural and environmental Ground investigations for the Upper Orwell Crossings are about to take place to finalise the detailed design. These ground investigation works, which could last up to three months are scheduled to begin on 15 January 2018. Contractors will dig trial holes and deep boreholes both on land and in the water. The works will determine the underlying properties of the ground and river bed.  Geotechnical Engineers will analyse the information and use it to design the foundations on which the three bridges will sit.

Once designed the next stage will be a similar Public engagement exercise ahead of a Public Planning Enquiry, just as in Lowestoft.

Both are massive investments and there are exciting times ahead for both projects and the towns. The funding for these projects were hard fought for and won, in doing so the government recognised the need for these two schemes over other bids for funding.  There are some who seem to think the complex bidding process is like a sort of ‘pick and mix’ and we could, at this stage, put the money somewhere else.  Let’s be clear if a scheme did not come forward, and I am convinced both of these should, the Government would switch the funding to the next scheme in the bidding round or simply withdraw the funding, not something different in Suffolk.  So, let’s get behind these projects and see them delivered.  In Lowestoft, everyone is behind the investment as they should be to justify such a massive investment by the Government and SCC, we need to same in Ipswich.

There are many other vital infrastructure projects, such as the Northern Relief Road for Ipswich which I am leading on for Suffolk County Council and we are funding the initial feasibility work to progress that.

My Column in the papers & a new road

fullsizeoutput_1c1cHere is this week’s column for the East Anglian Daily Times and the Ipswich Star:

Yesterday I joined councillors, staff and partners who have helped deliver a vital relief road to the east of Bury St Edmunds.

The Eastern Relief Road is a long-time in the making, with Suffolk County Council investing £2million into the £15million project, which was also funded by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and St Edmundsbury Borough Council.

A huge amount of work went into the delivery of this project. From putting a strong business case forward to laying tarmac on the ground, this showed what partnership working can do.

Although the route is only a mile or so long, a 67-hectare area of land will be unlocked for economic development, creating 15,000 jobs and boosting the area by millions of pounds. It will also relieve congestion in Bury St Edmunds and in light of that, we’ve improved junction 45 of the A14.

Without these benefits, we would not have been able to get this road built.

Now the road is open, business development should begin to increase in the area. From the road, you are within an hour from the internationally-significant Port of Felixstowe. This is a prime area of land that hasn’t been able to be used before and I’m positive manufacturers will want to be based in Suffolk, with the benefits it brings.

Bury St Edmunds will see a boost too, as the creation of jobs will mean more people can work in their home town – reducing a need to commute out of Suffolk. More people will be using the town’s shops, bars, and restaurants as well.

This road shows how we and our partners can work for you to deliver a sustainable future for the people of Suffolk.

There’s further good partnership working in Bury St Edmunds, for the benefit of all road users – the schemes in the town centre we’re carrying out to improve the movement of traffic through the town and the safety of all road users.

Work has also begun on the Beccles Southern Relief Road. Costing £7million, this is further evidence of how we can improve things for people – with better journey times for all road users and an economic boost to the business owners in that area.

While on the topic of partnership working and delivering new routes for those using our roads, we’ve extended the consultation for Lowestoft’s Lake Lothing Third Crossing, with an additional event at Pakefield Church Hall on October 5. So far we’ve had a great response to the consultation and we want to ensure everyone has their say on this significant project.

Work is continuing on delivering the Upper Orwell Crossings in Ipswich and as part of a differing set of works in the town, we’ll begin working on the first junction improvement scheme, at Landseer Road and Clapgate Lane.

We’re currently consulting on proposals for Suffolk’s Energy Gateway in the east of the county, and we continue to study the possibility of a relief road to the north of Ipswich, as well as one in Sudbury.

All of the above wouldn’t be where they are without the combined working of us and our partners, to deliver the best we can provide for our county. And it doesn’t just count for our roads, we work with our partners in Clinical Commissioning Groups and the NHS with regards to caring for our most vulnerable.

As you will have seen in the news this past week, party conference season is upon us. Journalists are basing themselves in and around the bases of each major party, trying to find out what they can before the announcements are made on stage to the nation’s media.

The Liberal Democrats have held theirs, in Bournemouth, and Labour are currently hosting theirs in Brighton.

The Conservative’s annual conference starts on Sunday and I will be going to Manchester to represent Suffolk, discussing how we can play a bigger role in the national picture. I’ll be reporting back in my next column about my role and how the conference went.

We’re doing the best we can for the people of Suffolk – and our partners are doing so too.

 

 

Commitment to the Upper Orwell Crossings in Ipswich

Upper Orwell CrossingOn 8th June, Sandy Martin, the Leader of Labour opposition on Suffolk County Council was elected as Ipswich’s MP.  Ipswich has always been a bell-weather seat and given the extraordinary General Election he just pipped the hard-working Ben Gummer ‘at the post’.  During the campaign and subsequently as MP one of the first things he did was declare his dislike for the Upper Orwell Crossings (UOC) in favour of a Northern Relief Road which I think was a shock to the business community and other Ipswich partners on the Ipswich Vision Board, who are entirely behind the regeneration project to open up derelict / low value land in the heart of Ipswich’s waterfront and bring with it the sort of new high worth tech jobs the town so badly needs.  Instead Mr. Martin said the money should be ‘switched’ toward the Northern Relief Road, a project the County Council entirely supports but as the next mayor infrastructure project, but not instead of the UOC.  This change of direction must have also stunned his colleague David Ellesmere who as Leader of the Borough Council and member of the Ipswich Vision Board, has been supportive of the scheme since its inception.

However, there is a fundamental problem with the stance of the new MP as Government funding for the UOC is not geography based it is project based so it’s not some sort of ‘pick and mix’, that can be switched. The funding of the UOC and the Third River Crossing in Lowestoft comes from a funding pot called Local Majors and across the country Highways Authorities such as SCC had to make extensive, detailed and through business cases to bid for funding.  Fortunately, given the chronic congestion issues in Lowestoft holding back business growth and the massive economic benefits to Ipswich the UOC brings, both won through.  Should the new MP succeed in getting the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department of Transport to look again, the most he could achieve would be that the scheme could be dropped and the next scheme that it beat in the funding round, would have a windfall.  This would be an absolute tragedy for Ipswich’s economic future.  Tomorrow there is a meeting of the UOC Task Force which I now Chair and like other members we all hope Mr. Martin can attend so he can understand how the funding works and the importance of the UOC to the future of Ipswich.

I have heard criticism from some that Mr. Martin was keep in the dark on the project and so is hardly surprising he wants to look again at the project, this is utter nonsense.  Mr. Martin is not new to Ipswich or the project.  He has been the Leader of the Opposition on the County Council for the past 8 years.  All the papers and reports on the project are a matter of public record, they are as is the way of these things slightly complex but as an experienced Councillor Mr. Martin was/is better able than most to read the hundreds of pages on the project, I have. Every document is listed at

https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/UpperOrwellCrossings

Equally virtually no one was better placed to understand the project than Mr. Martin, as Leader of the Opposition, he or his team was present at the very meetings where we took the decisions to commit funding and had every opportunity to ask questions and seek further information.

We all agree for Ipswich to grow it needs a Northern Relief road to help easy traffic over the Orwell bridge and in the north of Ipswich but also to allow housing growth.  However, the economic growth that the UOC and the regeneration of the waterfront with new Hi-Tec companies and high worth jobs, comes first.

So as part of our campaign to stress, my and SCC commitment to this vital infrastructure project I have written to the DCLG Secretary of State Sajid Javid MP and the same to Chris Grayling MP the SoS for Transport to re-confirm Suffolk County Council’s commitment to the Upper Orwell Crossing and to exploring a Northern Relief Road Route for Ipswich.

‘Dear Sajid,

I am writing to confirm and emphasise the very strong support for the Upper Orwell Crossings from Suffolk County Council and our partners locally and nationally.

Upper Orwell Crossings

The County Council with its partners is driving forward the delivery of these bridges which will link the east and west banks of the River Orwell, providing a long needed new route for cross-town traffic, and access to the port’s island site – opening this newly created Enterprise Zone site to development. This £96.7 million investment into Ipswich will have a transformative impact on Ipswich’s economy and signals our ambitions for the town.

A compelling outline business case for this project resulted in the announcement, in the March 2016 Budget, of £77.546 million funding from the Department for Transport.  The local financial contribution of £19.1 million – is confirmed and available. Following a hotly contested international Architectural Team competition, we have recently appointed Foster and Partners as the architects for the bridges.  In addition to ongoing stakeholder engagement and scheme design and development, we have completed extensive environmental surveys and a local consultation.

The Upper Orwell Crossings has a Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) of 4.01 and has therefore been categorised as being a very high Value for Money scheme; with around £300 million of Transport Benefits and £6.5 billion of wider economic benefits.

Delivery of the Upper Orwell Crossings is one of the 21 Commitments made by the Ipswich Vision Board. Ipswich Vision is a partnership of local authorities, New Anglia LEP, Chamber of Commerce, University of Suffolk, Ipswich Central – the Business Improvement District and the local MP. It was established in 2015 to develop and publish a blueprint for the development of Ipswich and increase investment in the town, with clear commitments, including developing the waterfront as a high tech, innovation and learning quarter. The Vision Board is a sub-committee of New Anglia LEP, chaired by Mark Pendlington, chairman of New Anglia LEP. The partnership working which has been achieved through the Vision Board is ground breaking for Ipswich.

Part of the Island site to be opened by the bridges will house incubation units for fledgling start-ups and provide a link between academia and the major digital employers already located in Ipswich (such as British Telecom, Intel, Cisco Systems, Nokia and Huawei Technologies). Ipswich has a cluster of ICT businesses, recognised in the Tech Nation Report 2017. The investment in the Upper Orwell Crossings will significantly develop the opportunities for high tech companies to locate and grow in Ipswich, within a new high-technology hub linked to the University of Suffolk.

The Island Site and surrounding regeneration area is a 10 minute walk from Ipswich Railway Station which has fast and frequent Mainline service into the heart of London’s financial centre and high tech cluster in Farringdon.

The Upper Orwell Crossings will enable improvements to connectivity and the public realm within Ipswich and will be a transformative catalyst to the regeneration of the area. Their delivery will facilitate high density employment and residential development, and enable the creation of a quality urban realm which will attract both developers to develop and people and businesses to invest. The elements needed for the realisation of this exciting opportunity, to create a high tech knowledge cluster in an attractive location, to improve connectivity and the public realm are now in place, and I strongly believe should not be jeopardised.

Ipswich Northern Relief Road

The County Council and its partners are committed to developing a scheme to improve road capacity in the north of the town. This is to support significant housing development in the wider Ipswich area. The development of this scheme cannot be seen as being an alternative to the Upper Orwell Crossings. The latter is focussed on economic regeneration and improving the quality of the environment between the town centre and waterfront, with some transport benefits arising from relieving some traffic on the A14 and the central area, whereas a Northern Relief Road would enable the delivery of a substantial number of new homes to meet the needs of our residents.

All of the Suffolk Local Authorities have been working together to establish how we can deliver significantly increased housing numbers. In part, this work was started as a result of our devolution discussions with government, during which we committed to delivering around 95,000 new homes across Suffolk. Ipswich has a very great role in delivering a significant proportion of that growth as the county town and driver for growth in Suffolk. But in order to deliver this level of housing growth, we need to ensure that the required infrastructure is provided.

We have just concluded a significant piece of consultancy work to understand the future for planning and infrastructure in Suffolk. This concludes that the delivery of an Ipswich Northern Relief Road, located to the north of Ipswich between the A14 in the west and A12 in the east, will be necessary to support the growth of the Ipswich area beyond levels set out in current local plans. Failure to provide the Ipswich Northern Relief Road is expected to have significant implications for the surrounding strategic and local highway network (i.e. A14, A12, B1078 and Ipswich Radial Corridors), and the long term economic performance of Ipswich, and the opportunities available to its residents.

Furthermore, the growth planned in current local plans is forecast to be at the limit of what can be accommodated by existing road infrastructure. Therefore, to ensure infrastructure is provided to support development, Suffolk Public Sector Leaders have dedicated funding from their pooled Business Rates to begin developing a scheme to deliver the Northern Relief Road in Ipswich.

In conclusion

The Upper Orwell Crossings will transform the economy of Ipswich and Suffolk. The project will deliver high quality urban realm improvements, create better connectivity across the town, provide benefits for the A14 and enable the growth of the Ipswich Waterfront area as a location for high tech companies and high quality residential development. Work to deliver these bridges is underway and should not be jeopardised.

We are beginning to develop a scheme for a Northern Relief Road for Ipswich using pooled Business Rates. A Northern Relief Road will be necessary to support housing growth beyond what is contained in current local plans and we ask government to support the development and delivery of this road to enable Suffolk’s ambitious housing delivery plans.

It is not a case of either the Upper Orwell Crossings or a Northern Relief Road – Ipswich needs both if it is to grow and realise the ambitions we and our partners have for it.

Councillor Colin Noble

Leader of Suffolk County Council

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