Rising to the challenge of Brexit – Suffolk A14 Gateway strategy

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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.

 

Fiveways Bypass?

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On Friday, the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling MP visited Suffolk where I met with him to talk primarily as Leader of the County Council and as Holder of the Economic Development brief, about the rail upgrades needed for the Port of Felixstowe to move more freight off the A14 and onto Rail and what increased traffic on the rail line they would mean for communities up and down the line.  More freight on the railways and we can open up the A14 route for economic growth and higher value jobs – all part of the Economic Growth Strategy for Suffolk.

I also took the opportunity to introduce my fellow Candidate Louis Busuttil for Mildenhall in 4th May elections, together we thanked him for the £400,000 to install Traffic Lights at Fiveways but stressed that this must be a stop gap to a new bypass to keep the traffic moving at this, the busiest spot in West Suffolk.  He entirely took on board what we were saying and said he has discussed this with Matt Hancock MP and was aware that Suffolk County Council, FHDC, the New Anglia LEP and our local communities have and will present a strong case to Government for the investment we need for the works.

In my role as Local Councillor and more recently as Leader of Suffolk County Council I have sat in many, many, meetings with Highways England about the dualling and the roundabout.  And have lobbied successive Transport Ministers about the importance of the investment in Fiveways and the need for that to continue. Thinking back, I have, in one form or another, been involved in the lobbying for the A11 dualling since 2005, firstly alongside the then MP Richard Spring, now Lord Risby, in that time we have seen it pushed back in favour of the Cambridge guided bus system winning £100M investment pot from the old East of England Regional Assembly.  Then we saw it scaled back from a grade separation junction, that’s a fly over to you and me, to what was eventually built and I have in that time argued and lost to see far more spending on it than was eventually achieved.  I use the roundabout just about twice a day almost every day of my life and always argued that if we could not have the grade separation then Traffic Lights would very quickly be needed.  Highways England disagreed but by working with the SCC Cabinet member for Highways and our Highways team at the County Council alongside James Waters the Leader of FHDC and Matt Hancock our MP we put pressure on Highways England to install the piping for Traffic Lights with SCC data that showed the lights would be needed far sooner than HE was predicting, glad we did as the installation will be a lot quicker and easier than if they had to dig up the roads.  The £400,000 for the next phase being Traffic lights, is a step in the right direction. But as I said to Chris Grayling it’s a ‘stop-gap’ not the long or medium term solution.

I also lobbied hard for the eventual changes in the Tuddenham cross over which again, I, like many others use almost daily.  I even arranged for the County Council to agree to pay for a speed camera to keep the speed of traffic going past the petrol station at 50 mph to give us all a safer crossing but Highways England have thus far refused.  Before, during and since the dualling of the last section to Thetford I lobbied for a grade separation at Fiveways and promised that once it was built I would lobby firstly for traffic lights which contrary to some people’s opinion are how you make sure that traffic is regulated onto a busy junction. And now lobby for the by-passing, this will take time, but with the County Council, FHDC, our MP and local community groups all pulling in the same direction we create a strong unified position to put to Ministers. And I did just that Friday, saying thank you to Chris Grayling for getting the traffic lights into the latest round of upgrades but stressing how important it was to now get a by-pass.

How important are these upgrades to Fiveways? – please take my survey.

http://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/RowHeath

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