13 December 2013
Letter from Westminster

Whilst the storm surge hit a relatively small area of Lowestoft, its impact on those living and working there, including vulnerable groups such as those at the Fyffe Centre and at Levington Court, has been devastating. People have lost many of their possessions and have seen their homes ruined, whilst for businesses the clean-up costs and the loss of trading opportunities is hitting them hard. Small businesses, whose successes were highlighted last weekend on Small Business Saturday are particularly badly affected. In the short term it is vital that everything possible is done to support those who have lost out and it was with this in mind that I was pleased to support the EDP’s Norfolk and Lowestoft Flood Appeal.

The fact that the storm did not affect more people can be attributed to the way that the authorities including the Environment Agency, the Police, the Fire Service, the district and county councils and voluntary organisations such as St John’s Ambulance and the churches rose to the challenge, co-ordinated their efforts and worked around the clock to support and assist people. There are many who gave their time voluntarily without being asked to do so and special thanks is due to them.

It was ironic that the storm surge happened so soon after Waveney District Council had published, as part of the Lowestoft Transport and Infrastructure Prospectus, their proposals for providing better flood protection for Lowestoft. They have been working on these plans since 2010, carrying out a considerable amount of background research so as to arrive at a scheme that provides both the best possible protection and value for money. If these works had already been carried out then the damage that took place would have been avoided.

The proposals are predicated on the assumption that an event, which it had previously been assumed would take place once in a thousand years could occur every twenty years due to rising sea levels. The fact that the storm occurred only six years after the last one means we must now do all that we can to ensure these works are carried out as quickly as possible. I have emphasised this point to the Government, as not only would these new defences provide protection to existing homes and businesses but they are also vitally important to attract new business to the town.

The Lowestoft Transport and Infrastructure Prospectus provides the framework within which these flood defence measures and a number of other schemes will take place over the next ten to fifteen years and will help bring jobs and business to the areas. Current projects include the new bus/rail interchange at Lowestoft Station and the up-grading of the station, changes at Oulton Broad North Railway Station to reduce traffic delays and construction of Phase 5 of the Northern Spine Road which will start next year. At the same time an options appraisal will be carried out to establish a preferred option for improving access over Lake Lothing. The three options under consideration include a western crossing from the Brooke Peninsula, replacing the bascule bridge with a four-lane crossing positioned to the west of its current position and Peter Colby’s barrage proposal.

Last week the Government published the National Infrastructure Plan 2013, in which it was confirmed that the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon, which is a vital gateway to East Anglia, will be upgraded with work starting in 2016. It is not only good news that this scheme has been confirmed but also that it will not be tolled; something that the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and all the Suffolk MPs campaigned strongly against. Such investment in infrastructure is extremely important, though it can sometimes be frustrating as to how long it can take for schemes to be delivered. It is important that these timescales are reduced, so that we can put in place the projects in the Lowestoft Transport and Infrastructure Prospectus, which are vital to bringing new business to the town.