The Debate in the House of Commons on the Queen’s Speech provided me with an opportunity to outline the needs of the Waveney economy.
The Cities and Local Devolution Bill contains the Government’s proposals for devolving responsibilities to local regions and in particular focuses on the plans for a Northern Powerhouse centred on the major cities in the north of England. The idea of running everything from London has failed and thus I support these plans in principle. However it is important that counties such as Suffolk and Norfolk have the same opportunities as cities and metropolitan areas and we must build an East Anglian Powerhouse.
A lack of infrastructure has held back our area for too long. Funding has been secured for various schemes and we now need to get these built. 85% of Suffolk properties will have access to superfast broadband by the end of this year. This must be made available to all properties as soon as practically possible. £300 million was provided in last December’s Autumn Statement for upgrading and extending the A47 to Lowestoft. At present it is envisaged that the preparatory work before any construction work actually starts will take five years. This is not acceptable and this process must be speeded up.
Lowestoft has been in need of a third crossing since the 1930s and thus the £2 million that has been provided for the in depth study that the Prime Minister requires to be completed by next March is welcome. Locally we will now carry out this work and then work with Government to get the crossing built. .
I also focussed on three industries important to Lowestoft. The oil and gas sector is at present facing significant challenges brought into sharp focus by the fall in crude oil prices and as illustrated by the closure of AKD. The proposal in the Energy Bill to establish the Oil and Gas Authority is good news as the regulatory system has changed little in the past forty years. In the southern North Sea we must make full use of the remaining gas reserves. This is not only important for the East Anglian economy, but also for the nation’s energy security.
The offshore wind industry provides Lowestoft with a significant opportunity to attract new jobs. It is good news that both East Anglia Offshore Wind and Galloper are now pressing ahead with their plans to build large wind farms off the East Anglian coast and I am working with them, local businesses and training providers such as Lowestoft College to make the most of this.
Reforms have taken place that give the fishing industry the opportunity of a viable future, but for this to happen the quota system needs to be reformed, so that smaller boats, such as those fishing out of Lowestoft, are able to catch a realistic amount of fish in order to run viable businesses. A lot of vested interests will strongly resist such change, but it is vital that we do not let this get in the way of a reallocation of quota, which is vital, not just for Lowestoft, but for coastal communities around the UK.
There is a lot of work to do, but if we can make meaningful progress on these fronts in the next five years then Lowestoft will benefit significantly.