By Stephen Pullinger
, Tourism correspondent
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Protecting coast and countryside is the natural way to boost the region’s economic growth, according to a new partnership set up to ensure local authorities, conservationists and the business sector work together.
Wild Anglia, a local nature partnership (LNP) set up by Defra earlier in the year, has begun work on a strategy to ensure that the natural environment is taken into account in decision-making at all levels in Norfolk and Suffolk.
Its strong endorsement of a “green economy” comes as a leading figure in regional tourism predicts Norfolk’s unrivalled assets are set to bring further growth to its £2.6bn a year tourism economy in the years ahead.
Visit East Anglia chairman Richard Ellis last night highlighted Norfolk’s trump cards - its natural environment, weather, varied tourism offer and competitive pricing – in a speech at Norwich Castle.
Richard Powell, regional director of the National Trust and chairman of Wild Anglia, said: “Wild Anglia’s aim is to make nature stronger and more resilient across the two counties so that species and habitats will not only be conserved, but will thrive and expand.
“It is now widely accepted at the highest levels that nature and the natural capital must be invested in and robust in order that it may continue to serve our society and our local economy into the future. That is what we want to do.”
Some members of Wild Anglia met together at National Trust reserve Dunwich Cliffs recently to begin work on a manifesto that will be seen as blueprint for the rest of the UK.
Mr Powell cited Minsmere as a great example of the influence “Wild Anglia” has on the economy - more than 89,000 people visited the RSPB centre in the past financial year with many of them going on to visit and spend in other areas of the region.
He said: “We are delighted that Wild Anglia will strengthen and increase the natural wealth of Norfolk and Suffolk and to sustain nature wherever it is found.
“It will help to develop the green economy manifesto which aims to help local businesses recognise and benefit from the two counties’ natural environment.”
LNPs are seeking to bring together a diverse range of individuals, businesses and organisations at a local level to create a vision and plan of action for the natural environment.
Mr Powell said working together under the LNP umbrella would achieve more than component organisations acting in isolation.
Wild Anglia’s board, which met for the first time in November, includes key figures from a wide range of interests including the environment, business and health sectors.
At last night’s RICS East of England conference, Mr Ellis underlined the fact that tourism was the largest employer in Norfolk with 14pc of the county’s workforce employed directly or indirectly in the sector.
He said: “I believe that there are good reasons to expect that the local tourism economy is set for further growth in the coming years.
“People are still discovering Norfolk. It is not as well-known as some destinations and yet it is very accessible to large parts of the population. We have welcomed lots of new visitors to Norfolk this year – and they like what they have found and want to come back.”
He said Norfolk was not as expensive as some destinations, such as Cornwall, and while the last few months had proved the exception, the weather was so much drier in East Anglia.
He said: “While there was negligible effect from the Olympics this year, the high-profile success of London 2012 will see more visitors come to the UK in the next few years and the Diamond Jubilee celebrations gave great profile to Norfolk with its strong Royal connections.
“The range that Norfolk offers visitors is second to none, and vitally, the quality of that offer has continued to improve as we have seen significant investments in recent years.
“Many attractions have invested to improve their offer and become year-round attractions – a great example being the hugely successful Dinomite indoor adventure area at the Dinosaur Adventure Park.”
He said the food offer had continued to be improved and diversified.
“Chris Coubrough has taken advantage of an opportunity at Hingham this year with the successful renovation of The White Hart. As Chris has shown, it isn’t rocket science – good quality food, reasonably priced with friendly service in comfortable surroundings,” he said.
“There are still good opportunities out there, even in a recession, as Chris has proved.”
In the self-catering market, his own business, Norfolk Country Cottages, had just seen its 21st year of continuous growth with people still investing in good quality properties to let for holidays.
He said: “While the returns are solid rather than spectacular, people feel that the returns are better than leaving the money in the bank. And long term most people believe in the value of property as an investment in this part of the world.
“So, Norfolk’s biggest economic driver is set for further growth in the coming years – and that means investment opportunities in property and development. The banks are keen to support strong propositions, and see tourism as an attractive sector in this wonderful part of the world.”