Prime minister David Cameron puts Norfolk and Suffolk at top of infrastructure list
Prime minister David Cameron has signalled he is serious about much-needed road and rail investment, and said the east is already top of the list for planned transport cash outside London and the South-East.
Other concerns for Mr Cameron
AMBULANCES: It is more than a year since we launched our Ambulance Watch campaign. There has been a high profile change of leadership, promises of more front-line staff, yet all is not still right and targets are being missed.
MENTAL HEALTH: An investigation by the EDP last autumn revealed that the Norfolk and Suffolk mental health trust had ordered a review into the reasons behind a spike in unexpected deaths in Norfolk after 20 patients in their care died during a five-month spell. Yet GPs in charge of NHS purse strings have ruled out any significant increase in funding for mental health services.
NORFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL: The authority is wrestling with £189m worth of savings at the same time it is grappling with a number of big issues. King’s Lynn incinerator plans remain unresolved. A £169m government PFI credit was pulled last year, but the cabinet plans to continue with the project, however it is still waiting to hear if it will be given planning permission. Elsewhere social workers have been struggling to cope with “unmanageable” case loads in children’s services and Ofsted has also criticised the support it gives to schools.
FLOOD COMPENSATION: Norfolk and Suffolk councils are facing a huge costs in the clean-up operation following the floods at the beginning of December. There are concerns about the cost of fixing flood defences and the clean-up operation and DCLG will only cover some of those. With Environment Agency cutbacks, there are very real concerns about our ability to cope with future storm surges.
PHONE SIGNAL: Our communication infrastructure continues to be a problem in our rural area. Many communities still struggle to get a decent, if any, broadband connection.
It comes just over a week after this paper invited him to visit the region in a bid to make the A47 a top priority, and years of campaigning for faster, more reliable rail services.
Ahead of a visit to Norfolk and Suffolk today, where he will hear the case for A47 improvement, he said he wanted Norfolk to be right at the heart of the recovery, adding that modern roads and railways were a vital part of his long-term plan to secure Britain’s future.
“Today I’m visiting Norfolk to talk about the government’s commitment to all of this. I’m coming here because this is the part of Britain – outside of London and the South East – where we’re planning to put the most money into transport,” he said.
Last year chancellor George Osborne set up a rail task force to look at the finer details of how to improve the service from Norwich to London.
And earlier in the year transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin added the key A47 trunk road, which links Great Yarmouth with the Midlands, to a list of seven feasibility studies which are at the top of the queue for road investment.
Earlier this month councillors, business representatives and Waveney MP Peter Aldous launched a campaign to extend the A47 to Lowestoft, with proposals for a new bridge in the centre of the Suffolk town. The government’s spending plans between 2013 and 2019 include almost £2bn for projects, including £1.5bn for the A14 upgrade and £81m for the Northern Distributor Road.
Mr Cameron said: “Why does this all matter so much? Well put simply, the jobs of the future depend on infrastructure fit for the future. It is the foundation stone on which businesses can grow, compete and create jobs – jobs that provide financial security for families here in Norfolk and across the country.
“So here in Norfolk there are going to be a number of improvements to the transport network. Work’s already got under way to widen the A11 between Fiveways and Thetford.
“I know how many problems there have been with congestion on these roads in recent years and we want to get these sorted out. On top of this, we’re also examining ways to cut journey times between London and Norwich by rail.
“As Britain comes out the other side of the great recession, I want Norfolk to be right at the heart of our recovery. There’s no reason why this can’t be the case – this is an area with great universities, great businesses, great traditional industries like agriculture and great new ones like sciences. What’s needed now is an all out commitment to make sure those jobs and opportunities flow here in the years to come. With this investment in infrastructure – the biggest since the Victorian era – I’m determined to make sure they do.”