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Business leaders demand infrastructure improvements at Big Debate

PUBLISHED: 16:59 07 February 2020 | UPDATED: 17:09 07 February 2020

David Powles of the EDP discusses infrastructure with Dale Curtis, Chloe Smith, Jonathan Cage and Jonathan Denby at the Big Debate. Picture: Richard Jarmy Photography

David Powles of the EDP discusses infrastructure with Dale Curtis, Chloe Smith, Jonathan Cage and Jonathan Denby at the Big Debate. Picture: Richard Jarmy Photography

Richard Jarmy Photography

“It’s not a want, it’s a need.”

That was the message from businesses which turned out to discuss rail, road, and digital connectivity at the Norfolk Chambers of Commerce's Big Debate.

The event brought together entrepreneurs and industry leaders, as well as policy makers, to debate key issues impacting enterprise in the region.

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In a panel discussion on infrastructure, the topic of trains from Norwich to London in 90 minutes was discussed, as well as the duelling of the A47 and 4G connectivity.

On the panel chaired by Eastern Daily Press editor David Powles was Jonathan Denby, head of corporate affairs at Greater Anglia.

Mr Denby said that more Norwich in 90 services was achievable, but that track infrastructure needed to be improved.

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He said: "Ten years ago if we heard that in this round of contracts we would have 90 minute services we would have said it wasn't possible - but we've done it. There is work left to be done on the tracks - some particularly on the southern parts of the line - but once we have that we can start having more, and faster, services."

Norwich north MP Chloe Smith confirmed that a business case to improve the rail network in the region had been submitted to the chancellor this week.

However Dale Curtis of Kickstart Norfolk said that the public needed to "manage their expectations".

"People need to realise that just because they pay their taxes doesn't mean it's going to happen overnight. These things take time," he said.

Also held to account was Highways England, with EDP editor David Powles asking why, if £350 million had been signed off to duel the road, no spades had hit the ground.

"That's a question we need to be asking Highways England," said Ms Smith. "As I'm sure you've noticed we've got a new political landscape and across the region we will be working together to try and get those answers."

Jonathan Cage, managing director of Creative Consulting, said that businesses now had an expectation of a certain level of connectivity.

"You can say that because we are a particularly rural location it's more expensive to get infrastructure in place," he said. "But it's an expectation now that you can get on a train with a toilet, a plug and some wifi."


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