A Norfolk Tory MP has launched an extraordinary attack on his own government, accusing it of seeing the county as a "backwater for farmers and retirees".

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman made the remarks as he helped to launch a new report highlighting the poor state of the region's transport network.

He said the findings were a sign of the "very low investment in transport infrastructure" by Whitehall.

However, his comments have sparked a political row, with opponents pointing out his party has been in power since 2010, with Mr Freeman holding a number of senior government roles in that time.

Eastern Daily Press: Mid Norfolk MP George FreemanMid Norfolk MP George Freeman

In the broadside at his own government, Mr Freeman said: "For decades, East Anglia has been viewed by Whitehall as a rural backwater for farmers and retirees, with very low investment in transport infrastructure per head compared to other regions.

"But with the Norwich/Cambridge/Ipswich Research Triangle attracting major global investment into new, high-growth industries and companies within biomedicine, cleantech and agritech, we need modern connectivity. And we need it quickly.

"If the Treasury can't fund it, then give us the freedom to raise an eastern infrastructure and investment fund and we will do it ourselves."

But Michael Rosen, Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for Mid Norfolk, said: "It is astonishing that George has made those comments given he has been part of the government for the past 14 years.

Eastern Daily Press: Michael Rosen, Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for Mid NorfolkMichael Rosen, Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for Mid Norfolk (Image: Labour Party)

"I absolutely agree we need more investment in public transport and active travel and I look forward to having a Labour government in place which would provide that."

Mr Freeman's remarks came as the Transport East Regional Strategy Hub report was launched, drawing on evidence from 140 respondents to reveal the struggles people and businesses face with rural transport.

Eastern Daily Press: Buses in North WalshamBuses in North Walsham (Image: Antony Kelly)

The report said two-thirds of rural communities in the region - around 600,000 people - live in a 'transport desert', without access to alternative transport other than private vehicles.

It calls for the government to invest more so better buses and cycle routes can be provided.

Eastern Daily Press: The Coasthopper is one of Norfolk's successful rural bus servicesThe Coasthopper is one of Norfolk's successful rural bus services (Image: Ian Burt)

The report, commissioned by Transport East - a partnership between councils and business representatives across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex - found examples of housebound people unable to get to healthcare or social activities.

Businesses also highlighted challenges in recruitment and retention.

The report calls on the government to give councils longer-term funding so they can better plan transport and for more joined-up thinking when it comes to deciding where homes are built, so rural bus services can be viable.

It also urges the government to do more to support innovation, such as through on-demand flexibuses, similar to one used in Swaffham and nearby villages.

Eastern Daily Press: The flexibus service in SwaffhamThe flexibus service in Swaffham (Image: Norfolk County Council)

READ MORE: Norfolk Liberal Democrats reveal rural park and ride vision

Andrew Summers, chief executive of Transport East, said: "We know local authorities in the east are committed to making rural transport better for their communities and economies, but need more investment and tools from central government."

Eastern Daily Press: Andrew Summers, chief executive of Transport EastAndrew Summers, chief executive of Transport East (Image: Transport East)


Data from the Department for Transport identified Saham Toney as Norfolk's most remote village, and the 43rd most remote in the entire country.

Officials based their calculations on an analysis of the length of time it takes for locals to reach their nearest services - shops, schools, GP surgeries and employers - by public transport or by walking.

Eastern Daily Press: Saham Toney from the airSaham Toney from the air (Image: Archant)

In the official rankings of Norfolk communities, the Tilney, Mershe Lande and Wiggenhall ward, in the west of the county, and Mattishall, in Breckland, were the second and third most remote locations.

In Saham Toney the average minimum journey time to the nearest key service by car was 19.2 minutes, and by public transport 75.7 minutes.