Communities must be the main focus as Norfolk rises out of lockdown
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
Labour councillor Steve Morphew responds to editor David Powles column earlier this week in which he argued it was 'Time to stop and take stock of what's best for Norfolk post-pandemic'.
Norfolk doesn’t need fixing but it does need careful consideration of what is best for it - I couldn’t agree more.
Going back to same old, same old without reflecting on how the last year has changed us would be folly indeed.
It would be denying the few positives that have come from what we’ve been through if we just plough on with pre-Covid attitudes and decisions.
Protecting what we value while building a better future for Norfolk starts with our communities.
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Norfolk has stepped up to meet the challenges in ways that exceeded even the most rose-tinted expectations.
That’s where we should start.
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Withstanding the short-term challenges and readying ourselves for the long-term opportunities means sticking together.
Supporting tireless and generous volunteers, carers and community groups that have been the backbone to our response; supporting local independent businesses that saw us through, and helping local people wanting to take over their local pub or shop threatened with conversion into something that takes away a fulcrum for a community.
We must be careful not to fall for the concrete and steel solutions of old thinking.
If the Norwich Western Link is crucial to economic growth then we should be asking whether that is really the kind of economic growth we want.
Should we be spending huge amounts of money putting tarmac over the very natural environment that makes Norfolk special and attracts people to come here?
We have opportunities for a different economy based on different types of jobs that are linked to the county we are and the assets we have.
Let us harness the ingenuity and inventiveness shown throughout Norfolk, from our research institutes to small businesses, for an economy that works with our natural assets rather than putting them at risk.
We also need to up our game at attracting government investment into more than roads. After all we earn it.
For example, we increasingly generate the electricity that powers the UK economy from offshore wind but get very little in return.
Just down the coast Sizewell B, a power station that generates the equivalent of just one of our planned offshore wind farms, paid £24m in business rates in 2019.
How much did Norfolk get in business rates from the wind farms strung across our horizon? Nothing.
Because they are beyond the shoreline those installations don’t pay business rates to help run the county they rely on.
If we’re going to reflect on the future of Norfolk we also need to argue for fair return for the contribution we make to national prosperity and profitability.
David talks about housing and Holt Hall.
Young people of Norfolk deserve better than they get at present.
Every Child Online and the battle to tackle holiday hunger are not just problems for Norfolk but these are our children and young people whose future we all depend on.
Closing Holt Hall is the latest in decisions that need to be reviewed and reversed – scrapping the youth service, closing children’s centre and the postponed threat to the music service are among the others.
We’ve never been great at listening to the voices of the young.
Through the past year they have shown us how much they have to offer, how short we have sold them and what they need to thrive.
Spending time listening to young voices and bringing them in to decisions about their future would be valuable to planning ours.
Young people learning independence are particularly interested in housing.
Others who have discovered the joys of Norfolk either for their first or second home are squeezing up prices and squeezing out local buyers of all age groups.
Government should help by enabling more social housing for rent to be built, but that’s not much use If right to buy takes it away from local families.
Meanwhile should Norfolk County Council really be fuelling the market by building houses for sale through its own development company when it could be building houses for local families at rents they can afford?
Norfolk can do a lot, a lot more, on our own but we also need to reflect on how we influence the wider policies. David mentions local government reorganisation.
I’m a fan of the right restructure but now is not the time for that sort of upheaval.
What’s more important is vision, leadership, the will and the open mindedness to reflect, change, be forward looking and passionate. Structures don’t improve lives, people do.
Norfolk has learned powerful lessons over the past year. Surely we must take stock, and take the opportunities that have come from the sadness.
That would be a fitting tribute and legacy to those we have lost, those who have lost, and those who have sacrificed so much to get us through.
That would make Norfolk an even better place.