The big issues facing Norfolk

What are the big issues facing Norfolk over the next two decades, and what do we do about them? Housing, transport, communities and the environment were among the topics discussed at a high-level conference in the county where there were as many questions as answers.

What are the big issues facing Norfolk over the next two decades, and what do we do about them? Housing, transport, communities and the environment were among the topics discussed at a high-level conference in the county yesterday, where there were as many questions as answers. JON WELCH reports.

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There were no crystal balls in sight, but more than 200 people were asked to look into Norfolk's future yesterday and help develop the county's community strategy.

Delegates at the annual conference of Norfolk County Strategic Partnership (NCSP) included high-ranking executives from both county and district councils; representatives from the health service, the police, charities and business.

Fifteen members of the public, chosen from the council's Citizens' Panel, were also at the conference at Dunston Hall, near Norwich, to help update the strategy, known as Norfolk Ambition, first developed nearly five years ago.

Work so far has highlighted the priorities for Norfolk as relating to skills, access, vibrant communities and environment.

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Daniel Cox, leader of Norfolk County Council and chairman of NCSP, explained to delegates that the government's white paper Strong and Prosperous Communities set out to strengthen community leadership through local government and strategic partnerships.

“It also requires us to have community strategies that are 'sustainable' and it makes sense to combine our refresh with this requirement,” he said.

Mr Cox said the housing agenda had been identified as a big challenge for the county, with more than 78,000 new homes earmarked for Norfolk by 2021.

“This will have a considerable impact on the economy, service provision, transport, communities and the environment. This raises strategic issues for the county, in particular the relationship between the growth in King's Lynn, Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Thetford.

“We need to ensure that these growth areas complement each other, rather than compete, to benefit the whole of Norfolk.”

SKILLS

Norfolk still lags behind the national average for GCSE passes at grades A* to C. The county figure in March 2006 was 55.1pc, compared to 57.5pc nationally.

Another area for concern is the relatively low numbers of young people continuing education and learning after the age of 16, and progressing to higher education. Currently, 7.9pc of young people in Norfolk are classed as “Neet” - not in education, employment or training.

The growth of Norfolk's economy lags behind the East of England.

The average worker in the county earns £381 a week, compared with £450 in the East of England.

The county also has lower-than-average levels of numeracy and literacy, and 15pc of working-age adults in the county have no qualifications.

That figure rises to 20pc in King's Lynn and West Norfolk.

ACCESS

The car remains the main way of getting around Norfolk, although 15pc of rural households don't have one.

Norwich is the largest population centre in the UK not to be connected to any other significant centre or motorway network by an unbroken dual carriageway, and 57pc of the A47 between Yarmouth and King's Lynn is single carriageway.

Bus use is increasing, particularly in Norwich, but in the county's smaller settlements, away from the towns, almost 2,000 pensioner households have no cars and no access to key services by public transport.

In South Norfolk, 19pc of households do not have access to a market town or urban area within one hour, and more than 18pc of households in Breckland have access to fewer than three key services by public transport.

Surveys in the county have highlighted demand for better, cheaper and more frequent buses, with young people calling for later night buses and reduced fares while in education.

ENVIRONMENT

As a low-lying county, Norfolk would be at risk if sea levels were to rise as a result of climate change. Higher temperatures, stronger winds and coastal erosion would be among the other effects.

The county supplies 16.5pc of renewable energy capacity in the East of England, but per head carbon dioxide emissions are 9pc higher than for the region as a whole.

Between March 2003 and April 2006, a further 10,300 homes were built in the county, but the gap between house prices and earnings has continued to grow.

A total of 78,700 new homes have been earmarked for the county between 2001 and 2021.

The highest house prices are in north Norfolk, but the growth in house prices had been greatest in Yarmouth where they have risen 110pc over a five-year period.

VIBRANTCOMMUNITIES

Norfolk's black and minority ethnic population has grown from 4.11pc in 2001 to 5.08pc in 2003. The county is home to at least 7,000 migrants from the newly-acceded EU countries: nearly 3,000 are Polish and 2,000 Lithuanian.

There are significant numbers of Portuguese in Norfolk: 25,000 at a very rough estimate.

In Norfolk, 66pc of people agree that people from different backgrounds get on well together in their local area, although that figure fell to 49pc for Yarmouth and 53pc for West Norfolk.

Crime levels have fallen 10pc over the last three years, and there has also been a drop in the number of residents feeling that anti-social behaviour is a problem. However, fear of crime remains high.

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