OPINION: Why does East Anglia always get forgotten by ministers?
- Credit: Archant
Last week's announcement of major government investment in the rail network in the north of England and Midlands once again highlighted the fact that this region is way down on the list of government priorities.
To be fair the "Integrated Rail Plan" was always billed as a programme for the north and Midlands so it shouldn't have been much of a surprise when there was nothing in it for us.
But when I rang the Department for Transport to find out when it would be our turn for investment on the Great Eastern Main Line or when the money would be released to invest in lines around Ely, I was told bluntly: "There are no more investment announcements in the pipeline. That's it."
So the DfT hasn't any immediate plans to agree to the comparatively modest (well, compared with the £95bn it's planning to spend in the north) spending to allow the modern trains to show their full potential on the London to Norwich line through Ipswich.
The promises made by George Osborne and Patrick McLoughlin back in 2013 clearly mean nothing any more (but then they're former politicians and the Tory Party has never been very fond of its former politicians!).
I suppose we really shouldn't be surprised by the government's lack of investment or even interest in this part of the world. Looking at the map there's really now one marginal seat in Suffolk and one in Norfolk.
The only marginal seats in Essex are in the Basildon/Thurrock area - and they're not worried about the time it takes to get to Norwich.
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And it is not just rail investment this area seems to miss out on. Just look at the road investments that have slipped through our fingers.
The A12 between London and Suffolk has been in line to be expanded to near motorway standard for years. Every few months a new press release comes out of the Highways Agency, Highways England or National Highways (whatever it's called this year) saying that it WILL be built. But when?
If the agency put half as much effort into enhancing the roads that it does in thinking up new names for itself, we might be getting somewhere.
The A47 linking Norfolk and Lowestoft to the Midlands was supposed to be upgraded to a full dual carriageway years ago - but that hasn't happened.
We should be grateful, I suppose, that new bridges are being built in Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth - but the inability of Suffolk County Council and the DfT to do accurate sums led to the cancellation of the badly-needed Upper Orwell Crossing in Ipswich.
And to be honest elsewhere there has been some investment - but compared with the billions going to other parts of the country they look like small beer.
Ipswich has been told it can have £25m from the Towns Fund, but it hasn't made a huge impact yet two years after it was announced in the run-up to the general election. We have the skeleton of the new health department at the University of Suffolk but that's about all so far.
Suffolk New College is one of a number across the country which will share an £83m grant - but its share isn't known and as one of 39 FE colleges on the list, it might be a welcome boost but it's hardly going to be transformative.
There is a feeling that this region has to battle for everything it wants - and that means its MPs must be prepared to stand up for their constituents and go on and on to ministers about the needs of the area.
I can't help feeling that part of the reason that there IS a bridge being built in Lowestoft is because there has been one MP for Waveney throughout the process who has been focussed on pushing the project through.
In Ipswich there's been two changes of MPs in 2017 and 2019, each MP has had different priorities and there hasn't been a consistent message going to Westminster. Has that helped in investment bids?
The East of England shouldn't have to beg for every scrap of investment - this should be seen as a prime area for growth. It is, after all, one of the most productive parts of the country in terms of GDP.
But because it's not seen as a "problem" in Westminster it's all to easy to ignore - and if we don't make a noise about that no one else will.