Battle to improve transport links
In the latest in his series on constituencies in our region which are going to the polls on Thursday, EADT Election Editor Graham Dines takes a look at Waveney
WHEN Waveney swung sharply to Labour in 1997, it came as a massive shock to its Conservative MP of 10 years David Porter, who went to his count firmly convinced he had won.
It was no narrow defeat. Labour’s Bob Blizzard stormed home with more than 50% of the vote, and he has held on comfortably ever since.
The constituency covers the northern part of Waveney district, including Lowestoft, Oulton Broad, Kessingland, Beccles and Bungay.
It was the boundary changes at the 1997 election which dealt the coup de grace for Mr Porter - it removed from the constituency Southwold, Halesworth and surrounding villages which were added to the Suffolk Coastal seat.
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The new boundary changes this time have merely tinkered with Waveney, which means that Southwold and Halesworth are still separated from the bulk of the district for the parliamentary purposes.
Lowestoft itself is firmly Labour. The decline of the North Sea fishing industry has been a blow only partially countered by the arrival of firms servicing offshore oil and gas.
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The town has some of the most socially deprived wards in England and examination successes in its secondary schools are in the bottom quartile when compared with the rest of England.
One of the biggest problems facing the town is accessibility. The county council, whether under Labour-Liberal Democrat or Conservative control, and Conservative or Labour governments have failed to invest in a proper transport network to serve Britain’s most easterly town.
The unloved East of England regional assembly, which was wound up last month, left Lowestoft to its own devices.
Although the A12 to London passes through the town, the road has been neglected over the years and until Wickham Market is reached, most of it is a tortuous single carriageway.
The route to the Midlands and other areas of the UK is the A47 via Great Yarmouth to Peterborough and Leicester. Apart from the Norwich by-pass, the road has seen little investment over the years, and it has not been a priority for the Labour government, even though both Waveney and Great Yarmouth are key marginals.
Rail links are little better, and the district will suffer the ignominy this December of having its direct trains to London withdrawn, forcing travellers to change at either Norwich or Ipswich.
The appalling transport links give the impression to outsiders looking to invest of an isolated town, marooned at the extreme eastern tip of the UK. If it is to have any hopes of attracting new business, there must be a concerted effort by government, county and district councils, and the development agency.
Other parts of the district fare better. Beccles and Bungay are typical Suffolk market towns, attractive to live in and surrounded by some of the nicest pastoral scenery in the whole of East Anglia. Fighting once again for the Conservatives is Peter Aldous, a land agent whose home village Wissett, which has just been moved by the Boundary Commission into the constituency in exchange for Rushmere, Halverstreet and Henstead.
Mr Aldous says that Lowestoft has become an unemployment blackspot, with nearly 1,000 redundancies threatened at Jelwen and SLP. “This will have on enormous knock-on effect on subcontractors based in the constituency.
“I have five priorities for Waveney – improving the road, railways and broadband networks, a fairer and simpler taxation system, less red tape, an education system which gives all young people the skills they need, and getting the banks to start lending again.
“I support the Beccles passing loop but deplore the decision to axe the direct rail service from Lowestoft to London. Road improvements are vital for the constituency – the four villages by-pass south of Saxmundham, Beccles southern relief road, a bypass for Barnby Bends, and a third crossing of Lothing Lake. I will campaign vigorously for these much needed transport improvements.
Alan Dean is the Liberal Democrat candidate. He sees the main issues as the economy and the constituencies huge potential in the creation of jobs for green industries and renewables, including off-shore wind farms.
“The Liberal Democrat message is being well received. We area attracting a lot of interest, especially from younger voters, which is hugely encouraging.
“Without a doubt, the most potent issue is the abolition of middle schools to be replaced by a two-tier system. Parents opposed this, but they were ignored by the Tory-controlled county council and I think it will damage the Conservative campaign.”
Mr Dean says a top priority must be to improve transport links. He backs the Beccles passing loop on the rail line to Ipswich as well as upgrades to the road network.
If Mr Blizzard is re-elected along with a Labour government, it’s likely that he will once again move up the ministerial ladder.
He is currently deputy to East of England Regional Minister Barbara Follett and as she is not seeking re-election, Mr Blizzard could be given the job of being the champion for the six counties of the East in the dog-fight with other regions in attracting inward investment.
Locally, he is keeping up the pressure for a third river crossing. “The need dominates – every time anyone goes from one side of town to the other, they wonder whether they can get there without a hold-up.”
Transport Secretary Lord Adonis, on a campaign visit to Lowestoft, said: “Bob has been campaigning on very important local issues, including a third crossing to ease congestion.
“We’ve discussed his plans and he makes a strong case for a third crossing and I have told him that the Government will fund a crossing if it is given priority by Suffolk County Council. The regeneration of Lowestoft is very important.”
Green candidate Graham Elliott said: “Despite being left out of the leaders’ debate on television, the public hasn’t forgotten about the Green Party.
“The reception on the doorstep is good, and the public really appreciate our fresh approach to politics.”
Meanwhile, None of the Above independent candidate Louis Barfe remarked. “I’m trying to be sort of a blank canvas.
“If I come out in favour of this, or against that, I would be a politician and not this faceless everyman – which is the whole point of standing.”
The UK Independence Party’s candidate is Jack Tyler, who lives in Kessingland.