Caution over regional plan changes

ORGANISATIONS in Suffolk have given a mixed reaction to proposals to reduce the number of economic sub-regions within the East of England.An independent panel assessing the draft East of England Plan has recommended that there should be four key sub-regions rather than 14.

ORGANISATIONS in Suffolk have given a mixed reaction to proposals to reduce the number of economic sub-regions within the East of England.

An independent panel assessing the draft East of England Plan has recommended that there should be four key sub-regions rather than 14.

These would be Thames Gateway, Cambridge, the London Arc and the Haven Gateway, which covers the ports of Felixstowe, Harwich, Ipswich and Mistley, and includes part of Mid Suffolk, Babergh and Suffolk Coastal districts.

The news has been welcomed by Ipswich Borough Council and the Haven Gateway partnership, but Suffolk County Council has expressed concern about the areas not covered by the proposed “key” sub-regions.

The independent panel said there was concern about the definition and status of the sub-regions and sub-areas, and the relationship between them, especially where there was overlap.

“There are some coherent sub-regions covering several districts across which a concerted strategic approach makes sense. In other places, however, it is often a matter of a single town where growth extends across administrative boundaries into neighbouring districts, but there is not a wider sub-regional planning issue,” the independent panel said.

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“Our proposals refocus policy on the distinctive roles of the principal centres in these areas as Key Centres for Development and Change. This leaves four areas which we conclude form genuine sub-regions requiring a broader area-wide approach.”

It proposes that places such as Norwich, Great Yarmouth/Lowestoft, Stansted/M11 and Bury St Edmunds should no longer be called sub-regions or sub-areas, and instead should be Key Centres for Development and Change.

It also concludes that the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads do not warrant sub-area treatment in policy terms.

“There is a wide measure of agreement that the Haven Gateway area forms a coherent sub-region, and also on the vision for it that should be pursued. The area has proven potential for development, and capacity has been identified for strong growth over the plan period. The local authorities and their partners in the Haven Gateway Partnership appear to have established clear aims for growth and regeneration,” the panel said.

Local bodies are still digesting the full implications of the panel's recommendations, but the proposal to have four sub-regions has caused concern at Suffolk County Council, because of fears that areas outside the key sub-regions could lose out.

Suffolk County Councillor Eddy Alcock, portfolio-holder for economic development, said: “We are concerned about the remaining areas of land and we are in the process of considering the way in which we will address Government to give our concerns as much weight as we can. We are concerned about the possible reduction in priority and consideration for the regions that aren't part of these four sub-regions.”

Julian Munson, acting chief executive of the Suffolk Development Agency, said: “It's difficult for us to comment because the Board has not seen the full report. We have not even had a formal statement about the impact on the rest of Suffolk. The chairman of SDA, Terry Clark, is pleased that the Haven Gateway is included in the key areas. We can't really comment on the other parts of Suffolk at this stage.”

Haven Gateway has welcomed the idea “as recognition of the sub-region's potential to make a significant contribution to the economy now and in the future”.

“We are still evaluating the report and the recommendations in the report, but are very pleased to see that the Haven Gateway's importance has been recognised by its proposed retention as one of four identified key sub-regions,” said Haven Gateway Partnership chairman George Courtauld.

“Coming two days after the positive announcement by the government on our Growth Point submission, this only serves to confirm that our potential to make a significant contribution to the economy now and in the future has been accepted at both a regional and national level.”

Ipswich Borough Councillor Richard Atkins, portfolio-holder for planning and economic development, welcomed the idea of the four key sub-regions, pointing out that the area had suffered from lack of investment in the past.

“It's nice to have the recognition at last. I realise there are some others who would very much like to be in there, but resources are always finite in today's world,” he said.

“There's a lot we have in common with Colchester, for example, and effectively being on the road to the ports to either Felixstowe and Harwich. It's interesting in the different meetings the common opportunities and the common problems, and in some ways we have perhaps more in common with the areas in the Haven Gateway than we do with our outlying rural areas and that's one of the reasons I think that the Haven Gateway is working so well.”

Theo Steel, chairman of the Essex Development and Regeneration Agency, said it was looking forward to developing its programme to help deliver benefits from the economic strategies for the East of England.

“The forum will consider the panel's recommendations on the Draft East of England Plan and determine how this may influence future economic strategy and delivery in future years,” he said.

Essex County Council deputy leader Peter Martin, cabinet member for planning, environment and culture, welcomed the proposal.

“Our view is we are pleased to see that Haven Gateway and Thames Gateway are included,” he said. “That's a positive as far as we are concerned.”