East faces hotel and road challenges

THE East of England has much to offer, but still lacks enough hotel accommodation and convention facilities, has problems with its road network and needs to promote itself, business leaders were told yesterday.

THE East of England has much to offer, but still lacks enough hotel accommodation and convention facilities, has problems with its road network and needs to promote itself, business leaders were told yesterday.

Stansted Airport hosted a conference at which it reinforced the message that it was committed to “acting as a catalyst” for future growth in tourism and inward investment in the region.

The conference highlighted the area's many assets, including port and airport links, historic buildings, hi-tech business clusters and good quality of life, but some speakers also pointed to areas which needed to be addressed, including accommodation and roads.

More than 180 delegates attended the conference, and saw how many businesses were thriving due to their location, and benefiting from the Stansted Airport link.

But speaker George Kieffer, deputy chair at the East of England Development Agency, also pointed to some deficiencies which needed to be addressed, and hit out at the Government decision not to locate one of its “supercasinos” in the region.

Quality of place was “a driver” which was not only attracting tourists to the area, but also inward investors, said Mr Kieffer, who is also a director of the East of England Tourist Board.

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Very often, it was where the chief executive or his partner wanted to live which decided things, he pointed out.

“It's a motivating factor not to be discarded. First impressions are equally important,” he said.

But he pointed to a lack of hotel accommodation and convention facilities.

“Our stock of hotel accommodations is ….. in need of quite significant development to be able to play at the level we want to play at. The stock I refer to has deficiencies not just in quantity, but also occasionally in quality,” he said.

He expressed dismay that the region was not shortlisted for a casino which would have brought “much-needed” facilities to the area.

“It would have brought to be region much-needed convention and meeting facilities which we lack so I'm very disappointed,” he said.

“I confess I'm still struggling to understand the evidence base and the logic on which the decision appears to be made.”

He also claimed there was “a shortsightedness” among some planning authorities about certain development plans.

“There's a shortsightedness among our planners which is quite incomprehensible from time to time,” he said.

He called on BAA Stansted to “tell people they are in the east of England and not just in a suburb of London” when they came into the country.

David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said the area ought to be promoting a regional identity, and said that as an outsider he did not get “a flavour” of the area through promotion.

“I don't get an impression of a region promoting itself for tourism,” he said.

He said he had travelled to Ipswich earlier in the week along the A14 and said the journey there was “just a living hell” along the A14.

“It seems to me that in the case of the east of England, one of the key strategic roads is the A14, but to be quite honest it's a nightmare,” he said. “This is the major road to Felixstowe, the major east of England container port.”

He added: “We have an inability in this country to drive forward and implement major infrastructure projects.”

He praised the “superb” marina at Ipswich.

But he questioned how high a priority was placed on promoting tourism in the area in the regional economic strategy.