Ipswich: David Cameron’s interview in full

PRIME Minister David Cameron met Evening Star editor Nigel Pickover, East Anglian Daily Times editor Terry Hunt, Archant Anglia managing director Johnny Hustler, and political writer Paul Geater for an interview yesterday.

This is the full transcript of the interview. Ipswich MP Ben Gummer was also present.

Key: DC: David Cameron, NP: Nigel Pickover, TH: Terry Hunt, JH: Johnny Hustler, BG: Ben Gummer, PG: Paul Geater.

NP: We want this to be Ipswich’s moment. We say we’ve got a town with a message to take to towns and cities across the country, to get upbeat, to take the opportunity to lift ourselves.

At the moment our belief is we’re too head-down. We have problems here – Ben and I talk about them all the time but they’re also opportunities to go forward.

DC: There are items like that. Things like the Irish bank. The wine rack. Your list?

NP: Finish off the Waterfront, link it to the town centre . . .

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DC: In terms of the Waterfront there’s been a lot done over there over the last 10 to 15 years. What’s still missing? What needs finishing off?

NP: It’s about three-quarters finished.

DC: Where do you place the blame? Developers who did a bit and then backed off?

NP and BG: They went bust!

NP: And Ben’s being doing a lot with the Irish toxic bank, NAMA, and we need help there but there are a lot projects . .

DC: There are things like Growing Places so you can access for that.

BG: People are getting interested. Things are starting to move.

DC: I think the most important thing we can do is in terms of the infrastructure because it is connecting Ipswich with the rest of the country properly through improvements to the A14 and the widening of the A11 which benefits the whole region.

Things like the Ipswich Chord which helps on the freight line.

We have basically taken the key list of infrastructure improvements and acted on most of them.

Looking at the railway situation where I recognise that the rolling stock and the quality of your line is not as good as some others in the country and there is a plan to address that which is this longer franchise agreement for 15 years where I know Ben and others will be saying with a longer franchise we want to see better rolling stock, station improvements, line improvements, and that’s what a long franchise gives you the ability to do.

TH: Because it is a deterrent to business growth at the moment. The line has a poor reputation. This town is just an hour from the city yet it can feel a lot longer.

JH: We do need vision and ambition there with our planners because this is a paradox in Ipswich. We have the most brilliant infrastructure and proximity to the capital. We have broadband from our friends where you have been this morning and yet we are in a town where a lot of local people don’t shop at and it needs ambition and vision to make use of its position and go forward.

DC: That is one of the reasons for bringing the cabinet here. I think the eastern region in general and towns like Ipswich in particular can be rather forgotten by London because London politicians think of the north/south divide and they think of regional policy in terms of the north west and north east and they don’t focus on a region which is actually a net contributor to the exchequer, that’s got immense economic potential and that’s one of the reasons for bringing the cabinet to say too often this region gets forgotten about and I don’t want that to happen.

And there’s a lot of success to celebrate. We have got a difficult time economically and we have to take tough decisions. The Eurozone is looking in a very bad place and that affects us but actually the big picture is that Britain has to re-balance its economy away from just the south east and financial services towards more manufacturing, more exports, more technology and that is where developments like broadband, life sciences in the Eastern region are very important.

NP: And our great port of Felixstowe.

DC: Indeed. Again there is infrastructure improvements there so the very biggest container ships can come in.

TH: Can we just talk about the A14 because that impacts directly on the port of Felixstowe. Because it is the route to the midlands and the north.

In the Autumn statement last week there was a suggestion that the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon could have a toll element. Do you think that’s enough?

DC: What we were talking about was improvements all the way along the A14 to remove the bottlenecks and the problems. There is a programme and obviously there has to be funding for it. My understanding is that all the bits of the A14 where people have been saying these improvements need to be made the plan is there.

TH: Just on the rails. It is my understanding that this next year is a very important year in terms of long-term strategic planning and if we don’t achieve agreement for significant investment now we may miss out for years and years to come.

DC: I think there are two points here. There is Network Rail’s process of investment and in the Autumn Statement we gave that a kick-start by effectively allowing them to borrow more money and backing that so there are some improvements there, like the Ipswich chord.

Secondly when you have a longer franchise you can say to the potential franchise: If you want to see the 15-years we’ve got to see platforms lengthened, station improvements, better rolling stock, not so much that you won’t get decent bidders but it is quite understandable that Ipswich and the surrounding area are going to be asking much more from their railways as this longer franchise comes through.

PG: One of the issues we are facing here in Ipswich is the Irish banking crisis and how plans have been disconnected. What can central government do to make places like this flourish?

DC: We can help by having the growing places fund which is a fund of money available for town centre improvements but we would say the best thing we can do is allow local business and local authorities to come together and plan together – and that is what the Local Enterprise partnerships are all about because instead of being just one great big RDA which inevitably was going to have a focus on other larger towns in the area you have an LEP that is very much focused on East Anglia.

What we are saying is: If you build the houses you keep the council tax. If you allow businesses to develop you keep the extra business rate. You have got the LEP that can bring business and local authorities together.

We can enable you by having the regional growth fund and we are getting out of your way so you can get on and plan the improvements you need.

Sometimes we have been so used to a top-down target-driven culture that some parts of the country are just waiting for the instruction, but that’s not the way it is going to work.

PG: Sometimes there is a feeling that centres like this, which are large urban centres in a rural area are not regarded as keenly as inner-city areas or rural areas.

DC: They shouldn’t. That is why Ipswich is in many ways a microcosm of Britain. There are millions of people who live in our market towns and county towns who want to see those towns have real improvements.

The government is not obsessed by the north on the one hand and the south on the other. We recognise the importance of other parts of the country and we want to enable them to develop.

We are making money available for the infrastructure. We are making the money available for regional improvements but we want to allow local authorities and local businesses to come together.

NP: In the fabulous year we have got coming up we have every reason to have a good year here.

DC: Yes you have, absolutely. It is very striking as you come out of London past the Olympic stadium how close you are to it and it’s going to be an enormous festival. As will the Diamond Jubilee.

Someone in the Royal family reminded me it will be less expensive than the Olympics and just as much fun!