MP issues rallying cry to Suffolk

A SENIOR MP has issued a rallying cry to the people of Suffolk to fight to defend their county from two major threats – intrusive housing development and rising sea levels.

By David Green

A SENIOR MP has issued a rallying cry to the people of Suffolk to fight to defend their county from two major threats – intrusive housing development and rising sea levels.

John Gummer, the Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal, attacked those planners and developers who he said endangered the future of the county's environment.

The former Environment Secretary also appealed for a sense of "stewardship" in Suffolk and a show of the battling spirit needed to leave it in better condition for future generations.

Mr Gummer, giving the keynote speech at the annual conference of the Suffolk Preservation Society yesterday, criticised the Government's policy in response to sea level rise, a policy officially known as managed retreat but which he regarded as simply allowing the Suffolk coast to flood.

He was speaking only a few days after an East of England Regional Assembly panel agreed that up to 58,600 new homes could be built in the county over the next 17 years.

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Suffolk should be pressing the Government to make it easier for homes to meet local needs – not properties which would go into the "mix" and be bought by the rich, Mr Gummer claimed.

It was also vital that new homes were concentrated as much as possible on land which had been used previously and, in order to save the countryside, housing densities had to increase – both in towns and villages.

"Our footprint in Suffolk is already big enough – so don't spread it, just make it more dense wherever that opportunity comes," he said.

Mr Gummer said the House Builders' Federation - a "rapacious group that has so often got its own way" - should not be allowed new greenfield sites just because it was easier to build on them.

New development also had to provide homes for local people and not be sold for second homes, as were many properties in Southwold, Aldeburgh and Walberswick, now "empty for much of the time".

Mr Gummer said the county's population was becoming increasingly middle class and elderly, but a future had to be created for people of all ages and social classes, especially locally-born youngsters, to ensure the vibrancy of the county.

"The fight has to go right across the board. Suffolk has to turn its county pride into real action," he said.

That fight had to be strong enough to make Whitehall officials reticent about tackling the county, added the MP. "We have got to let them know that Suffolk is on the march."

Mr Gummer also warned against regional government being given the power to make planning decisions for individual counties, arguing that decisions should be made locally.

Referring to Government plans to make it easier to open casinos, he said: "We have to fight hard against an increasing desire to make society and the country tattier."

He claimed damage had been caused by planners and developers to the historic town of Ipswich between the two World Wars and since the last war and it needed more "love, kindness and tenderness."

Present planning proposals could lead to the creation of a "linear city" between Ipswich and Felixstowe, he added.

Mr Gummer also criticised the response of officers of Suffolk Coastal District Council to plans for 120 log cabins – "more suited to the Rockies or a Norwegian Fjord" – near BT's Martlesham Research Park.

"Nowhere is safe if the officers of the district council can seriously suggest that the proper thing to do is to build 120 holiday log cabins near a village which has a main street that runs down into the river and no parking except for the Maybush public house," he said.

Responding to the comments, Ivan Jowers, chairman of the district council's southern development control sub-committee, said officers had recommended approval only if BT was satisfied the development would not interfere with its work.

Max Stocker, Ipswich Borough Council spokesman, argued that Ipswich was already undergoing a renaissance.

"Our waterfront has exciting new buildings and many others are on the way. Our town centre is a classic combination of modern and traditional," he added.

Pierre Williams, spokesman for the House Builders' Federation, said the claim that the group was "rapacious" was "entirely false".

"We're totally committed to recycling as much land as we can and political and public support would go a long way to helping us with that aim," he added.

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