Profile: Waveney

THE Parliamentary constituency of Waveney covers the north-east corner of Suffolk and although relatively small geographically it covers an extremely wide social mix of voters.

THE Parliamentary constituency of Waveney covers the north-east corner of Suffolk and although relatively small geographically it covers an extremely wide social mix of voters.

The largest town in the constituency is Lowestoft, which, for years has suffered one of the highest unemployment rates in East Anglia and where areas of the town qualify for European Union urban regeneration grants.

Just a few miles away are the market towns of Beccles and Bungay and the surrounding rural parishes where issues affecting the countryside take on an important role in the way the electorate will cast their vote.

DAVID LENNARD reports from a former Tory stronghold that has in more recent times returned a Labour MP to the House of Commons.


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IT is hard to imagine a constituency with such a striking contrast of areas from the urban heartland of Lowestoft at Kirkley to the small country parishes close to Beccles and Bungay.

The River Waveney, from which the constituency takes it name, is also the county border with Norfolk and Norwich is nearer to the area than Ipswich in the south of Suffolk.

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People living in Waveney have always felt rather isolated from the rest of Suffolk and it is hardly surprising that better communication links, such as improving the A12, are high on the agenda of many voters' wish lists.

For many years the constituency was considered something of a Tory stronghold with long-standing MPs including Cabinet Minister Jim Prior, now Lord Prior, and David Porter.

All that changed, however, when the Boundary Commission made startling changes to the constituency before the 1997 election.

The southern part of the constituency, including the towns of Halesworth and Southwold, found themselves moved to the next door constituency of Suffolk Coastal and Waveney became centred around the towns of Lowestoft, Beccles and Bungay.

Since the changes were introduced Labour's Bob Blizzard, a former teacher and leader of Waveney District Council, has been returned as MP.

For years Lowestoft has suffered as its fishing fleet decreased alarmingly and other traditional industries were also in decline.

Unemployment was among the highest in the region and there was no hiding the fact that the town and surrounding area had seen better days.

Recently, however, all that is changing as new industries look to set up in the Waveney area and millions of pounds are being spent to regenerate Lowestoft and near neighbour Great Yarmouth across the county divide in Norfolk.

One of the country's largest land-based wind turbines is now operating from Britain's most easterly location at Ness Point and signals a change of direction as the constituency is very much on the up.

Work on £14 million Sunrise Scheme is nearing completion in Lowestoft town centre and South Beach area and last year work began on the long-awaited £30 million Lowestoft Southern Relief Road.

Other causes for optimism include the setting up of an urban regeneration company with Great Yarmouth, a new centre of excellence for the renewable energy sector, the growth of tourism, and more large international and national stores and companies opening in the area.

While there is much to celebrate there are still real concerns for many people living in the area.

There is a shortage of "affordable" housing and the fear that the area's young people will be forced to move away in order to find a home they can afford.

Local issues such as the need for a bypass at Bungay and a southern bypass at Beccles as well as improvements on the East Suffolk railway line are all issues that the candidates will be quizzed on as they canvass across the constituency.

The urgent need for a third river crossing at Lowestoft is also considered essential to complete the area's economic recovery.

When Bob Blizzard first won the seat in 1997 he secured 56% of the vote and had a majority of more than 12,000.

Four years later, however, his share of the vote was 50.7% and his majority over the Conservatives was down to 8,500.

This year it looks likely that it will again be a two-horse race between Mr Blizzard and his Tory rival Peter Aldous, a member of Suffolk County Council who lives in north Suffolk near Halesworth.

The Liberal Democrat candidate, Nicholas Bromley, another local man who lives near Beccles, will be hoping to improve on the third place his party achieved four years ago.

Both the other two candidates, Brian Aylett of the United Kingdom Independence Party and the Green Party's Graham Elliott stood in the 2001 election and will be hoping to make gains this time.

The importance of winning the Waveney constituency has not been lost on the election chiefs at Labour and Conservative headquarters.

With the election campaign only a few days old the area has already been visited by the Conservative Shadow Pensions Minister David Willetts and Labour's Home Secretary Charles Clarke.

It will not be until the early hours of Friday, May 6 that we will learn the result but one thing for certain is that it is likely to be close and the turnout will play a crucial part in deciding the outcome.

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david.lennard@eadt.co.uk

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ALL five candidates standing in Waveney can lay claim to local knowledge as they ask for support at next month's General Election.

Labour candidate Bob Blizzard lives in Lowestoft and is a former teacher and leader of Waveney District Council.

He has been the Waveney MP since 1997 and is running his campaign with the theme "You know Bob and Bob knows Waveney".

Mr Blizzard is proud of the fact that local unemployment has fallen from 11.5% to 3% since he was first elected.

"Crime is down too, with burglary reduced by 33% in the Lowestoft sector and 56% in the Beccles sector last year.

"There's been massive investment in new wards, theatres and medical facilities at the James Paget Hospital and waiting times are nearly down to six months maximum, compared to two years under the previous government," he said.

The community hospitals at Lowestoft and Beccles have been refurbished and every local school has had new building work and more computers, with extra teachers during the same period, said Mr Blizzard.

"The £30 million South Lowestoft Relief Road now being constructed is the biggest single investment any government has ever made in our area," said Mr Blizzard.

Since the Labour Government designated Lowestoft for assisted area and European funding large parts of the town are being regenerated, he said.

Mr Blizzard said the new £5 million offshore renewable energy centre to be built in the town would establish Lowestoft as the base for the industry and that was good for jobs and the environment.

"Beccles was chosen by the Government for the £1 million market towns initiative and Bungay is benefiting from £750,000 investment in the new Riverside Centre," he said.

Mr Blizzard said if re-elected his priorities would include lobbying for more police officers and community support officers, a third river crossing for Lowestoft and better transport links for Waveney, developing the offshore industry, affordable housing for young families and ensuring a bright future for Lowestoft College.

He also backed Labour's policy of giving every pensioner £200 off their council tax on top of the £200 winter allowance and free local bus travel.

Mr Blizzard said Labour would continue to invest in the NHS and said he believed that the introduction of ID cards would help tackle the problem of illegal immigrants.

"I backed my own judgement and voted against war in Iraq. I still think I was right to do so. But I also know that Labour has done so much good in Waveney and Britain, and increased aid and debt relief for poor countries.

"It took my party 38 years to win this seat. Only Labour or the Tories can win Waveney. Please go out and vote Labour so that we keep going forward, not back to the Tories," he said.

Conservative candidate Peter Aldous is also a former member of Waveney District Council who lives at Wissett, near Halesworth.

Mr Aldous, a chartered surveyor, is currently a member of Suffolk County Council where he is deputy leader of the Conservative group.

"Waveney is a great place to live though there are challenges that need to be addressed to improve job opportunities, amenities and services for all who live and work in the constituency.

"I am standing as the Conservative candidate because I want to help bring about those improvements and I genuinely believe that it is only under a Conservative Government led by Michael Howard that Waveney will truly prosper," he said.

He is campaigning for extra police officers in Waveney to fight the battle against crime and said a Conservative government would introduce 57 additional officers in the constituency over the next eight years as part of an extra 40,000 being recruited nationally.

Mr Aldous also wants to see improved communications to Waveney by road and rail and believes the "de-trunking" of the A12 sent out a "negative" message.

"I will lobby hard for improvements, including a third crossing in Lowestoft, a Bungay bypass, an upgraded A12 and a Beccles rail loop on the East Suffolk Line," he said.

As someone who believes that higher education has an important role to play in the regeneration of the area Mr Aldous promised not only to back existing schools and colleges but to make sure a faculty of the proposed University of Suffolk is located in Lowestoft.

Mr Aldous also backed Conservative proposals to provide a "fair deal" for Waveney's pensioners and plans to boost the local fishing industry.

"I shall do what I can to ensure that Beccles and Bungay are vibrant market towns.

"I am not going to pretend this can all be achieved overnight nor am I a politician who will promise the earth at a General Election and then, once elected, fail to deliver. That is not my style," he said.

"I passionately believe Waveney has an exciting future if these challenges are addressed and I want the opportunity to do this as Waveney's MP," said Mr Aldous.

Liberal Democrat candidate Nick Bromley, lives at Shadingfield, near Beccles, and believes that the coming election gives his party their best chance of success for many years.

"Our manifesto proposals are strong. They are important and highly relevant measures that will make a real difference to people's lives.

"They will tackle some of the major sources of unfairness that this government has introduced," he said.

These proposals include scrapping student top-off fees and replacing council tax with a tax that is better related to people's ability to pay.

"We will put an extra £25 on the pension for the over-75s and we will introduce free personal care for the elderly.

"We will pay for 10,000 extra police officers and in all our policies we will ensure that the environment is put at the heart of our decision making," said Mr Bromley.

He said that his party has been against the war in Iraq.

"We don't know why we are there but we do know we have been distracted from the task of destroying Al-Qaeda and have lost much support around the world," said Mr Bromley.

On other issues Mr Bromley said Liberal Democrats have argued against avoiding the issue of the Euro and were in favour of a referendum from the start.

"Both the other parties rival each other like playground thugs, who can be the tougher over law and order.

"We certainly need to sort out the yobs who plague our streets and measures like Anti-Social Behaviour Orders can help if carefully defined but ill-considered legislation that is only concerned with looking tough ultimately threatens our civil liberties," he said.

Mr Bromley, a director of health research for the Centre for Reform, knows local issues extremely well as he is chairman of his parish council.

Brian Aylett, the UKIP candidate, lives in Beccles, and was educated at the town's Sir John Leman School before going on to Norwich City College and Sheffield University.

Mr Aylett said if elected he could support New Labour or the Conservatives on many of their proposals but would insist on Britain not giving up the pound, regaining the right to govern ourselves, and reject the EU constitution.

Green Party candidate Graham Elliott lives at Barsham, near Beccles, and said in a "Green" Britain everyone would have access to high-quality public services near to where they lived, with education and healthcare free at the point of use.

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david.lennard@eadt.co.uk

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