Another Covid outbreak has occurred in the Mid Norfolk food processing sector – this time at Cranswick Foods in Watton.
For too long our area has suffered from poor broadband coverage. Coming from a farming family in a rural village, I know how vital a proper broadband connection is to local businesses and families across our area.
That’s why I set up my Digital Divide campaign, Broadband Summits and Norfolk Way project, making sure Norfolk was the first county to get £60m of funding through the Government’s BDUK scheme for broadband investment to tackle this issue.
With fast road, rail and broadband connections we can unlock what I have called a ‘Rural Renaissance’ in our area, with proper digital infrastructure allowing businesses to set up in our villages and towns creating new high-skilled jobs and opportunities.
Whilst the £60m funding and progress in Norfolk is good news, too many rural areas are still not clear when or if they will be connected. Together with other Norfolk MPs, local businesses and councillors, I will go on making sure we continue tackling the remaining not-spots in our area, and make sure every business and family in Mid Norfolk has the high-speed connection they need.
Norwich is the only UK county – and Norwich the largest UK city - not connected to the motorway and dual carriageway network. Nobody wants to flood Norfolk with London overflow and house-dumping, but neither can we be allowed to become a rural backwater. In order to develop our local economy and promote local busineses and opportunities for the next generation we need to be connected to the rest of the world, and alongside broadband, rail and our local airport, the A11 is key to that. Between Fiveways and Thetford, the A11 is a single-carriageway causing long delays with vehicles stuck in queues, polluting the environment. It is a notorious accident blackspot because it is so difficult to overtake, and yet the road is used by both fast moving trunk road traffic and slower moving agricultural traffic. In 2008, a petition to dual the A11 received 16,000 signatures.
That’s why I campaigned for funding to dual the A11. Despite the project being shelved many times over the past decades, I know that dualling the A11 is right for Norfolk and along with other Norfolk and Suffolk MPs, I was delighted to campaign for it.
In October 2010, the Department of Transport confirmed that the A11 would be dualled between Fiveways and Thetford. Once the work is completed, Norwich will be connected to the motorway and dual carriageway network: this is the new infrastructure we need to unlock new growth in Norfolk and bring our historic county into the 21st Century.
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Better broadband is crucial to Norfolk’s development. Far too many homes and commercial properties are stuck without basic broadband. This is bad for businesses, families, public services for the vulnerable like telemedicine, and many aspects of rural life. Improving Norfolk’s broadband would mean more profitable start-up businesses such as Liftshare (https://www.liftshare.com/uk), an award-winning Attleborough-based business started by one person on a farm with an internet connection. It would mean opening doors for people who can’t easily travel, and providing new opportunities. Better broadband makes it easier to work, shop, learn and keep in touch.
That’s why I’ve been campaigning for better broadband in Norfolk. I successfully campaigned in 2010 and 2011 in support of NCC and other MPs for a £15 million grant from Broadband Delivery UK, which was matched by Norfolk County Council. Now I’m supporting the “Say Yes to Better Broadband” campaign including a petition to encourage private sector investment and I am campaigning to ensure that, as the new broadband network is planned, the hidden, rural areas of Norfolk are not forgotten.
Norfolk County Council recently announced BT has been awarded the £30m contract to upgrade Norfolk’s broadband. I will be following BT’s progress on this important roll out to ensure that broadband is delivered as fast as possible particularly to rural black spots around Norfolk.
I am also keen to see the wide roll out of another innovative solution that is bringing broadband access to rural villages. WiSpire is a joint venture between the Diocese of Norwich and a company called FreeClix. For only around £2000 they can put transmitters and receivers on top of Norfolk churches and use them to send out broadband signals across the county. Each transmitter can deliver up to 8mbps of high speed wireless broadband internet access to local businesses, schools and residents in areas where speed is currently poor.
It’s ideal for small rural Norfolk villages – all they need is a church with a tower or spire and at least 25 households who don’t want to wait for the roll out of faster broadband access to reach them. I am urging villagers in my Mid Norfolk constituency to get in touch with me to see if they too can benefit from WiSpire.
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NORFOLK’S INNOVATION ECONOMY
Having had a 15 years career before I became a Member of Parliament in the Eastern Region working to help set up new biomedical companies, I am particularly interested in doing what I can to support Norfolk’s thriving innovation economy.
Norfolk is no rural backwater. Mid Norfolk is home to many innovative small businesses thriving despite the difficult economic conditions but there is still much to do to help other businesses bring their great ideas to the market place. Innovation hubs like the low carbon Hethel Engineering Centre and the globally respected Norwich Research Park provide fantastic breeding grounds for start-up companies. They help Norfolk to be internationally regarded as a “life science cluster” to rival more established centres of scientific innovation such as Cambridge.
Norwich Research Park is a world-leading centre of research, producing internationally recognised work in sectors including food, health and environmental sciences. 11,000 people work on the site, and it is this research that will create jobs and enterprises in the future – indeed, it already has. Within the Research Park are the John Innes centre, Genome Analysis centre, Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich BioIncubator, Innovation Centre and the Institute of Food Research. The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (with an active research and development department) and the University of East Anglia neighbour the Park.
I have long campaigned for more public sector support for Norwich Research Park and upcoming science such as the biotechnology and green innovation sectors, and was delighted when asked by the Prime Minister to work with David Willetts (Minister for Universities and Science) as Government Life Science Adviser to help drive investment in this key sector of our economy. In 2010, £5 million was invested in the Research Park to fund 30 new labs and offices and to provide an additional 5,000 jobs by 2021. More recently, in May 2012, the Government invested £90 million in the Norwich Research Park. I will continue to campaign for more support for this vibrant research and enterprise community and I will continue to promote Norfolk’s life sciences at home and abroad.
Hethel Innovation in Wymondham supports the growth and success of high performance engineering and manufacturing companies by advising them on technology, innovation, enterprise, skills and finance. Based at Hethel Engineering Centre and just around the corner from Formula One’s Lotus cars, Hethel Innovation is helping to attract investment and support for Norfolk’s businesses from around the world. In May 2012 I was honoured to be asked to host a delegation of Chinese investors in Parliament who were discussing future business ventures with Norfolk County Council and Hethel Innovation. I will continue to do what I can to support Norfolk’s hi-tech engineering and manufacturing sector.
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I passionately believe in the potential of Norfolk’s rural economy to play a significant role in helping to rebalance the national economy so we can grow our way out of these tough economic times. But rural businesses often suffer from isolation and struggle to access the support they need. Our high street banks can’t always be relied on to lend. Where else can they go for help with finance, marketing, and other business support?
There are, in fact, many sources of information, advice and support – if you know where to look. Information can come from Local Enterprise Partnerships, the Chamber of Commerce, County and District Councils and Local Business Networks, but businessmen and women need to be made aware of them.
Many of the market towns and high streets in Mid Norfolk face real challenges as the older local manufacturing businesses and jobs leave. Many of the villages suffer from closing Post Offices and pubs. I believe we can reverse this decline – by putting small businesses back at the heart of local communities. Watton in my constituency has all the hallmarks of a town facing that difficult adjustment. A proud town with a strong business heritage, its high street is struggling and it’s known best these days as the home of Adcocks, the High Street business hit by the bank mis-selling scandal, as profiled by the BBC’s Robert Peston.
That’s why I’m campaigning to promote Watton and Wayland as a home of enterprise, and develop and promote local support networks, with the help of the Wayland Partnership, the Chamber and local councillors. We are working on plans for a Watton and Wayland Enterprise Manifesto, a new Enterprise Network, a local Enterprise Directory, and a Work Club and Enterprise Bursary with the local Wayland Academy, pioneering new training for local youngsters.
Related to this work, and inspired by Watton entrepreneur, Paul Adcock, is my campaign to get banks to refocus their attention towards supporting a vibrant, rural economy. Over the last twenty years or so something has gone wrong with our banking system. The culture in our small number of big banks seems to have become more interested in trading in complex financial instruments and massive global investment banking at the expense of 'old fashioned' high street banking. The case of Adcocks in Watton profiled by the BBC's Robert Peston is an example of a local business damaged by complex interest rate products sold by their bank is symptomatic of a wider problem. The collapse of the banking boom, the debt crisis and subsequent recession are a wake-up call for the need for a banking system focussed on supporting grass roots saving and local businesses. To drive a sustainable recovery we need vibrant local economies which in turn need local banking.
The Government’s forthcoming Banking Reform Bill will implement important measures to separate investment banking from the 'retail' banking. In due course I believe we may need to go further to support local banking by promoting new entrants to the sector and encouraging smaller local banks to be set up. We should also think about other sources of finance for local businesses. I am particularly interested in exploring ideas for new finance models for local businesses, such as micro finance, where people in Norfolk may have the opportunity to invest their savings in successful Norfolk-based businesses.”
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Norwich is the only UK county – and Norwich the largest UK city - not connected to the motorway and dual carriageway network. No-body wants to flood Norfolk with London overflow and house-dumping, but neither can we be allowed to become a rural backwater. In order to develop our local economy and promote local busineses and opportunities for the next generation we need to be connected to the rest of the world, and alongside broadband, the A11 and our local airport, rail links are key to that.
Norwich and Cambridge are both world leading innovation hubs but despite being only 50 miles apart, travelling between the two is difficult and takes too long. By linking them better together we can unlock a world class “innovation corridor” linking Cambridge with Ely, Brandon, Thetford, Attleborough, Wymondham and Norwich, to the benefit of the local communities, local business and the regional economy.
That’s why I’m campaigning for improvements to Norfolk’s rail services, particularly the Cambridge-Norwich railway. I want the Norwich to London train journey to take no more than 90 minutes and I want to see faster and better trains to Cambridge from Norwich with excellent commuter services from stations along the route such as Wymondham and Attleborough.
Over the past year the campaign for East Anglian rail upgrades has intensified with MPs from across the region uniting to press for improvements. In July this year we achieved a breakthrough with the announcement that we had won the funding to upgrade Ely North Junction. The bottleneck on this piece of track currently prevents half-hourly services from both Norwich to Cambridge and King’s Lynn to Cambridge and it also holds up freight services from Suffolk. This rail upgrade, which is at the heart of an “innovation corridor” has the potential to drive growth and prosperity in our region for the next generation.
I will continue to push for better investment across Norfolk’s railways, and ensure that the improvements at Ely are rolled out as swiftly as possible.
Long term, I believe we need to look at whether separating the Track and Train Operating Companies (TOCs) is really the right model. I would like to see us look at the idea of an Anglian Regional Rail Company – controlling track and train, which we could invest in and which could attract the necessary investment to upgrade our local network. We can’t and shouldn’t sit around waiting for handouts from Whitehall. We need to capture the enterprising spirit of our Victorian forebears and do it ourselves!
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As the UK’s population grows it is not surprising that many more people want to come to Norfolk to live, work and enjoy our beautiful countryside. Wymondham is no exception; given its proximity and rail links to Norwich, Cambridge and London, great schools, history and heritage, and stunning landscape it is the perfect Norfolk market town. Unsurprisingly, Wymondham’s population is expanding and there is a growing demand for more homes and services for new and existing residents.
Since our Government passed the Localism Act decisions about planning where Wymondham’s development should go are no longer up to bureaucrats in Westminster. They are up to the people and their elected local councillors of Wymondham to decide. Whilst MPs have no responsibility for planning, I have long taken an interest in rural planning policy and am keen to play my part in helping bring people together to find the best way forward for Wymondham. It’s so important to encourage new homes, businesses and services to come to our unique and historic market town but we must not lose Wymondham’s special beauty and spirit in the process, and we must conserve what makes Wymondham so beautiful.
Earlier in 2012 I was pleased to play my part in encouraging the Town Council to think again when proposing the ASDA supermarket on King’s Head Meadow and to have the chance to chair the residents’ meeting with South Norfolk District Council to discuss the Wymondham Area Action Plan.
I am actively opposing the application for housing development in the Tiffey Valley, which I believe should be maintained as a precious ‘green lung’ for the town, and part of the special heritage area around the Abbey and Mid Norfolk Railway station.
Where I can play a useful role in support of the local council and key infrastructure I have. In July 2012 I brought together planners, Councillors, the new train and station operator and Network Rail to see if would be feasible to widen the Wymondham rail bridge and road to allow a better flow of traffic through the town. I am following up with Network Rail to determine the financial constraints of such a large project.
More recently I have urged the Government to ease the plight facing local councils like SNDC and Wymondham through the ‘5 year land supply’ loophole in which developers ‘bank’ permissions without building on them, thus fuelling further pressures on the councils to grant more persmissions for more land.
I will continue to follow closely the process for finalising the Wymondham Area Action Plan that South Norfolk District Council is spearheading and I will endeavour to help make all future decisions about planning as inclusive as possible for the people of Wymondham.
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