"Happy New Year! 2017 was certainly eventful and 2018 promises as much, though probably no elections this year! We commemorate two totemic events - 100 years since the end of the Great War and of women getting the vote. Key to achieving women getting the vote was Millicent Fawcett who was born and raised in Aldeburgh, part of the great Garrett family. She is to be immortalised with a statue in Parliament Square this year - the first statue there of a woman. The Royal Mint are commemorating this with the issuing of a special 50 pence coin.
Looking ahead for the year, moving into phase two of Brexit negotiations is key to our future prosperity. Frictionless trade is vital for consumers and businesses. I am grateful to Felixstowe Port for their advice and thoughts on how to make this happen in practice, which I am sharing with fellow ministers. The success of Felixstowe Port post-Brexit is an important strategic issue that affects not only the port itself but the many local businesses throughout Suffolk and beyond, whose business relies on it.
Locally, I would hope we move onto the third and final stage of EDF's consultation on Sizewell C. I expect EDF to have done a significant amount of work since Stage 2, especially in relation to improvements to the road network. I did not support their reserve park and ride site at Woodbridge in Stage 2 and I hope this will have been dropped for Stage 3."
The disappointing decision by Lloyds to close branches in Suffolk Coastal has led to heightened anxiety in other towns in my constituency. Following my petition several years ago Barclays gave me assurances that they had no intention of closing any of their branches in Suffolk Coastal. Despite this their Saxmundham branch closed last year so it is important we get some long term commitment
So I have again sought reassurance from Barclays Bank that they remain committed to Aldeburgh, Halesworth and Southwold, and that HSBC are committed to continuing to operate a branch in Saxmundham – all of which are the last bank standing in these market towns. I am pleased to say that HSBC have already replied saying that their branch restructuring programme is completed, so Saxmundham is safe.
A reminder during Storm Eleanor hitting power supplies locally that 105 is the contact point if you are suffering disruption. Their online site www.ukpowernetworks.co.uk has more information."
"2017 will be documented as one of the most interesting political years of the 21st Century. An unexpected election with a result that no-one expected at the outset. The Prime Minister gained 2.3m more votes than the Conservatives gained in 2015, the highest share of the vote since 1983 but still went backwards in terms of the overall number of MPs as the minor parties were squeezed. The issue that has dominated the agenda at Westminster this year has been Brexit. Earlier this month the Prime Minister secured an historic agreement with the European Union, which brings to an end the first phase of Brexit negotiations. The agreement secured the rights of the three million EU citizens living here and the million British citizens living in the EU; represented a fair settlement in terms of money; and maintains the common travel area within the island of Ireland. Now the first phase of Brexit has been agreed we can move on to detailed negotiations on other issues, including our future trade deal. This is of significant importance to our part of the country and crucial for Felixstowe as we need to ensure we can continue to trade freely through the port.
As we prepare to leave the EU, my department is focussing on how we maintain and enhance our natural environment through our 25 year Environment Plan and the future of our fisheries – which will continue to place science based fisheries management at the very heart. Due to the Government's commitment to sustainable fishing and the subsequent recovery in fish stocks my departmental colleague, George Eustice came back from Brussels recently with an increased quota for North Sea Cod, Haddock and Monkfish. A festive fillip for our fishermen.
Continuing the fisheries theme - I'm delighted that the Oyster Inn in Butley has been awarded a £25k grant from the Prince's Countryside Fund. The pub was awarded the grant to support the provision of essential village services – with the unused barn buildings due to be converted to provide a village shop. This will complement the community function room, cinema and micro-brewery that opened earlier this year. If you haven't visited since the Oyster re-opened then I would encourage you to check it out – as I would any of our local pubs over the Christmas period.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all Coastal Scene readers a happy and peaceful Christmas and a prosperous New Year. I hope you have a great time with family and friends"
"Woods Lane has now reopened – and whilst I welcome the fact that residents will get a months respite during the Christmas period - it is due to close again in January which will be hugely frustrating for all concerned. During the November closure, I met Deputy Leader of Suffolk County Council, Cllr Jane Storey, to discuss the impact on local residents and further potential mitigation for the second closure. Clearly assumptions have been made by council officers about what working hours would be deemed acceptable without asking the residents. There is an opportunity to change this for the second phase and the County Council are working with the developer on this. I understand if residents on Woods Lane themselves and those directly affected were not content for 24/7 working but with longer working hours we should be able to shorten the second closure. The key point I raised with Cllr Storey though was about the need to assess transport infrastructure for the future. The roads into Melton, Woodbridge and the peninsula from the A12 are clearly at capacity and will need to be addressed.
There is not much festive cheer coming from Lloyds Bank who announced they intend to close both their Southwold and Halesworth bank branches. Their decision is especially disappointing considering the commitments previously made to me made to me. I have asked for more information about their mobile banking service – which they have promised will service both Halesworth and Southwold - to get clarity on where and how often it will operate. I have also asked whether they are able to keep the ATMs open.
Winter is now upon us and thanks to the Coastal Scene's sister paper the EADT – their Surviving Winter Campaign is firmly on the agenda. Early on in being MP for Suffolk Coastal, I raised the profile and need for help of residents off the gas grid. Fuel poverty is considerably higher for those who don't have mains gas to warm their home. To help prevent this the Cold Weather Priority Scheme has been introduced to identify people who may be susceptible to colder conditions and who are off the gas-grid. The scheme enables fuel suppliers to take pro-active steps to get fuel to you during times of fuel shortages or extreme cold weather. You can sign up for the CWP initiative if there are one or more residents aged 75 years or over in your household or there are one or more residents known to be chronically sick or registered disabled. For more information go to - http://www.coldweatherpriority.co.uk"
"This week in Parliament the Chancellor delivered a Budget which lays the foundations for a Britain fit for the future. It was a balanced approach that continues to reduce the deficit and pay off our debt (still £65,000 per household) while supporting families by increasing the National Living Wage, cutting income tax, freezing fuel duty and investing in public services we value. From April, the personal allowance will rise to £11,850, meaning the typical basic rate tax payer will be £1,075 a year better off compared to 2010 with a higher rate rise to £46,350. At the same time the National Living Wage will also rise by 4.4 per cent to £7.83, meaning full-time workers are £2,000 better off since it was introduced.
The careful management of the economy means that the Chancellor was able to find an additional £2.8bn for our NHS. £350 million immediately to allow trusts to plan for this winter; £1.6 billion in 2018-19, with the balance in 19-20, taking the extra resource into the NHS next year to £3.75 billion in total.
As we approach Small Business Saturday on the 2nd December, I was particularly pleased with the Chancellor's announcement on business rates – bringing forward the planned changes to uprating from RPI to CPI, worth £2.3bn to businesses over the next five years; a shorter revaluation period from 5 years to 3, which will reduce the size of future changes; and extending the £1,000 rates discount for pubs. Crucially, the Chancellor also announced progress on making our business tax system fairer with measures focussed on our digital economy and a commitment to find solutions on this internationally. This is a point many small business owners in Suffolk made to me earlier this year when the latest revaluations kicked in.
For young people - we are getting rid of stamp duty on all house purchases up to £300,000, benefitting those who are working hard to get on the housing ladder and we're introducing a new 26 – 30 rail card, giving 4.5 million more young people a third off their rail fares.
The Chancellor also committed to a package of measures, which are forecast to raise an additional £4.8bn on top of the £160bn we have already raised for public services by clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion. Opposition parties often talk about tough action on this but their previous record doesn't bear it out. We are getting on and doing it."
"As the first ever female Member of Parliament for Suffolk, I'm proud to announce that the first ever female statue will be erected in Parliament Square next year. The statue will recognise the life of one of Suffolk's most famous daughter's, Millicent Garrett-Fawcett, pioneer of women's suffrage. Millicent who was born and lived in Aldeburgh was the great-grand daughter of Richard Garrett, who founded the agricultural machinery manufacturing plant in Leiston, preserved today in the Long Shop museum and her sister, of course, was Elizabeth Garrett-Anderson, the first female doctor in Britain. The statue will mark the centenary of voting rights being extended to women under the Representation of the People Act 1918 and the ability for women to stand for Parliament for the first time under the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918. To mark the centenary the Government has announced a £5 million fund for projects to raise awareness of this crucial milestone and to inspire people to play their part in building a diverse political system for the future. Considering our heritage I would be delighted if local groups in Suffolk could prepare bids. I'll write again on how to apply when the fund officially opens.
As I referred to in my last column, the Woods Lane road closure began this week. I know this has been frustrating for local residents and I continue to work on this issue to ensure the significant disruption is mitigated as much as is possible. Following the public meeting last week, Cllr Nicoll has been following up with local residents about whether a working day longer than 10 hours can be tolerated – and I know the house builder is looking in to the possibility of 24hr working in the second phase which would shorten disruption. I have a meeting in Endeavour House today (Friday), where I hope to receive answers to some outstanding questions and issues.
This weekend the country will come together in remembrance. This year I will be in Aldeburgh before heading up to Halesworth for their service of remembrance later in the day. Remembrance Sunday is an opportunity not only to remember those who died for our freedom but also to show our gratitude to our serving men and women who do so much to keep us safe. My heartfelt thanks to them all."
"I share the frustration of many local residents regarding the closure of Woods Lane in Melton in November and from January to mid-April next year. I appreciate the disruption will be significant and I have been working with local councillors and Suffolk County Council on addressing this.
Housing developer Bloor Homes have applied for the road closure after they bought the site from Christchurch Land & Estates Ltd, who obtained the planning permission. The closure is to connect the new housing development to the water and sewerage network which runs under the centre of Woods Lane and to make transport improvements as required by the planning consent.
I have expressed my concerns to Suffolk County Council and Bloor Homes directly, posing several questions on behalf of constituents. I questioned whether a one-way or traffic light system could be applied. For both phases of construction, it does not allow enough space for vehicles to safely pass but of course, access will be granted for those residents and businesses which only have entrances on Woods Lane to be accommodated. Bloor have also agreed to allow access to emergency vehicles both during the day when workmen are on site and at night.
I questioned Suffolk County Council on the length of the closure but they assure me this is a reasonable time to complete such substantial works. I still have not got to the bottom of exactly the basis of the agreement but I now understand that the county council has agreed with Bloor Homes that they make it a seven day a week operation with an extended working day of at least ten hours. I am liaising with the County Council on how this will be monitored.
I have also asked the County about reprogramming the lights at the crossroads of the A1152 and Melton Road to help traffic coming from the diverted Woodbridge route. I've been assured that the intelligent traffic control system should be able to adapt to the changing patterns. However, a County Council engineer will attend the site for the first day to ensure this is working.
There is also the opportunity to use this time to install all utilities to the development and I have already alerted BT Openreach.
I know this is frustrating for local residents and I will continue to work on this issue on behalf of constituents to ensure the significant disruption is mitigated as much as is possible."
"It's been a fortnight of incredible news for animal welfare' – that was the reaction of the UKs most well-known animal welfare charity, the RSPCA, to two pieces of Government action last week. Firstly, we will shortly publish draft legislation to increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty, from six months to five years – giving courts the powers they have called for to punish the most abhorrent acts and deter other offenders. Secondly, the Environment Secretary and my departmental colleague, Michael Gove, announced plans for a full ban on the sale of ivory. Just over a year ago, I attended a ministerial convention on illegal wildlife trade. After that conference, I visited Kruger National Park in South Africa and saw the carcasses of slaughtered rhinos as well as the rhinos that rangers were protecting. Last week we heard that around 20,000 elephants a year are still being slaughtered because of the ivory trade. Our ban will put the UK front and centre of global efforts to end this and we will continue to press other countries to close their markets. My department have just started a 12 week consultation on the detail of the ban, to which we will respond early next year.
Earlier this week the Prime Minister published her unprecedented audit of public sector services. The audit reveals how your race affects the way you interact with public services and your employment prospects. I wrote last year about how if you're a white working class boy from coastal towns like ours, you are much less likely to go to university than any other group. The government is determined to make this a country that works for everyone and this audit is an important part of making that a reality. The message is simple: if these disparities cannot be explained then they must be changed.
Finally, two important consultations are set to close at the end of this month. The first is on the Suffolk Energy Gateway, the new road proposed to by-pass the four villages along the A12. The second is on Suffolk Coastal's review of their Local Plan. Residents are being given the chance to have their say on the options for the distribution for future development. I would urge readers to read these carefully and have their say."
"I was delighted to attend the Great British Beach Clean recently. It is incumbent on us all to help keep our beaches clean and litter free and the easiest way to do that is not to drop litter in the first place. I have taken on ministerial responsibility for this and it's a big challenge.
Following the announcement by the Education Secretary that every school in Suffolk will see an increase in their per pupil funding, indicative funding rises for each school vary from 0.5% to 18% locally. I say indicative as the council decides the final allocation with the advice of the schools forum. This big change in the new national funding formula, which I pressed for, ensures that every school has a higher basic percentage of funding for every child. Suffolk has traditionally suffered because we have very high employment rates and have far fewer children than the national average receiving free schools meals, which means money has been diverted elsewhere. However, our average levels of household income is not as high as some other places where schools have traditionally been funded more generously – so the change to the formula has started to right those wrongs. I recognise the frustration locally that increases were not even higher and that Suffolk is still in the bottom quartile for funding per pupil but the teachers' unions and the Labour party campaigned to protect funding for other parts of the country which were already funded much more generously than Suffolk schools. Overall this meant less was available for Suffolk but we have kept our word, improved the funding formula for Suffolk children and we are now firmly on the up for school funding
Finally, from October 2018 the communications regulator Ofcom are banning all phone companies for charging for caller display facilities, which will help more people screen nuisance calls. This should help many constituents whose lives are blighted by these types of calls – often dialled automatically by a computer. The new rules will help prevent this, confirming that phone numbers displayed to people receiving calls must be valid, dialable and identify the caller."
"Parliament has taken another step in the journey of leaving the EU with the European Union Withdrawal Bill, after some very late night voting, has passed to the next stage to receive full scrutiny. The legislation is designed to transfer all EU law into UK law – ensuring a smooth transition with legal certainty for businesses, consumers and investors. Much EU law is already incorporated. These are the laws that stems from what is called an EU directive, which we tailor according to our legal system. Some of this may need to be tweaked as, for example, we will no longer have a European regulator for something but will have a UK or England only regulator and we need to change the name within our law. There is another type of EU law called regulations, which apply automatically in exactly the same way everywhere. This could be something from the standard for the size, shape and manner of how bananas are sold to the standard operating practices for the safe operation through traffic control of aeroplanes within our airspace to what chemicals are allowed or that are to be banned. All of these need to be brought into law before we leave in March 2019. The Withdrawal Bill delivers what the British people voted for – control over our own laws after we leave, outside the control of the European Court of Justice, with Parliament then resuming its sovereignty. Some constituents contacted me asking me to vote against the Bill and the timetable motion, further delaying the Brexit process. I believe eight days on the floor of the House is sufficient to consider this straightforward Bill which is absolutely crucial to provide the continuity Britain needs to function and make a success of Brexit.
An important consultation is taking place regarding the Suffolk Energy Gateway, the new road to by-pass the four villages along the A12. The proposed improvement between Wickham Market and Saxmundham is designed to open up the entire energy coast for further economic growth and housing development, as well as mitigate against traffic issues for Sizewell C. In his March Budget the Chancellor allocated £1m for the business case to be worked up and this consultation will help Suffolk County Council in its proposal to Government. It is therefore very important that local residents, business and community groups give their views. More information can be found at www.suffolk.gov.uk/consultations . I have asked the county council to add some information on estimated cost and environmental issues to be addressed. The consultation closes on the 25th October.
Finally, this weekend sees the return of the Great British Beach Clean with events taking place up and down the Suffolk Coast in Southwold, Aldeburgh, Felixstowe, Trimley Marsh and Bawdsey. We all have a role to play in keeping our beaches clean and litter free – not just joining in with events like this but in not dropping litter in the first place. For more information on the Great British Beach Clean and to help out this weekend go to - http://www.mcsuk.org/beachwatch/greatbritishbeachclean"
"As I write I am undertaking my annual constituency tour, criss-crossing the 300-odd square miles of the Suffolk Coastal constituency, visiting every town and parish to give residents the opportunity to raise any subject they like with me. I stop at over 90 locations over the four days so thank you to all those who have given my team and I a warm welcome on what is a tiring but very worthwhile week. Many of the issues raised are the responsibility of the local councils so I will be following up on a number of issues with councillors and other organisations next week.
Before Parliament returns next week I have been busy enjoying the various fetes, festivals and carnivals which blossom across Suffolk at this time of year. Congratulations in particular to the organisers of Aldeburgh Carnival, which celebrated 75 successful years this year. At Orford Flower Show last week I visited the Alde and Ore Estuary Partnership stand to catch up with Chairman, Sir Edward Greenwell. The partnership, which was formed in 2012, has done a fantastic job coordinating the approach for maintaining and upgrading the flood defences in the estuary, to preserve this area of outstanding natural beauty.
I spent Bank Holiday Monday enjoying the Felixstowe sunshine as Sky Ocean Rescue brought its plastic whale to the seafront on the last day of its tour around the UK. Made entirely of plastic recovered from the sea, the whale is a stark visual reminder of the prevalence of plastics in everyday life and the need to dispose of such items carefully, as it is thought that 80% of marine litter comes from the land. The government introduced a 5p charge on single use plastic bags and purchases of them fell by 85%. We have now started the process to remove plastic microbeads from certain cosmetic products. We will continue to do more but we need help from everyone to consider their own individual actions on how to reduce plastic that can often end up in our oceans.
Finally, Suffolk Coastal District Council is proposing new restrictions on dogs. I encourage people to respond to consultation on their website. I'm pleased that the council has now published some of its reasons for the increased restrictions. It seems two parish councils were particularly keen for tighter controls. The council has assured me it will carefully consider every submission."
Thank you for visiting my website. It is my privilege to serve as your Member of Parliament for Suffolk Coastal. Please do get in touch using the contact form or email me (details below).
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