"The House of Commons approved the Brexit Bill, which gives the Prime Minister the authority to notify the EU that the UK is leaving, by triggering Article 50. This meant some late nights voting in the chamber but in the end it was passed, unamended, by a massive majority. I now expect the Lords to give its consent.
It was a pleasure to visit several organisations in Suffolk with my Environment Minister hat on. First stop was the EAST Suffolk Water Abstraction group, then to Slaughden to meet representatives from the District and County Council and the Manager of the Suffolk Coast & Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Government's centre for marine science is at Lowestoft. We will be considering designations for marine conservation zones in the next year and it was good to meet the team who help us with part of that process.
I was pleased to address the Bawdsey Coastal Partnership AGM and welcome their new chairman, Nick Crick. The Government has invested £2.4 million in emergency interventions at Bawdsey since 2010 and Bawdsey Coastal Partnership was formed as a result of the 2013 storm surge. I was pleased to hear that the partnership is continuing to work with the Environment Agency and have recently funded the Bawdsey Coastal Processes Study to inform future long-term solutions.
I replied to EDF's stage 2 consultation for Sizewell C. I have been robust in challenging EDF to do more work before the next phase of consultation, especially in relation to improvements to the road network and campus site. The biggest change which has happened in responses is that the councils have finally woken up to the disruption people living along the B1122 could face, as their energy has largely been focused on the A12 Farnham issue. However the traffic issues further down the A12 still need addressing. You can read my full consultation response on my website at theresecoffey.co.uk
Finally I attended the thanksgiving service for Jim Prior who was a distinguished MP for part of the Suffolk Coast. A packed church heard a thoughtful and humorous reflection on Jim's life from his son David, who was also an MP and is now in the Lords. Never happier than when being on the farm, it was a good reminder that service sits alongside stewardship of our shared environment."
"This week in Westminster was dominated by the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, which was given its second reading. Despite receiving a number of emails asking me to vote against the Bill I voted to enable the UK to start the process of withdrawal from the EU. I was a supporter of the referendum and as a democrat I fully accept the outcome. As soon as the Bill progresses through its remaining parliamentary stages it will give the Prime Minister the power to trigger Article 50, which she has promised to do by the end of March. Earlier this month she set out her negotiating objectives and was unequivocal that we are not seeking partial membership, associate membership, or anything that leaves us half-in or half-out. Leaving will mean just that, control over our immigration system, an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and ceasing our membership of the Single Market.
I was pleased to join Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner, Tim Passmore and Suffolk County Council Cabinet member responsible for Fire, Matthew Hicks for the cementing of the date stone on the new joint police and fire station in Saxmundham last week. Saxmundham follows Woodbridge in having a joint blue light station, which saves money and promotes better joint working between the emergency services. The project has been supported by a grant by the Department of Communities and Local Government.
I visited both Hollesley Bay and Warren Hill prisons last week to meet Governors, Declan Moore and Sonia Walsh. Declan is rightly proud of the Outstanding Ofsted gained by Hollesley Bay in respect to learning and skills of prisoners. Open prisons are important to help facilitate a prisoner's transition back into normal life and learning new skills is an important part of this.
Finally, today is the last day to respond to EDF's stage 2 consultation for Sizewell C. I have submitted my consultation response which outlines my concern over the proposed accommodation campus as well as the mitigation measures for the B1122, which are not good enough. You can reply online at http://sizewell.edfenergyconsultation.info"
"Last Friday all eyes were on the weather as Suffolk braced itself for a tidal surge. As Floods Minister, I always have my wellies at the ready in case I need to dash off to a part of the country affected by bad weather but last weekend the risk was far closer to home with severe flood warnings issued right across the east coast. As I've said before being MP for Suffolk Coastal has given me a great apprenticeship for the role of Environment Minister, not least the floods of 2013 where some parts of my constituency were hit by a storm surge with water levels surpassing even the 1953 flood.
This time levels were lower than they were three years ago and thankfully we remained largely unscathed. We were better prepared this time with more temporary and permanent defences. In fact our coastal defences are estimated to have protected over 500,000 properties over the weekend. I visited Snape and dropped into the Plough and Sail who were prepared for the worst but thankfully the storm passed. I know there was some minor flooding further up the coast with the Harbour Inn in Southwold bearing the brunt. There was also a hugely tragic incident last Saturday morning where a gentlemen died under crumbling cliffs in Thorpeness. My sympathy goes to his family and friends.
The advance warning of the surge meant the Emergency Planning team were able to swing into action and set up the Strategic Coordinating Group, chaired by Suffolk Police – which gave me regular briefings last Friday evening. Rest centres were mobilised to cope with evacuations and a helpline was set up to help move people. I want to thank Suffolk Police, the fire service, council officers, the Environment Agency and flood groups who all helped residents and businesses at risk of flooding.
I'm grateful to Theberton and Eastbridge Parish Council for organising a public meeting to discuss the second stage of public consultation on Sizewell C. Of those who accepted the need for EDF to build a power station, I heard strongly the sentiments that the proposed campus location is not acceptable nor were the proposed solutions for the B1122. I agree with that. There were some new points raised which I will look into and I recognise that there are some residents who do not want the new power station at all. I would encourage everyone to respond to the formal consultation at http://sizewell.edfenergyconsultation.info
Turning to matters in Westminster. The Prime Minister set out her negotiating objectives for Brexit. She was clear that Brexit meant control of our immigration system, an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and ceasing our membership of the Single Market. She set out a vision to make Britain stronger and fairer – restoring national self-determination while becoming even more global. Whilst the vote last year was a vote to leave the EU, it was not a vote to leave Europe and she was clear that we want to continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends with our European neighbours. Parliament has already voted the trigger Article 50 by the end of March, which will set off a period of negotiations. Whether you voted Leave or Remain it is time to unite to build a global Britain outside the EU."
"Happy New Year!
A grey start to 2017 on the Suffolk coast but I expect the year will be full of colour whether it's the bright-eyed, tanned, white teeth beaming President Trump at his inauguration to the opportunities and challenges as we go ahead with Article 50, triggering our departure for the EU. There are also important elections coming up on the continent, with Angela Merkel up for re-election in Germany, France due to elect a new President to replace Francois Hollande and the Dutch are also due to go to the polls. The ongoing wars, interspersed with temporary ceasefires, and the terrorist attacks are deeply disturbing but we need to press on with our call for freedom and our generous, humanitarian approaches, largely supported by our overseas aid budget. We certainly live in interesting political times. While it is likely that Britain's withdrawal from the European Union will continue to dominate the headlines as the government embarks on the most complex task it has faced since the end of the Second World War, especially as we seek a deal that is bespoke to Britain, there is much else that continues to command our attention on a local and national level.
The second stage of the public consultation on Sizewell C is still open and closes on 3 February. We waited a long time for this stage of the consultation and it is vital that residents and business owners contribute so we maximise the opportunity to improve local infrastructure. Sizewell C will bring huge benefits to the Suffolk coast, in particular bringing high skilled, high paid jobs to our area, but there are legitimate concerns regarding increased traffic and other disruption during the construction phase. This disruption could potentially stretch to the A14 and all along the A12. If you haven't contributed yet, you can find out more about what is being proposed and give your feedback on http://sizewell.edfenergyconsultation.info.
As Environment Minister, I am looking forward to shortly publishing the framework of our 25 year environment plan and, in due course, the full plan itself. As the minister responsible for flood protection, I checked the flood information service twice daily and had my wellies at the ready but thankfully we had a rather dry Christmas season. In December 2013 it was rather a different story along our coast at Woodbridge, which was affected by a storm surge with water levels surpassing even the 1953 flood. I'm delighted that 3 years later and after a £1.2m investment, the new strengthened defences for the town will give precious piece of mind to local residents, ensuring that the effects of future flooding are greatly reduced. The new defences are part of the Environment Agency's excellent work across Suffolk and the UK.
May I wish all Coastal Scene readers peace and prosperity for 2017."
I have had a significant number of debates and appearances in Parliament recently on my broad portfolio– air quality, forestry, sales of ivory – while out of the chamber and committee rooms, a large amount of my time has been ensuring we are ready for winter. Last year's flooding resulted from unprecedented rain so I have been watching the weather reports very closely indeed and am hoping for a white rather than wet Christmas. That said, the country is definitely better prepared this winter than last. Not only have defences been repaired, in the last year, more than 55,000 homes are now better protected. That includes a new defence in Woodbridge which should better protect 400 homes. For those people not insured, I encourage you to be so. The new Flood Re scheme has been in operation for six months now with the aim of having affordable insurance for all home owners, effectively cross-subsidised by those at effectively no risk. This is a medium-term measure to allow home owners time to improve the resilience of their home but at least having insurance gives some comfort of mind in case the worst does happen.
Just as schools close for Christmas, after a very long term, not only do they have a break but we also have a chance to look at the primary school test results. There was a reset of the standards expected at primary level which has been assessed. As a county, Suffolk has started inching up the league tables to 123rd from 134th in 2014. This new curriculum raises expectations and works to ensure pupils become more accomplished readers and fluent in mathematical basics. This added rigour will help to better support pupils when leaving primary school for the demands that come with moving into secondary education. Locally, congratulations should go to Orford Primary School where 75% of pupils met the new benchmarks in reading, writing and maths, compared to a national average of 53% and a Suffolk average of 49%. Saxmundham Primary School, Aldeburgh Primary School and St Mary's Primary School in Woodbridge all performed particularly well too, far exceeding the national average. The Education Secretary issued a new funding formula for further consultation. This proposes a welcome though modest increase for Suffolk and I will scrutinise it carefully before responding.
With 11,000 miles of coastline to protect, UK Border Force rely on local intelligence to assist their law enforcement at sea. Since the start of 2016, there have been instances of illegal crossings and the smuggling of banned substances into the UK, including an illegal landing at Bawdsey. While maritime incidents are relatively low compared to other forms of transport, it is still a risk the government takes seriously. Those who live and work on the coast can report suspicious activity to assist Border Force by calling 101 and quoting 'Project Kraken' to the operator when doing so.
There is good news for EE customers looking to stay in touch with friends and family over Christmas. Site upgrades at Rendlesham, Pettistree, Saxmundham railway station and the ones east of Farnham and south of Yoxford will improve 4G coverage. I have encouraged the County Council to meet mobile network operators to proactively discuss suitable sites for extending coverage in the past so more people in rural areas can benefit from better mobile phone signal.
And finally, I am looking forward to spending Christmas with my family here in Suffolk (weather permitting!) and would like to wish all Coastal Scene readers the very best for the festive season. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!
I have always taken an active interest in post offices along the Suffolk Coast. In our smallest villages, we have increasingly relied on some sub-postmasters who have been willing to provide an outreach service when owners of post offices have decided to stop or move on. Since 2010 the government has committed almost £2 billion to support this vital network and fund the transformation of stores. The services they provide to our rural areas in particular are the lifeblood of some villages and in the Conservative government's 2015 election manifesto we committed to securing the future of 3,000 rural post offices. The government now wants feedback from residents and businesses as to what their expectations are of the Post Office to inform the future funding and development of the network. This will have a particular focus on small, remote communities which means it is vital that Suffolk's voice is heard. You can respond to the consultation by visiting https://beisgovuk.citizenspace.com/ukgi/post-office-network-consultation or by calling 0207 215 4383.
Many Post Office services are embedded within local shops and these small businesses are equally important to our towns and villages. Last weekend I was out and about for Small Business Saturday, travelling from the very south of Suffolk Coastal in Felixstowe to the very north in Wrentham. There were Christmas fairs in Woodbridge, Leiston and elsewhere with some of the best of Suffolk on display. We are blessed with so many wonderful small businesses in our part of the world and it's important we support them all year round, but at this busy time of year I hope you'll join me in sending some trade their way during the festive season.
Business owners will be aware that their business rates will be changing from April in the first revaluation of commercial property since 2010. Current rates are based on rateable values from 2008 and next year's change will be based on 2015 valuations. This is not about raising revenue for the government, but a realignment of the basis on which businesses are charged. Three quarters of all business nationwide will see their rates either fall or stay the same, with several businesses benefitting in Woodbridge, Saxmundham and Leiston. However, businesses in Aldeburgh will see an increase in the amount of business rates they pay due to the sharp rise in the value of property in the town since the 2008 valuation. The government is doubling the threshold from which small businesses will be exempt from paying rates at all, as well as applying transitional relief for five years. There is also the option to appeal the change in rateable value if it is felt to be unfair. I am seeking a meeting with the Treasury Minister to press the case on how our independent business will be affected by these changes.
Finally, I enjoyed the carol singing at Fromus Square in Saxmundham last weekend in what was another highly successful Christmas event to build on what happened last year. The lantern procession, Christmas market, Santa's grotto and lights switch-on outside the Market Hall went down a treat and was the perfect way for the town to get into the Christmas spirit. Congratulations to the Businesses of Saxmundham committee, the church and the council for all the hard work that went on behind the scenes.
The Chancellor delivered his Autumn Statement on Wednesday and there was good news for Suffolk Coastal as £1 million has been allocated to develop the business case for the Energy Gateway on the A12. This is an important first step which we can now use to develop a convincing case to go on and secure the funding necessary to make the project a reality. With Sizewell C on the horizon I will now work with our local councils to progress this as speedily as possible so residents and businesses can benefit from improvements to the A12. This funding follows the recent delegation of local councillors I led to meet the Transport Minister in Suffolk so he could see first-hand the congestion problems we face.
Other welcome measures in Wednesday's statement include 100% rural rate relief for small businesses in rural areas resulting in a tax break of up to £2,900, a new National Savings and Investments (NS&I) savings bond and a freeze in fuel duty. The Chancellor also recommitted to raising the tax free personal allowance to £11,500 in April 2017 and to £12,500 by 2020.
The announcement in the Autumn Statement completed a double boost for the Energy Gateway as stage 2 of EDF's public consultation on Sizewell C contained an option to bypass the villages of Farnham and Stratford St Andrew. While this falls short of the proposal we have been lobbying for it is the first time such an option has been included by EDF. We have waited a long time for this second stage consultation and it is vital that residents and business owners contribute. The consultation is open for ten weeks and closes on 3 February. You can see the new proposals and respond by going to http://sizewell.edfenergyconsultation.info. A number of exhibitions will also be held up and down Suffolk Coastal for residents to see plans for new infrastructure and ask any questions they may have to the EDF team. Details of these can be found on the link above and on my website.
Following the announcement earlier this month that Rock Barracks near Woodbridge is due to close by 2027, I met Defence Minister Mark Lancaster to discuss the future of the site. I was joined at the meeting by the Deputy Leader of Suffolk Coastal District Council, Cllr Geoff Holdcroft. I understand the local community are upset by the closure and I promised to review some of the criteria on which the decision was made with the Ministry of Defence. We had a detailed discussion about these criteria as well as discussing the special characteristics of the site. I put across to the Minister that it is vitally important to carefully consider the potential options for the future use of the site, including vital infrastructure that would be needed for any alternative use than that we have today.
And finally, married couples and civil partners may be eligible to reduce the income tax bill by up to £220 thanks to the government's Marriage Allowance. Marriage is an important institution at the heart of a strong society and it is right that it is recognised in the tax system. You can find out if you're eligible and apply in less than seven minutes online at www.gov.uk/apply-marriage-allowance or by calling HMRC on 0300 200 3300.
Photo: Therese and Waveney MP Peter Aldous (right) with Transport Minister Robert Goodwill visiting the A12.
Rock Barracks near Woodbridge has been earmarked to close by the Ministry of Defence as part of their strategic review into their vast estate. As it stands, the base is due to close by 2027. I fully understand the local community will be upset by this decision and I am looking at the detail carefully. I will befollowing up with the MoD to review some of the criteria on which the decision has been based on. The overall strategy of the MoD has been to move to lifetime basing for the Armed Forces. 23 Parachute Engineers will likely move to Colchester to be part of the garrison along with the rest of 16 Air Assault Brigade. That is logistically sensible, emotionally sensible for families and in particular for children who will no longer be moved around the country and can focus on their education. There is likely to be opportunities for 23 Parachute Engineers to maintain their links with the town of Woodbridge as I have seen other regiments who move away from their original town return for special events, including Remembrance Day. I will endeavour to make sure that Woodbridge and the surrounding areas retain their link with 23 Parachute Engineers.
Turning towards the future, I'm conscious that many local residents have bene prepared to see building works on the site because it is an army base. However, we need to think carefully as to its future use as well as what vital infrastructure might be needed to support this. I will be working with local councillors and the community to find the best way forward on how to use this facility in the future, being mindful of the societal benefits it brings, including educating children at Sandlings Primary School and the economic benefits it has bought to our community. To this end I will be looking to host a meeting for residents to discuss this issue shortly, please check my website for more details – www.theresecoffey.co.uk.
It's the time of year we pay tribute to all members of our armed forces, especially those who have died in the service of their country. I'm looking forward to attending the parade in Woodbridge on Sunday and elsewhere there are events taking place at the Parish Church in Aldeburgh, the United Reform Church in Saxmundham and in the Market Place in Southwold.
Its great news that EDF will soon begin stage 2 of the public consultation process for Sizewell C. This has been a long time coming and it's an important step along the road to the project finally getting underway. It's important that the opinion of local residents is conveyed to EDF and that we maximise the opportunity to improve local infrastructure. While Sizewell C will bring huge benefits to the Suffolk coast, in particular bringing high skilled, high paid jobs to our area, there are legitimate concerns regarding increased traffic on the roads during the construction phase and on the location of where to build accommodation for construction workers, among others. The consultation will begin on 24 November and last for ten weeks.
The government is introducing tough new measures to crack down on nuisance calls which will see company directors held personally responsible for the actions of their firms. Directors will now be facing personal fines of up to £500,000 on top of any fines against the company, meaning they can't simply fold and start trading elsewhere like many do now. Nuisance calls are a blight on countless people's lives and for the elderly and vulnerable these calls can be more than just a nuisance. Some of them rely on their phone as the only link to the outside world and when they are harassed by nuisance callers it can often leave them feeling intimidated in their own homes, or pressured into being scammed. The government has already taken action to force companies to display their numbers when they call which should help people dismiss calls they don't want and report them if necessary. Millions of pounds have been invested in a nuisance call package with money set aside for call blocking devices for society's most vulnerable so they can feel safer when answering the phone. The maximum fine issued to nuisance callers has also been increased and this year alone £1.8m worth of fines have been dished out to rogue organisations. These new measures make clear that the government will not stand for nuisance calls and will strike another blow to those organisations and individuals responsible.
The East of England Ambulance Service is showing signs of improvement, particularly on reaching stroke victims more quickly, according to the Chief Executive of the service who updated East of England MPs on the Turnaround Plan recently. There has been an improvement in response times for the most urgent calls where people's lives are at risk, which is especially pleasing in the context of increased demand. After the last meeting, it was clear that the issue of handover times at hospitals was still a driver of performance decline so I wrote to some of the worst performing hospitals to ask what is being done to rectify this. I am pleased to report this is now improving with plans in place to implement a more effective handover process of patients. While these improvements are welcome, people living in parts of rural Suffolk are still not receiving the service they need as demonstrated by the recent incident in Leiston, where an elderly woman who suffered bruising from a fall waited 2 hours for paramedics to arrive. I will persevere with my efforts to see the Turnaround Plan fully implemented.
And finally, I welcomed students from Farlingaye High School to Westminster last week. They had the opportunity to see how our democracy works up close, taking a tour round both the House of Commons and House of Lords as well as taking advantage of the brand new state-of-the-art visitor's centre which helps to bring the process of campaigning and law making to life. They had a chance to grill me on several issues before they left including the migrant crisis and the EU referendum. I hope they found the experience worthwhile and it was clear there were some budding future politicians among them!
Prime Minister Theresa May set out her vision to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few at her closing speech at Conservative Party conference last week. The mood was positive and upbeat at the conference in Birmingham as the Prime Minister started the week with greater clarity on our direction in Brexit negotiations and closed the conference fleshing out her vision for the country. I thought she set out clearly where she wants the government to step in, reinforcing the message of the Conservatives that we will help those who do the right thing. Certainly, Theresa is a leader at ease with herself and the changes in emphasis to deliver a One Nation Britain.
I had the pleasure of addressing a conference slightly closer to home last week, the 5th Annual Suffolk Coast & Estuaries Community Conference on flood resilience at Snape Maltings, speaking not only as the local MP, but with my DEFRA ministerial hat on. Flooding is part of my remit and having represented our area in Parliament for the last six years I have had a great apprenticeship for my role at DEFRA dealing with the natural environment and all the joys and challenges it brings.
There has been continued investment in flood defences in our area and I am taking the lessons I have learned from Suffolk and East Anglia into my role at DEFRA where I have responsibility for the whole English coastline. It surprised me that we don't have shorelines management plans all around our coast, which I feel is a missed opportunity. While they were controversial when implemented here, new evidence has supported their introduction and they now serve as the standard way to protect our coast and provide clarity to people about the best way forward.
The government is continuing to help those affected by flooding. Grants of £5,000 are available to home owners, businesses and farmers who are vulnerable to flooding to make them more resilient for the future. The Flood Re scheme has now been introduced for homeowners, a scheme that will help those living in extremely vulnerable areas to get insurance who may otherwise find it impossible. I will continue to champion schemes that help all those at risk of flooding, whether you live in a large town or a small village and the 74 miles of coast line and estuaries which I am privileged to represent will be a the heart of my thinking.
This really is conference season as there was another important gathering at Trinity Park this week. The Flourishing Suffolk Conference, aimed at addressing challenges faced by those living in rural areas, has become even more important following the publication of the Hidden Needs report on rural deprivation in our county. Rural Life Chances is also part of my ministerial brief at DEFRA and I sent a message to the conference outlining the challenges people can face living in the countryside such as access to education and ambulance response times. I will work in government to make sure rural issues are actively considered in policy decisions so this is a country that works for everyone, no matter where you live.
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