14 APR 2017

Star Column - 12th April 2017

Following the Chancellor's Budget announcement to provide a £300 million fund to help businesses hit hardest during the recent business rate revaluation, the Government has been consulting on how that fund will be administered. Provisionally, Waveney District Council has been allocated £417,000 in the first year and Suffolk Coastal District Council has been allocated £406,000. I am encouraging the councils to focus on the small, independent businesses affected the most in receiving the support they need.

It was English Tourism Week recently and as we approach Easter the tourist season is already well underway here in Suffolk. Tourism is a key industry supporting one in nine jobs in our area is supported and if contributes more than £500m to the local economy. A lot of effort is put in by businesses, the LEP and our councils to make sure the Suffolk coast continues to be an attractive destination for visitors. I am therefore delighted to see that investment continue apace, including a completely redeveloped pier in Felixstowe due to open later this year and the £10m Whisstocks project in Woodbridge providing homes, restaurants and shops overlooking the River Deben as well as a new home for the town museum and new shipbuilding facility. As Parliament is now in recess, I am enjoying spending much more time in Suffolk and experiencing our great local hospitality.

All that investment is worthwhile but having clean streets and verges makes such a difference. The government launches its litter strategy this week with a focus on making it easier to get rid of litter and tougher enforcement measures to hit thoughtless litter louts in the pocket. We have particular problems along the A14 and the strategy includes such litter hotspots and a plan to work with the freight industry to improve that.

Finally, my Department has just launched a ground-breaking competition which enables flood defence projects to apply for a share of £1 million to help protect homes and businesses. The competition is open to innovative schemes that plan to use landscape features such as ponds, banks, meanders, channels, and trees to store, drain or slow flood water. For more information and to apply see - www.catchmentbasedapproach.org/resources/tools-and-casestudies/deliver/nfm

10 MAR 2017

Star Column - 8th March 2017

"Today is Budget day when the Chancellor will deliver his financial statement to a packed House of Commons. I will be listening very carefully for a mention of business rates, having pressed him and the Financial Secretary of the Treasury on the matter in recent weeks. I am hoping for a positive announcement to help Southwold and Aldeburgh.

It is good news that Suffolk New College are linking up with Alde Valley Academy to use the campus in Leiston as a hub for vocational courses. This is timely news as the Government is set to unveil plans this week to improve technical education, including the introduction of 'T Levels', which could be a good fit for many young people at Alde Valley. Whilst the partnership with Suffolk New College is a real positive for local students who want to undertake these types of courses it is important that there is also suitable A level provision for pupils in East Suffolk and I will look carefully at that.

I was delighted to address the Bawdsey Coastal Partnership AGM last month 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 2 years ago as a result of the December 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 spoke at the Suffolk Coast Against Retreat (SCAR) AGM this weekend on the same subject. The January storm surge demonstrated just how prepared we are along the Suffolk coast, thanks in a large part to the local flood action groups. SCAR's concerns about the lack of information from EDF on the proposed jetty mirrored my response to the Stage 2 proposals. It is essential EDF provide information on whether the jetty will impact coastal defences and if it does, how they will mitigate that.

Finally, congratulations to all those who got involved in the Great British Spring Clean last weekend. It was a nationwide triumph. As an Environment Minister my message is not to drop litter in the first place but these big community cleans are a great way of bringing people together to tidy up our towns."

14 FEB 2017

Star Column - 8th February 2017

"The House of Commons is set to approve the short Bill which gives the Prime Minister the authority to notify the EU that the UK is leaving, by triggering Article 50. I received a lot of emails asking me to vote against or support a lot of amendments, which were designed to tie the Prime Minister's hands during the negotiation. Parliament has a role in the ratification of treaties and I expect this to be no different. I voted for the referendum, campaigned in it and, as a democrat, I fully accept the outcome. I now expect the Lords will also give consent soon.

I welcomed the Mayor of Southwold, Melanie Tucker, to Parliament last week to press the case on high street business rates with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Jane Ellison and the head of the Valuation Office Agency. Business rates account for about £23 billion of Government income and is levied on the approximate rental value of property, which is revalued regularly. Southwold businesses have mostly seen very large increases while elsewhere in Suffolk, business rates will fall. Three quarters of businesses across will see their rates either fall or remain the same and many businesses in Suffolk Coastal will benefit. Southwold is a successful town but I am concerned that the VOA have overestimated when considering new rateable values, which is why I wrote to all businesses on the High St encouraging them to challenge their new rating. I was pleased to hear from the VOA's Chief Valuer that eight businesses have so far had a review before the formal appeals process has started. I will now work with other MPs who represent high street hotspots to put across the value of a mixed retail presence.

I replied to EDF's stage 2 consultation for Sizewell C. The construction of the new nuclear power plant is extremely important for the UK's future energy supply and will benefit the local economy here in Suffolk, with the creation of thousands of jobs. That said, Sizewell C will create significant disruption to local communities and the transport network, especially during the construction phase. It is essential that thee impacts are mitigated as much as possible and 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."

26 JAN 2017

Star Column - 24th January 2017

"Last week the Prime Minister set out the Government's negotiating objectives for Brexit. She 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. Last year's referendum was close but decisive and it is right that we now make progress with leaving. But while it was a vote to leave the EU, it was not a vote to leave Europe – we will continue to be reliable allies, willing partners and close friends with our European neighbours. At time of writing, the court judgement is not yet out so our next procedural steps are to be determined but I am confident that the Prime Minister will trigger Article 50 by the end of March and a two year negotiation. I welcome the clarity that Theresa May has given the British public as well as our friends in Europe, which immediately caused the pound to rise. I'm confident we can forge a brighter future for Britain.

I was shocked and saddened to hear about the death of a crewman who was killed in a boiler room accident on board the Manhattan Bridge container ship at the Port of Felixstowe on Thursday night. My sympathy goes to his family and friends. Thankfully incidents like this are very rare. The Marine Accident and Investigation Branch will be investigating and hopefully lessons can be learnt to ensure the risk of this sort of accident is minimised in the future.

Just a few hours later, on Friday morning, I visited the Harwich Haven Authority as part of a scheduled visit. Harwich Haven serves us all by making sure that one of Britain's most important transport and shipping freight arteries runs smoothly and invests millions of pounds each year in dredging work to keep the shipping lanes open. I met the Chief Executive, Neil Glendinning to talk about a wide range of issues including the potential impact of leaving the EU. It was nice to see the Port Of Felixstowe berths fully loaded from my vantage point at Harwich Quay.

In Suffolk we all know the importance of our port for global trade links and the success of UK PLC. Yesterday the Prime Minister launched her modern industrial strategy to build on Britain's strengths to secure our future as a competitive, global nation. The strategy looks at how it can use trade and investment deals to increase exports. Good news for our part of Suffolk.

Finally, it was a pleasure to welcome the School Council from Waldringfield Primary School to Westminster last week, as they visited Parliament's brand new education centre. We talked about their manifestos and compared notes on the huge responsibility of being elected. Whilst they were there they learnt how Parliament works, including the process of passing legislation through both the House of Commons and House of Lords. I always encourage schools from Suffolk Coastal to make the trip to Westminster and hope to welcome more Suffolk pupils to Parliament in the coming months."

19 JAN 2017

Star Column - 17th January 2017

"On Friday evening 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 over the 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 Felixstowe Ferry 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 on 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 on 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.

Turning to matters in Westminster. Today, the Prime Minister will set out her approach to Brexit negotiations. She is clear that we will decide for ourselves how we control immigration and that we will pass our own laws. We will be a fully independent, sovereign country. The Prime Minister wants a deal that is unique to Britain and by the end of today we will know a little more about her approach to that deal. 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.

Finally, we had welcome news last week that Suffolk is going to benefit from a dedicated £1.8m pothole fund, which will help keep the county moving. Whilst on my constituency tour last year the state of our roads was consistently raised with me by local residents, so I'm delighted the County Council will benefit from this additional fund, which builds on the £1.4m we received last year to help fix our roads. Remember you can report potholes to be fixed online at www.suffolk.gov.uk."

11 JAN 2017

Star Column - 10th January 2017

"The New Year has brought some immediate good news with reports showing that our economy grew by 2.2 per cent last year – more than any other G7 country, including Germany and the USA. The fundamentals of our economy are solid which is reassuring as we move into a period of negotiation with the EU on our future trade deal. The Prime Minister has said that she will set out our next steps soon and we know that our future deal on business will be critical for our long term prosperity.

Parliament returns this week with a very busy schedule, so I was pleased to fit in some visits to schools and meetings on education, the NHS and Sizewell C before returning. I spoke to our county council about all the schools in the constituency, including some of the factors affecting the primary school assessments. I followed that up with a chat with the Regional Schools Commissioner about the academies and free school in Suffolk Coastal, which are ever increasing. I visited Farlingaye High School and Felixstowe Academy. It was my first time meeting Dr Andy Sievewright at Farlingaye High School, following the retirement of Sue Hargadon. Sue led the school to record exam successes, outstanding Ofsted ratings and made Farlingaye one of the most consistently top performing schools in the county so Dr Sievewright has big shoes to fill. It was useful to understand his priorities for the future of Farlingaye and more widely for our part of Suffolk.

At Felixstowe Academy, it was good to see Mr Williams for the second time with a good notch of results under his belt and clear changes made at the school. The passion is clearly undimmed though he pointed out this would be the challenging year, helping everyone at Felixstowe Academy to fulfil their potential by being systematically diligent at teaching and learning day in, day out. I was pleased to hear that applications had increased for the coming year – a vote of confidence in the academy from local parents.

Before Parliament resumed, I also took the opportunity to talk to Nick Hulme, Chief Executive of Ipswich Hospital, about the sustainability and transformation plan for Suffolk and North Essex. The key focus is more care outside a main hospital setting, including primary care, self medication and thinking about how outpatients check ups are carried out, as well as links with social care. I referred to the experiences at the other end of Suffolk as well as seeking to understand exactly the challenges of running two hospitals. Colchester has been in special measures and is taking a lot of time and effort to resolve but we have a strong team in Ipswich to keep the show running.

I'm trying to keep positive on football but the FA cup was nearly a humiliation for the Tractor Boys. Glad to see our non League sides are thriving.

Finally, and with my DEFRA Ministerial hat on as well as being the local MP, I was delighted to see the completion of Woodbridge's new flood defences. Three years ago Woodbridge was hit by a storm surge with water levels surpassing even the 1953 flood. 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 country."

06 JAN 2017

Star Column - 3rd January 2017

"Happy New Year! A grey, damp 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 publishing the framework of our 25 year environment plan and, in due course, the full plan itself. As I expected when I started the role, being MP for Suffolk Coastal has been a great apprenticeship for this ministerial position which I have found in the first six months to be an ever broader portfolio than I realised. As floods minister, I checked the flood information service twice daily and had my wellies ready. However, fortunately, we have had a rather dry Christmas season – which is a welcome relief for the staff of the Environment Agency across the country, many of whom have not enjoyed a peaceful Christmas day at home for a few years. This Christmas break has been a fresh chance to reconnect with the special landscape and coast that we all enjoy. I just wish our rescue dog, Jess, was not quite so noise sensitive as she is. Many walks have been curtailed by a sudden bang or whatever and I get the exercise chasing after her. That said, the doggy welcome in many of our pubs is very special – something which many tourists praise too.

The New Year brings an opportunity for resolutions. I really must do one – improving my handwriting for my team. I will also resolve to continue to work with my fellow MPs on helping our great county. I will also be campaigning in the important county council elections. Finally, I will continue to work for residents and businesses along the coast. May I wish you all peace and prosperity for 2017."

03 JAN 2017

Star Column - 28th December 2016

I hope all Star readers had a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas and are looking forward to what 2017 brings. 2016 brought events that will define politics for years to come. An MP was murdered. The referendum on the EU was a close but decisive vote to leave. The Prime Minister resigned and we have a new PM in Theresa May. Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected Labour leader with an even bigger mandate, while Donald Trump won the US Presidency, while Hilary Clinton lived up to her politically unlucky reputation as she won the popular vote but not the electoral college.

The defining event of the year, Britain's decision to leave the European Union in June's referendum, will have ramifications for decades to come as we forge a new role for ourselves in the world after 43 years of EU membership. The turnout of 80% in Suffolk Coastal was one of the highest in the country and I hope that my efforts in contacting over 25,000 households to encourage them to use their vote during the campaign helped to contribute to this. The government is now getting on with the job of delivering the verdict of the British people and we will seek to build a relationship with the EU that reflects the kind of mature, co-operative relationship that close friends and allies enjoy.

The referendum result also led to the resignation of David Cameron as Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party. David came to office in 2010 and put Britain back on a sound economic footing would have been enough to make his premiership a success I believe, but he was a great reforming Prime Minister too, notably in education and welfare where sweeping changes have been made to raise standards and make sure work always pays. He has much to be proud of during his 6 years in office and it was an honour to serve in his government.

The transition of power to Theresa May was swift and smooth and she has provided strong and principled leadership to our country in this uncertain time. Theresa has shown she has the determination and vision needed to get us the best possible deal from our upcoming negotiations with the EU and will work tirelessly to implement the manifesto which we were elected upon at the last general election. It was a great honour to be appointed a Minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs by the Prime Minister, covering the environment and rural life opportunities. It is such a broad portfolio that touches every part of our great country and we are working hard to make the most of the opportunities that leaving the European Union brings to reshape our environmental policy so we leave the environment in a better state than we found it.

There were moments of national joy – the Queen's 90th birthday, the tremendous success for Team GB at the Olympic and Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro. To finish second in the medals table at both events is a monumental achievement of which the whole nation is rightly proud. In Defra we were particularly proud of Hollie Webb who scored the winning penalty stroke to clinch gold. I expect we will celebrate our sporting heroes in the New Years' honours list but as the Queen said in her Christmas, we can all do extraordinary things in our daily lives to make a difference to the lives of others. I would like to thank my team Phil, Hugo, Kirsty and Alex for all their help in helping constituents of Suffolk Coastal.

On that note, I would like to wish all Star readers a happy and prosperous New Year.

21 DEC 2016

Star Column - 20th December 2016

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. 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 Nacton 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%. St Mary's Primary School in Woodbridge and Colneis Junior School in Felixstowe also performed particularly well, 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.

While children and families in Suffolk are looking forward to Christmas, our thoughts are no doubt with those still trapped in the Syrian city of Aleppo where survival is a gift in itself. The horrific images of war and desolation continue to haunt our television screens and newspapers. Britain is urgently sending medical kits, clean water, food and blankets that will be the difference between life and death for those fleeing the city, caught in freezing temperatures after being systematically bombed from their homes by the Syrian regime and its Russian allies. Since the start of the conflict in 2012 the UK has pledged more than £2.3 billion to support those affected, our largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis, making us the second largest donor of aid only behind the United States.

As we think of those less fortunate in Syria and elsewhere, let us be thankful for what we have here at home. I'm looking forward to spending Christmas with my family here in Suffolk (weather permitting!) and would like to wish all Star readers the very best for the festive season. Merry Christmas.

14 DEC 2016

Star Column - 13th December 2016

As I wrote in my column last week, a number of people stopped me while I was out shopping in Felixstowe to discuss the proposed rise of beach hut rents. I have also received a lot of correspondence on the matter from residents and beach hut owners. I followed this up with local councillors and am pleased to report that at Suffolk Coastal District Council's Cabinet meeting last week members decided not to progress with the proposals straight away, but to carry out a six week consultation, to commence on 3 January 2017, on the conversion of all current site licenses into longer term leases and the proposed scheme of charges. It's important that owners who are concerned about these proposed changes have their say when the consultation opens. You should be able to respond by visiting www.eastsuffolk.gov.uk when it opens in the New Year.

There is another consultation which I want to encourage residents and businesses to respond to, regarding the Post Office Network. The government wants feedback as to what expectations are of the Post Office and the services they provide to inform the future funding and development of the network. This will have a particular focus on smaller communities which means it's vital that Suffolk's voice is heard. Since 2010 the government has committed almost £2 billion to support this vital network and fund the transformation of stores. They can often be the lifeblood of local communities and in the Conservative government's manifesto we committed to securing the future of 3,000 rural post offices. You can respond to the consultation by visiting https://beisgovuk.citizenspace.com/ukgi/post-office-network-consultation or by calling 0207 215 4383.

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 both Felixstowe and Woodbridge. Some businesses will see a rise in their rates however and 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.

And finally, Bawdsey Parish Council's project to regenerate the Amenity Area at Bawdsey Quay has been shortlisted for a public vote as part of Tesco's Bags of Help project. The project awards funding to communities from the 5p plastic bag charge which was implemented last year. Shoppers can vote for the project, which includes building an outdoor classroom and improving wildlife projects, at Tesco stores in Felixstowe, Martlesham and Ipswich by collecting a token at the check-out tills.

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