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TERRY Judy

Thank you Chancellor, for giving Suffolk monies for two vital infrastructure projects: new river crossings in Ipswich and Lowestoft. This investment will further revitalise the economy in both areas, by releasing vacant land for development and improving traffic congestion.

In return, Suffolk could save Osborne a few billions.

We have a perfectly serviceable military airbase at Mildenhall in Suffolk, which could be developed as a freight hub when it is shortly decommissioned, instead of clogging up either Heathrow or Gatwick and the surrounding areas to improve freight movement. It would be a cheaper option, delivered more quickly and easily, creating much-needed jobs. Instead, it is to be a housing development – what a waste. Of course we need more housing, but what’s the point of plonking more homes in a jobs desert? Create the jobs and housing will follow.

Furthermore is a new Dartford crossing really essential for a reported 14 per cent benefit, when it will destroy people’s (brand new) homes and the environment? Why does all the freight- which creates the traffic jams round the M25 as it is distributed to other regions – have to go into Tilbury and the London Gateway, instead of being encouraged to use the excellent Harwich, Felixstowe, Ipswich, or other East Coast ports?

In case you weren’t aware, Harwich handles 40 per cent of UK freight; Felixstowe is Britain’s biggest and busiest container port, welcoming 3,000 ships a year and offering services to 400 ports around the globe. Ipswich is one of Associated British Ports’s 21 UK ports, which has 25 per cent of the UK’s seaborne trade.  All have access to the Midlands, London, and across the UK. They are also on the EU’s doorstep – something which will continue to be important, whatever happens in the referendum.

So surely, the real question here is to analyse the freight industry and how it operates: what comes in and goes out as well as where, how and where it is then redistributed.

Without this information, and a long-term National Freight Strategy for the future, it is impossible to make major infrastructure decisions, and this carries serious implications for us all. Just because something has been done in a particular way for generations, doesn’t mean that it is right for the 21st century, especially when advances in technology mean that purchasing habits are also changing.

There is no need to employ expensive consultants. With most freight companies frustrated by the UK’s poor infrastructure, compared with the Continent, which adds to journey times and costs I guess the industry would be more than happy to proffer its views. Local authorities/Local Enterprise Partnerships could help to collate the information – perhaps as a joint research project with universities and a Parliamentary sub-committee to examine the options. But a time limit on delivering the report would be essential for co-ordinated decision-making!

The Treasury could offer grant funding to support this vital industry with new systems and facilities to make the whole business of freight distribution in, out and around the UK (and transfers into Europe and around the globe) more efficient.

Logistics companies could work together, developing joint warehousing / distribution centres in strategic locations, with shared back-office and computer systems, security, accounting and purchasing, personnel, payroll and legal services, making them more efficient; they could even pool drivers, vehicles and skilled maintenance. A quick win would be fewer trucks driving around empty when they’ve dropped off their loads. Costs would be dramatically reduced in what is a fragmented but very competitive industry, and import/export businesses would undoubtedly welcome the increased ‘professionalism’, whilst communities would benefit from more quality employment, both directly and indirectly related to the sector. Start-ups would be encouraged, relieving pressure on existing contractors, whilst creating new jobs.

In East Anglia, for example, the ports alone employ thousands of skilled people, and their owners have invested millions in expanding their operations to meet growing international demand. Consequently, logistics is also a key employer, with both large world-class firms, as well as small operators, providing specialist services.

Yet, the local economy is held back from further capitalising on these advantages because of an inferior road and rail network increasingly struggling to link the East with the Midlands and North (as well as London) and the key regional conurbations as traffic volumes escalate. Currently manageable, this lack of capacity needs to be addressed and ‘joined up’ solutions implemented.

The proposed enhancement of facilities at Heathrow or Gatwick, and Dartford, would not only add to the congestion on the M25, but also the A12/A14, M11, M1 and M6, exacerbating current problems.

Diverting more freight activity to the Eastern region, with relatively modest investment to improve the infrastructure, could revolutionise not just its economy, but bring huge benefits to the Midlands and, indirectly, the Northern Powerhouse. So please will the relevant authorities, both national and local, including the London Mayor, consider the wider picture. Please think and act strategically, to take pressure off the south east, reduce pollution and support economic growth elsewhere.  

13 comments for: Judy Terry: Towards the Suffolk powerhouse

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