Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.
Those of us who know the Northern constituencies, now represented by local Conservatives, who understand local issues and will speak up for them, are aware that change is long overdue; most will have complacent Labour councils, which lack aspiration, failing to attract investment to improve people’s lives, ignoring residents’ concerns.
As Luke Johnson, Chairman of Risk Capital Partners, wrote in the Sunday Times:
“Labour’s policies betray ignorance of business, economics and human nature..not understanding how entrepreneurs think, how innovation happens, how competitive the world is and the fragility of our economic success. They do not believe in choice, the profit motive, free enterprise or markets. They want a Big Brother government to run broadband, railways, energy, water and Royal Mail. Never mind state inefficiencies, the lack of investment, the bureaucracy, the cost to the taxpayer, ideology is everything – the practical realities of the world as it actually is are ignored.”
Labour want control over every aspect of our lives, whilst Conservatives believe in freedom, but it will have to build trust if fault lines are to be repaired, restoring One Nation; it means listening and learning, because there is more to the demand for change than Brexit. The North feels unloved and undervalued, when it has so much potential, with skilled and unskilled workers who want good jobs, to create happy families. Bleak housing estates deserve good maintenance and facilities, and town centres revived. Huge potential extends to farming and rural industries, and Tourism, as well as the urban areas.
However, whilst supporting investment in the North, I urge the Prime Minister not to overlook issues in East Anglia. It may be ‘blue’, but that is why successive governments – both Conservative and Labour – haven’t treated it as a priority for decades. George Osborne recognised that infrastructure lacked essential investment, supporting some long-delayed road improvements, and MPs pressed for better rail services. Nevertheless, more needs to be done; when I first commuted from Ipswich into London Liverpool Street, it took 55 minutes – now the average is 1 hour 15 minutes although new trains (currently having problems) should reduce this. But connections, whether by road or rail, to other parts of the region – and the rest of the country – are inadequate, impacting on the local (and national) economy.
Just like the Northern towns, Ipswich is another victim of a complacent Labour-run council, with one of the country’s highest council tax rates; whilst Bury St Edmunds, under Conservatives, thrives and expands, Ipswich fails to attract comparable investment. Brexit, and the influx of immigrants (the town was a dispersal area under Blair) undoubtedly contributed to the overwhelming 5,479 majority just achieved by our new, young, MP, Tom Hunt, whose success was greeted by the outgoing Labour MP with an unnecessarily nasty speech. Hunt’s enthusiasm and commitment will have a big impact, but it will take a few years to overturn Labour’s majority on the council.
According to the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government’s deprivation indices report for England, published in September, Jaywick in Essex has the status of the ‘most deprived neighbourhood’, with the biggest challenges of poor income, education and housing. However, Ipswich was identified as one of the most deprived areas overall, with its poor education score amongst the bottom 15% nationally. Areas along the Suffolk coast, including Lowestoft, also suffer deprivation, despite growth in offshore energy and related services; poor road access must be addressed.
Housing is another major issue, but both Jaywick and Ipswich retain hundreds of post-war prefabs, which have outlived their expected 20-year lifespan. They are not energy efficient, and the accommodation doesn’t meet modern standards, yet councils refuse to replace them. Ipswich Borough Council has spent millions of pounds, re-roofing and ‘improving’ them, insisting they are popular. Yet it is a waste of money, when tenants deserve proper housing.
In my last couple of years as an Ipswich councillor, following complaints from the mainly elderly and disabled residents about poor access, leaking lavatories, poor insulation and inadequate kitchens, I worked with an architect (who volunteered his help) to draw up plans for a phased redevelopment of a large site in my division containing 125 prefabs. Since residents couldn’t manage the large plots originally designed for growing their own vegetables, part of the site had already been hived off, used by local dog walkers, but with no amenities.
The architect’s simple design would have doubled the number of much-needed bungalows, together with some family houses, creating an attractive residential community with landscaped open spaces and play areas. Full consultation with existing tenants, and the wider neighbourhood, sharing design ideas and layouts was an essential part of the engagement process.
However, Labour condemned the plans, with councillors (including one who had, herself, wanted the prefabs replaced) fuelling opposition by suggesting – at a public meeting – that tower blocks would dominate, when they were never part of the plan. Drawings were provided during a meeting with me and the architect, explaining the scheme, and how it could be delivered cost-effectively over several years, with minimal disruption.
But nothing happened, and the prefabs remain a monument to Ipswich Labour housing policy. Jaywick’s prefabs in Tendring, contribute to the lack of hope in an area within easy reach of the affluent London commuter belt!
So, our Prime Minister and his aides should prioritise replacing these prefabs – wherever they are – as part of housing policy; modern modular construction could speed up delivery. Days before the General Election was called, Esther McVey, the Housing Minister, recognised the potential, investing £30m in Ilke Homes to help expand operations at its factory in Knaresborough (Yorkshire), claiming it will produce 2,000 homes in 2020, with a further 5,000 in 2021.
The Government even appointed a Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) Tsar; Mark Farmer published ‘Modernise or Die’ warning of the need for innovation to meet housing demand three years ago. He urges removing the ‘stigma’ associated with prefabs, ‘decoupling the mental image…’ accepting that technology is now used ‘in a powerful way’.
The evidence is there, with 11,000 modular homes built in Scandinavia, as well as a £90m investment in Manchester’s Urban Splash by a Japanese company, and the world’s tallest modular tower – at 44 storeys – in Croydon.
A housing construction revolution could be a driver for new jobs in the North, as well as improve living standards for some of the most vulnerable people.