Here’s ben’s last
Morning Evening Star column of 2011
2011: Getting Ready for Growth in 2012
We all want the same things for our town: investment, jobs and growth. Right from the beginning I have said that key to that is making sure Ipswich has the best schools, training and educational opportunities, road and rail links to the rest of the country and beyond, and public and private services that attract people to invest and live in our town. We have made significant progress in each of these areas this year. 2011 was a year of consolidation. What we need now is to see is delivery.
Just in the last few weeks we have had news that Waitrose and John Lewis will be opening on the old Cranes site on the Nacton Road, which will pay for the clearance of the rest of this large area for new business buildings. Then in the last couple of days Tesco won its legal fight to build a huge new store in Grafton Way on the old and derelict B&Q site: there will be a hotel and apartments as well. In the town centre Waitrose is opening a convenience store in a few weeks time; Tower Ramparts has been purchased by a new owner keen to invest; and the scheme of new office and restaurant space in Lower Brook Street, linking the town centre with the Waterfront, is close to getting the go-ahead.
So all being well – of which more later – we should see the cranes pop up again across Ipswich in 2012. On these and a number of other sites we will see over a hundred million pounds invested, concrete on land that has lain derelict for many years. I have played a bit part in helping to pull this off: introducing developers, talking to banks and chivvying investors. The aim for me in 2012 is to do more of the same. We need to see work resume on the remaining Waterfront buildings and new student accommodation for the university.
I have greater influence over the road and rail links that will bring further investment to our town. For years we have talked about upgrading the A14, better rail links to London and the Midlands, and investment in the basic infrastructure of our town. Now it is happening, despite these hard times: hundreds of millions for the A14; £35 million for rail freight connections in Ipswich; £21 million for new bus stations, traffic management systems and improved pedestrian and cycle routes in the town.
But we need much, much, more. 2012 will be about building on this excellent start. We need to get the government to give proper commitments on improving our terrible rail service and I want to see upgrades to the A12. These will be my focus in the year ahead.
All this investment means jobs – thousands of them – in what is a challenging economic climate. Some of our best businesses are recruiting already and I expect more to do so should the French and Germans get their act together. But we will only ensure long term and sustainable jobs if we can attract and keep the best employers to our town. That means building more than good roads and rail links, fancy shops and good public services. Most of all it means building the best possible workforce. Which means investing in education and skills.
By this time next year almost every school in Ipswich will have converted to being an academy. Already it is clear how this process is focusing minds. Ipswich Academy, born out of Holywells nine months ago, is showing a scale of ambition that is entirely new. And across the town I see primary schools, week in week out, that are aiming higher than they have done for years. Both the university and the college want to excel at what they do. So this is a good foundation on which to build. I will do what I can to help all these educators deliver the kind of learning that our children will need if they are to be able to compete with their peers not just in Europe but in China, India and Brazil.
Speaking of buildings, one in particular – Chantry High School – needs to be redone. My main aim for 2012 is to see this happen.
Investment plus jobs should equal growth. But there is a glitch. Although the government’s economic policies have ensured that we are not in the position of Greece, what happens in 2012 depends in large part on the fate of the Eurozone. In Westminster I will continue to support the government in cutting the deficit, which has delivered historically low interest rates and the confidence of people who lend money to the UK. But if the Euro crashes, all bets are off.
That said, much of what we need to grow is on our own power. Ipswich, for too long, has tended to look down at its feet. Now we need to aim high. We must strive to be the most dynamic town in Britain, a beacon for others, because only with that scale of ambition will we begin to achieve.
This sounds very American, I know. But we need to be a bit more brash if we are going to win. We must want the best schools, the finest town centre, the quickest travel connections, and we must work hard – fight hard if necessary – until we get them.
More has been achieved for Ipswich in 2011 than in many years. It shows what can be done. Let’s now get on and do it.