The State of Britain

EE

Jaywick wins an unwelcome accolade again and new GDP figures flag problems in the region’s economy

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The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has published its deprivation index which looks at an area’s levels of income, employment, education, health and crime as well as housing services and living environment. Jaywick in Essex, near Clacton-on-Sea, was previously found to be the most deprived in the last two reports in 2010 and 2015 and it has won this unwelcome accolade again. Jaywick is followed by nine areas of the North West as the most deprived in England, Clacton itself was ranked 15th with part of Lowestoft the next area in the region ranked at 25th. The Ministry divides England up into 32,844 neighbourhoods averaging about 1,500 residents or 650 households each. In terms of local authorities, 25% of Great Yarmouth was classified as deprived which ranked the town 25th worst in the UK, Norwich was next in the region, it was ranked 41st with 20% of the city deemed to be deprived.

The MHCLG found concentrations of deprivation in a number of coastal towns, many of which are in the East of England, and there was new money for the region in the latest tranche from the Coastal Communities Fund, with Southwold a winner. Also Great Yarmouth, Norwich and Lowestoft are some of the SW towns invited to apply for regeneration funding as part of the £3.6bn Towns Fund which is targeted at 100 English towns. Towns must submit economic growth plans with a focus on improved transport, broadband connectivity, skills and culture. The East was also awarded £7m as part of a £95m pot to revive historic high streets, with Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft again benefiting, along with another half dozen or so regional towns.

Transport
The last National Rail Passenger Survey of the 25 UK rail companies ranked Greater Anglia 22nd with an 80% passenger approval rating. Other intercity service providers like Virgin Trains, had a 91% satisfaction rating by passengers and was ranked second. Greater Anglia’s £1.4bn investment in a new fleet of trains should, therefore, improve its ranking. The firm is the first UK rail operator to introduce an entirely new set of trains. The new fleet includes 38 bi-mode trains, able to run on diesel or electric power, which will run in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex, and 20 electric trains to serve the Norwich-London and Stansted Express services. By the end of next year the firm expects to have replaced all 169 trains in its fleet. The fleet will be maintained at the Norwich Crown Point depot, which has itself had a £40m upgrade.

Development
A £22m project from Walcott to Bacton in Norfolk, that has created three miles of new beaches, could be the answer to protecting the UK’s coastline and critical infrastructure. The sandscaping scheme has moved enough sand from the seabed to the shoreline to half-fill Wembley Stadium and has raised the beach by up to seven metres, protecting the coastline for up to 20 years. The project is a UK first and could provide a blueprint for a further 15 sites around the UK.

Jobs
The Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank is to close its Norwich operating centre. The group, which is due to complete its integration with Virgin Money shortly, currently has a headcount of about 9,500 of which c1,500 jobs will go by the end of 2021. Jobs will disappear from the brand and marketing and retail distribution divisions. Virgin Money’s Discovery House in Norwich is expected to close by the end of October 2020, with roles transferring to other locations. Less than 50 of the 150 staff currently employed there are expected to lose their jobs. Overall, most of the 330 jobs from the Norwich, Leeds and Edinburgh operations will be redeployed.

Newspaper and magazines group Archant has announced the closure of its main printing centre at Thorpe St Andrew, near Norwich; instead newspapers will be printed by Newsprinters, in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire. Archant, publishes more than 50 papers and nearly 60 magazines including the Eastern Daily Press and East Anglian Daily Times. The Thorpe site opened in 1996 but lacked the capacity and flexibility which the Broxbourne facility offers. The Newsprinters site, a subsidiary of News UK, is the largest print centre in the world and prints The Sun, The Telegraph, The Times and the Evening Standard. The 96 staff at Thorpe St Andrew have been informed there may be redundancies.

The Stats
For the first time, the ONS has published quarterly GDP estimates for the East of England, the eight other English regions plus Wales. GDP figures have been available for the UK since the 1940s, for Scotland since 2002 and Northern Ireland since 2013. The latest available figures, which are for the year ended 2018, showed the East of England economy declined by 0.4%. This ranked the region eleventh of the twelve UK ‘regions.’ The East Midlands topped the table with growth of 3.4%. UK growth over the same period was 1.5%.

The quarter to Dec 2018 showed the services sector grew by 0.8%, while both the production and construction sectors fell by 2.0% and 3.4% respectively.
More recent estimates (six months later) for the year ended June 2019, published by ESCoE last month, ranked the East of England tenth with growth of 1.2%, which suggests the region has not improved much so far this year relative to other parts of the UK.

More data from the ONS showed unemployment in the East of England increased by 3,000 to 99,000 between May and July, the uplift of 0.1% took the overall rate to 3.1%. The South West had the lowest rate at 2.4% with the UK rate at 3.8%. The highest rate was 5.0% which was recorded in the North East. The South West also had the highest employment rate at 80.8% which compared with 79.2% in the East of England. UK employment was estimated at 76.1%.

East of England average property prices nudged up by 0.1% to £292,444, which meant annually prices had fallen by 0.5%. In comparison, UK prices grew by 0.5% to £232,710 during July, an annual growth rate of 0.7%.

The East of England one of only three regions to see a drop in average earnings and East Anglia a transition region under a new EU definition

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Growth in the East of England was 1.2% in the year to June 2019, which ranked the region tenth (out of twelve UK ‘regions’) according to estimates from ESCoE. The drop from the previous quarter’s growth of 1.6% suggests the region’s economy is contracting. At 2.3%, London had the best performance with Northern Ireland at 1% the worst. The national growth rate for the same period was 1.5%. With the UK economy contracting by 0.2% in the quarter, falling growth in the East of England reflects this and is similar to other regional economies which have also shrunk.

Unemployment in the East of England increased by 1,000 to 95,000 between April and June, leaving the rate unchanged at 2.9%, the joint second lowest rate in the UK. The South West had the lowest unemployment rate at 2.7%, the North East had the highest at 5.3% with the UK rate at 3.9%. The South West also had the highest employment rate at 80.5% which compared with the East of England at 79.2%, UK rate of 76.1% is the joint highest since comparative records began in 1971.

In June, the East of England was one of only three regions to see a drop in average earnings; from £674 to £653 per week. London had the highest average earnings of £831; the North East had the lowest at £537. In the UK average earnings grew by 3.7% or by 1.8% after inflation.

The East of England’s average property price ticked up during the month, the 0.5% rise to £291,370 meant annually prices increased by 0.7%. In comparison UK prices grew by 0.7% to £230,292 during June which left the annual growth rate unchanged at 0.9%.

On transport, Uttlesford District Council has voted to revisit plans approved by the previous Conservative administration to increase Stansted’s passenger volume to 43m per year from 38m. In June, the government published a Tourism Sector Deal including the opportunity for regions to bid to become one of five Tourism Zones. The zones would focus on increasing productivity in the visitor economy by investing in skills and extending the tourism season. Visit East of England said thousands of jobs could be put in jeopardy by the new delay to expand passenger numbers at the airport.

Four hundred jobs have been lost at 2 Sisters Food Group’s site in Witham, Essex, with 102 staff redeployed to other sites in Norfolk and Suffolk. 2 Sisters supplies chickens to most of the UK’s major supermarkets.

On infrastructure, regional transport body, England’s Economic Heartland, has recommended that the Government invests in 11 road schemes from Swindon to Cambridge at a cost of more than £700m. The road schemes include, widening the Bedford western bypass, the Aylesbury Eastern Link Road and the A10, Ely to Cambridge. Also recommended are junction changes on the A10, Ely to Cambridge and a new junction at the A1139 University Centre, Peterborough. The recommendations form part of the Oxford to Cambridge arc strategy – as outlined by the National Infrastructure Commission – which also includes the re-opening of the previously closed Oxford to Cambridge railway and building 1m new homes.

A report by an All-Party Parliamentary Group (‘APPG’) of MPs which looks at Post-Brexit Funding for the nations and regions has found that the UK would receive additional EU funding in the 2021-27 spending round. Three additional sub-regions, Lincolnshire, South Yorkshire and Tees Valley & Durham are likely to slip below the threshold of 75% EU average GDP per head that would qualify them for ‘less developed region’ status, but no region of the East of England has yet fallen below this level.

Additionally, the EU has proposed that ‘transition region’ status should be extended to cover all regions with a GDP per head between 75-100 per cent of the EU average, compared to 75-90 per cent at present. Seven additional sub-regions are likely to slip below the threshold of 100% EU average GDP per head, qualifying them for ‘transition region’ status. East Anglia falls into this category, as well as East Wales, Greater Manchester, Leicestershire, Rutland & Northamptonshire, Outer London South, North Yorkshire and South Western Scotland. It is not clear how much extra funding these areas would have received from the EU, but €50 per head over the next EU spending round would equate to £560m.

The UK government has promised to replace EU funding to the regions with a new UK Shared Prosperity Fund. If the new sub regions are added, the APPG calculates this amounts to c£1.8bn pa, on top of the c£2.2bn pa already committed as part of Local Growth Fund. Integrating the Local Growth Fund into the UK Shared Prosperity Fund could be problematic. The Local Growth Fund allocates funding to LEPs via competitive bidding whereas the allocation of EU funds uses a fixed formula. How the Shared Prosperity Fund will mesh with other pots like the City Deals is yet to be determined.

The East of England has the second lowest unemployment rate in the UK, the region receives the least amount of growth funding and the Cambridge and Peterborough industrial strategy outlines how the Oxford – Cambridge arc is beginning to shape up

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Unemployment in the East of England decreased by 9,000 to 91,000 between March and May, the decrease of 0.3% to 2.8% meant the region had the second lowest rate in the UK. At 2.6% the South West of England had the lowest rate and at 5.6% the North East had the highest rate in the country. The UK unemployment rate stands at 3.8%.

The East of England’s average property price increased by 0.7% to £291,239 during the month which uplifted the annual growth rate to 1.0%. In comparison, UK prices increased by 0.1% to £229,431 during May which reduced the annual growth rate to 1.2%.

Cambridge and Peterborough Business Board (formerly Greater Cambridge and Greater Peterborough LEP) has become one of the first regions to agree a local industrial strategy with the government. The 87 page document was developed by the Business Board in collaboration with local businesses and was signed off by Business Secretary, Greg Clark.

The strategy included launching; a new trade & investment service which will co-ordinate government support and a service targeting inward investment, a new Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Growth Company, creating at least four new ‘Innovation Launchpads’ focused on key sectors such as agri-tech, artificial intelligence and advanced manufacturing innovation, and establishing a new Skills, Talent and Apprenticeship hub.

The plan is one of four connected Local Industrial Strategies covering the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, a plan from the National Infrastructure Commission which is intended to safeguard the booming economies of the UK’s science and technology hub. The Arc will bring the large scale development of homes, offices and roads across central England and the re-opening of the previously closed Oxford to Cambridge railway. The other 3 areas are Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and the South East Midlands.

In its review this month of the 38 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) – the private sector-led partnerships between businesses and local public sector bodies that support local economic growth – the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons found that from 2015-16 to date; £9.1bn of taxpayers’ money has been awarded to LEPs through three tranches of Growth Deals. The East of England, with three LEPs, has received the least with £703m, London, with one LEP, has received £435m and the north of England, with 11 LEPs, has received most of the funding at £3.4bn (38%),

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government considers the population of an area as well as the strength of the LEP’s strategic economic plans and projects when deciding Growth Deal allocations. There are no overlapping LEP areas in the East of England which means these LEPs will be able to bid for funds from the Government’s proposed Shared Prosperity Fund, that will replace EU structural funding after Brexit.

New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership has received £291m, the 11th highest in England since 2015, Hertfordshire £265m and the Cambridge and Peterborough Business Board has received £147m. The South East LEP, which includes Essex, was awarded £591m, the third highest award in England. The Ministry does not to evaluate the Local Growth Fund which means it has no understanding of the impact spending through LEPs has on local economic growth. The latest growth figures for the region from ESCoE showed growth at 1.9% which compared with the UK average of 1.5%.

The 24 Enterprise Zones designated in England in 2011 to improve economic growth created 17,307 jobs by 2017 instead of the forecast 54,000 jobs by 2015. BBC-commissioned research conducted by think tank charity, Centre for Cities, also found that in two areas the number of jobs had fallen. Enterprise zones offered cheaper business rates, superfast broadband and lower levels of planning control. According to the research 1,057 jobs were created in the Harlow Enterprise Zone, the sixth best performing zone in England, and 269 jobs in the New Anglia Enterprise Zone which was less successful.

The cost of the scheme is disputed, with The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government claiming £101m, £215m less than the BBC’s estimate of £316m+. The Ministry also disputes the methodology used in the research. A further 24 Zones were created in 2016 and 2017.

The East of England records the second lowest unemployment rate in the UK but Central Bedfordshire households see their incomes squeezed the most, and a Kiss contributes to economic growth

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Unemployment in the East of England decreased by 7,000 to 96,000 between February and April. The drop of 0.2% to 3.0% meant the region had the joint second lowest rate in the country. At 2.7% and 5.7% the SW of England and the North East had the lowest and highest unemployment rates in the country. The UK unemployment rate stands at 3.8%.

The East of England’s average property prices increased by 0.3% to £289,436 during the month which uplifted the annual growth rate to 0.6%. In comparison, UK prices increased by 0.7% to £228,903 during April which held the annual growth rate at 1.4%.

According to the latest figures from the ONS, Central Bedfordshire had the biggest decrease in household income between 2016 and 2017. The decline of 2.6% beat West Lancashire at 1.9% and East Derbyshire at 1.7%. Nottingham has been named the UK’s poorest city, narrowly beating Leicester by £115 per household. Nottingham had the UK’s lowest gross disposable household income (wages or benefits) of £12,445. The UK average is £19,514 per household with London borough Kensington and Chelsea recording household income over £60,000 and a growth rate of 4.9% from the previous year. Central Bedfordshire, which includes Dunstable, had an above average gross disposable household income of £19,870.

On jobs, the East of England looks set to lose out following the announcement of restructuring plans at two finance sector blue chips. M&G Prudential is closing four English offices and uplifting its headcount in Scotland by 800 over the next six years. The firm is expanding its presence in Stirling and Edinburgh where staff from the Chelmsford office will be encouraged to relocate. Insurer Aviva, has said it will cut 1,800 jobs worldwide over the next three years in order to reduce costs. Aviva has 16,000 employees in the UK with an office in Norwich.

More positively, Swift Aircraft has been granted permission to bring RAF Coltishall back into use for tests. The firm plans to build 96 two-seater aircraft a year, employing 100 people on production and design. The based was used by military aircraft for 60 years up to its closure in 2006.

The cost of constructing a new nuclear plant at Sizewell in Suffolk could be £16bn, £4bn less than at Hinkley Point, the only plant currently under construction in the UK. EDF is also keen to reduce the financing costs of the plant by adopting a financing model used in regulated monopolies including airports and water companies. Users pay up front – which could mean about £6 on the average annual energy bill – and EDF would borrow against that guaranteed income stream. Financing costs could be reduced from about 9% at Hinkley Point to 4-5% at Sizewell.

If the project does go ahead, construction traffic will have to use existing routes after plans to take A12 traffic away from the villages of Marlesford, Glemham, Stratford St Andrew and Farnham via a new bypass were rejected by the government. Suffolk County Council had agreed to underwrite £6.6m of the £133m total cost of the scheme, while EDF Energy was expected to fund part of the £126m if it got planning permission for Sizewell C.

Also on the roads, a bypass which will connect Peterborough and Whittlesey, which will include a bridge over the Peterborough-Ely railway line, will now cost £39m instead of the initial forecast of £13.6m. Consequently Cambridgeshire County Council has requested a further £8.7m from the Combined Authority as it now controls the county’s budgets for major infrastructure projects. In terms of economic benefit, delays of up to 13 minutes occur when slower freight trains pass the level crossing.

In Ipswich, the Upper Orwell Crossings project – started in 2015 – was initially forecast to cost £97m but this was later revised to £139m and the scheme was scrapped. This sum would have procured two road bridges and a pedestrian and cycle bridge. Before being stopped the project incurred costs of £8m, half of which went to a consultancy firm and £2m was spent on contractors carrying out the investigation into ground works. The remainder was for legal services, architects, IT, communications consultants and dealing with private landowners.

Also in Ipswich, the loan of Rodin’s ‘The Kiss’ helped boost visitor numbers at Christchurch Mansion to record levels. After being loaned by London’s Tate Gallery for six months from November last year, the museum welcomed a record 61,282 visitors in 2018-19, up 46% on the previous best of 45,130 in 2017-18. In August, an exhibition will open charting Ed Sheeran’s rise from Suffolk schoolboy to international star.

In Norwich, a £13.5m project to restore the castle as a 12th Century royal palace aims to attract 300,000 visitors per year. The Gateway to Medieval England project will put back the 12th Century Norman royal palace, create a British Museum gallery looking at the medieval period, an early-years learning facility and provide a rooftop viewing platform. About £8.7m of the funding comes from the National Lottery with the balance coming from the council, trusts, foundations, central government, private companies and individuals.

A sharp uplift in regional growth, Colmans retains its historic links with Norfolk and cost effective beavers threaten to usurp the Environment Agency

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Growth in the East of England increased by a startling 1.0% to 1.9% in the year to March 2019, the most improved region of the UK according to estimates from ESCoE. At 2.7% and 0.7%, London and Northern Ireland had the highest and lowest growth rates in the country. The UK growth rate for the same period was 1.5%.

Unemployment in the East of England increased slightly by 4,000 to 94,000 between January and March, the uplift of 0.1% to 2.9% sill meant the region had the second lowest rate in Great Britain. At 2.4% and 5.4% the SW of England and the North East had the lowest and highest unemployment rates in the country. The UK unemployment rate stands at 3.8%.

In March, average earnings in the East of England increased to £674 per week. London had the highest average earnings of £762 whereas the Northern Ireland had the lowest of £513. In the UK average earnings grew by 3.3% or by 1.5% after inflation.

East of England average property prices fell by 1.1% to £286,611 during the month which meant annually prices were flat. In comparison UK prices dropped by 0.2% to £226,798 during March which cut the annual growth rate to 1.4% although transactions were up by 1.4%.

In its estimate of regional public spending and regional tax revenues in 2018, the ONS has concluded that the East of England had a surplus of £5.9bn. This compares with London which had the highest surplus of £34.3bn. On a per person basis the East of England surplus was £966, whereas London had the highest surplus of £3,905 per person and Northern Ireland had the biggest deficit at £4,939. The only areas of the UK to run surpluses were London, the South East of England and the East of England. At a national level, the UK had a deficit of £636 per person which splits into deficits of £106, £2,452, £4,395 and £4,939 for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Positive news for Norfolk, as sports car manufacturer Lotus Cars, based at Hethel, announced 200 new jobs as part of its expansion programme aimed at growing its brand. Lotus launched its new electric sports car, the Type 130, last month. It will be assembled at the Norfolk plant with some sub-assemblies completed by partners.

Also in Norfolk, work has begun on a new milling plant at Honingham, near Norwich, to keep part of Colman’s mustard production in the county after the iconic Carrow Works site in Norwich closes after 160 years. At the site’s ground-breaking ceremony, Colman’s parent Unilever, also confirmed a 10-year deal with Condimentum, a consortium set up by the English Mustard Growers’ and Norfolk Mint Growers’ co-operatives. The new factory will grind mustard seeds into flour and process locally-grown fresh mint for Colman’s before the ingredients are sent to Burton-upon-Trent. The factory is the first building constructed on Honingham’s Food Enterprise Park. Unilever will switch its production from Norwich to Staffordshire and sites in Germany when the Carrow Works – which employs about 100 staff – closes. The new factory at Honingham will create c25 jobs.

The region’s unemployment rate is low, but there were a number of concerning job announcements this month. Supermarket group East of England Co-op will fully integrate into the national group’s supply chain resulting in the closure of its Ipswich facility. The closure comes as part of a redevelopment plan to demolish the former adjacent Dairy Crest plant and build a gym and retail units. As part of the proposal the distribution centre would also be converted into three units, including one for leisure. Ipswich Borough Council has deferred its decision. The 155 at risk employees are being offered the opportunity to transfer to a new Co-op Group location in Essex. Also in Suffolk, plans by Bosch to relocate manufacturing from its Stowmarket site to Hungary will mean job losses. The power tool maker currently employs 250 people at the garden tools plant of which 140 are at risk in manufacturing with the balance in R&D.

In Essex, poultry firm, 2 Sisters Food Group has said its Witham site is inefficient in comparison with some of its other facilities – two of which are in Norfolk – all 555 jobs are at risk. The company supplies chickens to most of the UK’s major supermarkets and also owns Fox’s Biscuits and Holland’s Pies.

Some key regional surveys this month. Research coordinated by regional accountancy firm MHA Larking Gowen, has found that the tourist industry in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex generates £8bn a year for the local economy. The survey found 49% of firms saw revenue levels increase but 31% suffered a decrease in profits, citing an increase in business rates as the main reason why earnings were depressed. Significantly respondents were split on whether local or central government should lead on promoting the industry which suggests the relevant agencies could improve on messaging. A report produced by public health body Healthy Suffolk predicts more than 62,000 new homes will be needed in Suffolk in the next 20 years. The State of Suffolk 2019 report assesses housing types, population figures, transport, employment, education, health and facilities across the county. Mid Suffolk is expected to see the most growth with a need for 11,460 homes.

On infrastructure, 2.5 miles of flood walls in Great Yarmouth will be updated as part of a £40m project which should provide protection from tidal flooding for more than 4,500 homes and businesses. The work will see 46 flood defence walls refurbished which should extend their lifespan by up to 30 years. Over £32m has come from central government with the rest from the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, the Growth Deal programme and the Anglian Eastern Regional Flood & Coastal Committee. In Essex, a pair of beavers released into the wild do not require £40m of funding to construct flood defences. The Eurasian Beavers, which were bred in captivity, were introduced to an estate in Essex in March and have since built seven – so far effective – dams using sticks and mud. The mammals were hunted to extinction in England about 400 years ago. The Environment Agency has said it was a ‘pioneering approach.’

Plans for the biggest new town centre since Milton Keynes revealed, the UK’s first environmentally friendly mosque in Cambridge and ‘Yesterday’ showcases the future of East Anglia’s film and tourism sectors

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Unemployment in the East of England ticked up by 3,000 to 100,000 between December and February; a slight increase of 0.1% to 3.1%. The SW of England had the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 2.6% and the NE of England had the highest at 5.6%. The national unemployment rate stands at 3.9% and UK average earnings grew by 3.5% or by 1.6% after inflation.

East of England average property prices increased by 0.5% to £290,137 during the month which took the annual growth rate to 0.6%. In comparison, UK prices dropped by 0.8% to £226,234 during April which cut the annual growth rate to 0.6%.

Some key regional development projects took a step forward this month with the proposed town centre of Northstowe taking shape. The Cambridgeshire town will be the UK’s biggest new town since the 1960s development of Milton Keynes. Plans for the development of town gardens, market hall, civic hub and education campus have been revealed – overall there will be 46,450 sqm of commercial and community space. The high street will be 30m wide and allow for 1,000 apartments. The south east of St Ives has already seen 300 homes built with a further 10,000 proposed on the site of the former RAF Oakington barracks. Homes England is leading the delivery of the next two phases which includes developing the town centre and 8,500 homes.

A £5m Suffolk project which will restore wetlands habitat has begun. Suffolk Wildlife Trust has bought land adjacent to its existing reserve to create a 1,000 acre southern gateway to the Broads. The additional 348 acres was funded by a £4m grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund with an appeal raising a further £1m. Contractors will take six months to create the wetlands and build a visitors’ centre; 120,000 visitors a year are expected.

A £23m mosque which has capacity for 1,000 worshippers has opened in Cambridge. The mosque includes a prayer hall, ablution areas and accommodation for its Imam’s family and visiting scholars. Billed as the UK’s first environmentally friendly mosque the building has zero carbon on-site emissions, rainwater harvesting and air source heat pumps. Ten years in the planning, the mosque will replace a series of overcrowded Islamic centres.

A project in Bedford to make the world’s longest aircraft will continue after a £1m development grant was awarded by the UK Aerospace Research and Technology Programme. The firm, Hybrid Air Vehicles, aims to build an electric plane cum airship hoping for near zero-carbon aviation. The project will take several years to develop a prototype 500kW electric propulsor to replace fuel-burning forward engines. The aircraft uses a combination of buoyant lift from helium, aerodynamic lift, and vectored thrust. A previous £32m project to build the now retired prototype Airlander 10 ended in 2017 following six successful test flights. The firm’s partners, Collins Aerospace and the University of Nottingham, have been jointly awarded this grant which is likely to be insufficient to see the project through.

On regional infrastructure, a feasibility study into a £136m bridge over the River Great Ouse at Huntingdon has been commissioned by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority. Currently motorists can only cross the river on the A14 between Godmanchester and Huntingdon or use the 14th Century Old Bridge which runs parallel. The study – which will be published in March – will examine whether the economic benefits of a third crossing and the subsequent easing of congestion will justify the cost.

Significant changes in regional transport this month after the Department for Transport announced that Dutch government-owned firm Abellio is to take over the running of the East Midlands rail line. The East Midlands franchise operates trains between Norwich, Nottingham and Liverpool. Abellio had been awarded an eight year contract from August, after Stagecoach, the current operator, was disqualified following a row over pension liabilities. Abellio operates five other rail franchises, including Scotrail and Greater Anglia services between Norwich and London. Abellio will replace the existing intercity fleet with modern carriages.

In the air, Ryanair has opened a new base at London Southend Airport from where it will operate more than 50 flights a week. The airline estimates it will fly 1m passengers a year on 13 routes to eight countries. One hundred cabin crew and pilot jobs will be created at the firm’s 14th UK base with another 750 ancillary jobs likely. The airport hopes to transit 5m passengers a year by 2022. Further west in the county, Ryanair has told passengers booked on some of its Belfast to Stansted services that their flights have been cancelled. The airline will reduce its Belfast service to Stansted to two flights a week from June 2.

The East Anglia film industry continues to strengthen after director Danny Boyle held an open casting call for a crowd scene at Gorleston beach, Norfolk. The film will involve 6,000 extras, boosting the region’s film and tourism sectors. Filming also took place at Halesworth, Suffolk, and Clacton-on-Sea in Essex. The alternate reality film, ‘Yesterday’, envisages a singer-songwriter claiming the Beatles hits as his own. Also in Norfolk, film extras were being recruited for scenes due to be shot in Norwich’s historic Elm Hill at the start of June in a Netflix movie being produced by, US singer, John Legend. The Christmas musical, called Jingle Jangle, will star Oscar winner Forest Whitaker.

Developments in the energy and film sectors, local governance issues and the UK’s first new town seeks to innovate again

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Unemployment in the East of England increased by 12,000 to 103,000 between November and January; the hike of 0.3% to 3.2% was the second highest in the UK but the overall rate remains low. At 2.9% and 5.2% the SW of England and Yorkshire & Humberside had the lowest and highest unemployment rate in the country respectively. The UK unemployment rate stands at 3.9%.

In March average earnings in the East of England increased to £656 per week. London had the highest average earnings of £846 whereas the North East had the lowest of £523. In the UK average earnings grew by 3.4% or by 1.5% after inflation.

East of England average property prices fell by 1% to £288,494 during the month which meant prices have fallen by 0.2% over the year. In comparison UK prices dropped by 0.8% during March which cut the annual growth rate to 1.7%. The East of England market was also slower with the latest figures to September 2018 showing volumes down by 2.8%.

Great Yarmouth company, SeaJacks UK, has lost its contract to help build a giant windfarm off the Norfolk coast. The firm won the contract from ScottishPower Renewables two years ago but construction delays have meant a Dutch firm is now the main contractor; 75 skilled jobs and five apprenticeships would have been created. SeaJacks hopes to pick up other work on the project. Plans for EDF Energy’s £16bn Sizewell C nuclear plant – at Leiston, Suffolk, adjacent to the existing Sizewell B – are not detailed enough say Suffolk County Council and Suffolk Coastal District Council although they support the plant in principle.

Screen Suffolk is working to secure filming of a big-budget Marvel action movie at an undisclosed location later in the year. The agency has generated £3.8m for Suffolk over 2 years. It is estimated an average filming day brings £11,500 of spending on hotels, food, drink and other services in the location area. For example during five days of shooting, Armando Iannucci’s film The Personal History of David Copperfield – in Bury St Edmunds – saw £82,000 spent by the crew.

A £350m regeneration of Stevenage town centre – that includes new shops, bars, restaurants, 600 homes, a park and a council building – influenced by successful European cities is expected to go to planning within a year. The SG1 project on the western side of the town centre will take up to eight years to complete in phases; work could begin in 2020. Given Stevenage was the UK’s first pedestrianised town centre, could something as equally revolutionary be achieved?

In Bedfordshire, plans to develop land next to junction 10 of the M1 to partially fund Luton Town’s new stadium have been approved. The scheme at Newlands Park involves new bars, restaurants, a 1,800-capacity live venue, a hotel and car park, and 550 apartments. In Norwich a £250m redevelopment of a shopping complex, including 1,250 new homes has been called in by the Government putting in doubt the £12.2m already allocated under the Housing Infrastructure Fund. Plans for the tower block of apartments, a cinema, hotel and shops at 1960s-built Anglia Square in Norwich were approved by the city council in December.

On East of England transport, a feasibility study commissioned by the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority claims a £4bn metro system -the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro – for Greater Cambridge could create 100,000 jobs and 60,000 new homes. The metro would cover 88 miles of which 7.5 miles would be underground in Cambridge. The system would use electric vehicles – at a maximum speed of 55mph – capable of crossing the city in under 12 minutes. The metro would connect the city to regional towns like St Neots, Huntingdon and St Ives. On the main rail network, Cambridgeshire County Council has backed Route A – that would run through Bassingbourn and Sandy both with new stations – in the East West Rail link consultation; the cheapest route with the lowest journey times between Oxford and Cambridge.

A private health trust is to close with the loss of 280 jobs. All Hallows Healthcare cares for more than 250 people at its sites in Lowestoft in Suffolk and Ditchingham in Norfolk. The Trust runs a 30-bed hospital, a 50-bed nursing home, at-home care services and daycare at the hospital but is no longer viable, stating that capped funding, lost contracts and the need for retendering had depleted its reserves. A luxury lodge firm – 121 Dream Lodge Group – that went into administration in January has been bought by Exclusive Luxury Lodges Ltd. Eighty of the staff who worked at eight parks across England were made redundant but now about 40 jobs have been saved.

To East of England governance and Suffolk has the largest ‘district’ council in the UK. The country’s largest non-metropolitan district council – by population – is now operational. East Suffolk District merged Suffolk Coastal and Waveney district councils and will serve 246,913 people. Suffolk Coastal and Waveney have operated an integrated workforce since 2010 and have saved £16m. A second new authority, West Suffolk, has merged St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath councils and will cater for 179,248. Despite these mergers Suffolk – unlike other parts of England which have successfully moved to unitary or combined authority models – still has a two-tier system; the top tier is the county council which provides services such as highways maintenance, schools, social services and libraries. The second tier now has five district councils instead of seven, which are responsible for services such as refuse collections, housing, planning permission and parks and leisure.

An independent inquiry is to be held into how King’s Lynn & West Norfolk Borough Council failed to recover a £2.75m loan from enterprise firm Norfolk & Waveney Enterprise Services. The firm borrowed from the district council to help build the Klic business start-up hub in King’s Lynn which has since been repossessed.