The State of Britain

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

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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.