It is safe to say that 2017 followed on from 2016 in being an interesting and busy time in national and global politics. In the space of the last three years, the UK has had more political activity than we could have expected in a decade.
However, I maintain that the election and the referendum breathed new life into political debate; engaging more people from all sides of the spectrum. I know my postbag has certainly felt the difference and I am sure most of us, whether round the dinner table or at the supermarket, have noticed a changing debate also.
However, a new year and a new start, as we reflect on the last 12 months and look forward to what 2018 has to hold.
Over the course of 2017, we have had an immensely strong campaign, No More Delays on the A14 in Suffolk. So that our roads may be safer and less congested, we must ensure key junctions are widened and made more accessible. With the longest stretch of this trunk road passing through Suffolk and connecting the port at Felixstowe to the rest of the country, improvements are urgently to free up this stretch and ensure we can move vital goods across our region;
As Chair of the campaign, we have had real momentum throughout the year, with our efforts culminating in the news that the A14 has been highlighted as a potential expressway. This news, was incredibly positive and is an excellent start to the New Year and our campaign in 2018.
However, the crucial upgrade of the A14 is just one improvement required to our region’s infrastructure. Without a doubt, broadband and mobile connectivity is the ‘fourth utility’ in our homes. Yet, for rural areas with limited connectivity, broadband access is even more important and yet, owing to rural sparsity, a much greater challenge to deliver.
My own constituency has some of the most severely affected areas in the country and at least 10,000 households without sufficient connectivity.
I’ve been contacted by businesses and households who can barely conduct a simple email exchange, let alone use the internet for learning or leisure. Without redress, we risk our communities falling away from the region and falling behind the rest of the country.
To add salt to the wound, residents will pay the same rate as other areas in receipt of superfast broadband. The Government’s Universal Broadband Service Obligation does guarantee every UK resident a legal right to demand access to high speed broadband. However, residents and businesses must first be able to access superfast speeds.
This is why I have contacted 11,000 residents in the worst affected areas of my constituency to understand the range of internet access, how they would utilise greater online access and whether, without connectivity, they can still access vital services.
The response rate has, so far, been outstanding and I am confident first-hand information from those affected will add huge value to this campaign and drive our case forward.
These two campaigns are essential to the future of our region and the vitality of our economy. They also sit at the core of my campaign for 2018 which includes delivering quality into housebuilding and the future of our homes.
As Chair of the APPG for Quality in the Built Environment, this year, I am inviting evidence to consider the need for an overhaul of the standards and bodies which regulate housebuilders in the UK.
So far, I have been inundated with evidence from homeowners and the industry, showing how insufficient regulation can lead to collapsed walls, poor insulation and dangerous fittings. Despite this, the lack of accountability on the part of housebuilders is a devastating situation for homeowners, and is an unacceptable standard when it comes to our biggest life purchase.
That is why I will be holding an inquiry to consider the need for a Housing Ombudsman to ensure sufficient scrutiny of housebuilders, and protecting the interests of homeowners.
However, more broadly, it is paramount we consider the need for more homes not on its own, but intermixed with our pursuit for improved infrastructure; building more, better homes which plan for connectivity. This vision for 2018 and beyond, is not only smart but can guarantee the quality our modern living deserves.
Published in the East Anglian Daily Times