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The big eight election issues

PUBLISHED: 15:43 12 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:02 06 July 2010

FROM tailbacks on the A11 to slow trains to London, a tortoise-speed broadband service to lack of affordable homes, the big issues of this election affect businesses and individuals alike.

FROM tailbacks on the A11 to slow trains to London, a tortoise-speed broadband service to lack of affordable homes, the big issues of this election affect businesses and individuals alike.

Everyone who has sat in a traffic jam at Elveden, been frustrated by a slow internet connection or seen their children forced to leave the village they grew up in because of rising house prices will want to ensure their vote plays a part in bringing change for the better.

For those on and near the coast, few issues are more important than the prospect of losing a home to the sea or a home being uninsurable because of the risk of flooding.

Malcolm Kerby, co-ordinator of the Happisburgh-based Coastal Concerns Action Group and chairman of National Voice for Coastal Communities, says: "We have to get our priorities right. We need absolutely clear commitments from the leading parties that they will look at the coast, treat it very seriously and provide the funding required."

Jonathan Clemo, chief executive of Norfolk Rural Community Council, said that the lack of affordable housing damages communities as well as businesses.

He said: "Because of the desirability of rural areas, house prices are often many times higher than the average income, which is a barrier to young people being able to live and work in the community they grew up in. We need to keep our communities diverse, not least so there is a labour market to support the needs of an ageing population."

For Chris Starkie, chief executive of the economic development partnership Shaping Norfolk's Future, the election priorities are clear: "It is critical that the A11 is given the go-ahead straight after the election, that the Greater Anglia rail franchise prioritises a one hour 30 minute journey time to London, new rolling stock and faster, more reliable trains, and that MPs across Norfolk put pressure on government to look at ways of providing faster broadband."

Norfolk Chamber of Commerce's recent blueprint, Delivering for Norfolk, also demanded full broadband coverage at faster speeds, better road links and better train services.

It also highlights education and skills as a key area. Its president, Barry Dennis, said: "I would like to see the new government encouraging schools to work closer with businesses."

Ian Hacon, chief executive of Blue Sky Leisure, which owns Kelling Heath and Woodhill holiday parks and Zaks' restaurants and is one of those backing the "Norwich in 90" faster rail campaign, said: "I urge all politicians from all parties to get behind this campaign to remove one of Norfolk's major barriers to trade. This vibrant, exciting and beautiful county needs to be able to compete on a level playing field."

These are just a few of the voices demanding action.

Key issues:

Better train services to, from and within the region

A faster train service to London is important for tourism, the environment and business - anyone who uses the trains. Shaping Norfolk's Future is leading the "Norwich in 90" campaign calling for faster and more reliable trains, new rolling stock and more capacity to ease peak-time overcrowding. Earlier this year all eight Norfolk MPs lobbied the transport secretary to improve the county's rail services.

A key question is the conditions that will be attached to the new Greater Anglia franchise next year.

Labour is demanding faster rail times on the Norwich/London route from the franchise. Liberal Democrats and Conservatives want to extend the duration of rail franchises to encourage more investment. The Lib Dems also want to reopen railway lines.

The Greens want public ownership of the rail service and subsidies for public transport to make fares lower.

Broadband

Slow speeds are a bugbear for anyone using the internet to communicate, play games, trade or plan their lives.

Conservatives promise broadband for everyone, including in rural areas, funded by the licence fee where necessary. They want superfast broadband in the majority of homes by 2017 and would reduce costs by ending BT's monopoly, allowing other operators to use their telephone ducts and poles.

Labour says there should be universal access to broadband by 2012 and 90pc of the population will have access to superfast broadband by 2017. Liberal Democrats would tax phone lines (though not for pensioners) to provide funding for rural areas to get faster broadband.

Care of the elderly

Pensioners make up a high proportion of the region's population. Big issues are pensions and how the elderly will be looked after when they need more help. The prospect of having to sell a home to pay for care is distressing.

Services such as day centres are lifelines for many and the move towards greater personalisation of care to increase choice needs to take account of all needs.

Labour's plans for an NHS-style National Care Service, starting with giving 400,000 vulnerable elderly people free help with personal care in their homes, have been halted and a major inquiry into the provision and cost of care in old age will seek a consensus. But is not expected to report before the general election after this.

Proper help for the thousands of carers in this country remains unresolved.

Coastal flooding in Norfolk and Suffolk

Residents of north-east Norfolk still remember with horror proposals to allow 25 square miles of the Norfolk to flood, wiping six villages off the map. The option was dropped but the episode serves as a reminder of the importance of maintaining sea defences.

Climate change means 250 homes are likely to fall into the sea in Norfolk, Suffolk and Lincolnshire in the next 20 years. Where it is not possible to defend homes indefinitely, there should be proper compensation for those whose homes fall victim to the sea.

There is still debate about whether we should defend coastal commun-ities at all costs or let some go in a managed retreat. Individuals and farmers are among those wanting an answer.

At present most of the national floods and coastal protection budget is spent on river flooding rather than the coast and only a small proportion is given to local authorities for coast protection work.

Dualling the rest of the A11 between Thetford and Barton Mills

Victory was so close after 40 years of campaigning but there will now be no decision on dualling the A11 until after the election.

Parties have made promises about the A11. Charles Clarke, Labour candidate for Norwich South, said he would "continue campaigning for this" and "Labour is committed to the dualling".

Tory leader David Cameron appeared to back the idea but was short on detail. Simon Wright, Liberal Democrat candidate for Norwich South, has also given his backing to dualling the A11. The Greens, on the other hand, are against it.

Deprivation

This is not just an issue in, say, Norwich and King's Lynn but also in our market towns and rural areas.

Parts of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft are in the most deprived 10pc in the country. Norwich is ranked second most deprived district in the east of England if measured by the numbers of people affected by deprivation. But many smaller towns and villages suffer poverty and lack of job opportunities.

Because deprivation is a complex issue and hard to tackle, the solution is elusive - though some things can certainly be done to help.

Liberal Democrats say local services should be affordable and accessible in rural areas, with more bus services and support for local shops and pubs. Conservatives say they will protect rural services, create incentives for rural business development and refer young unemployed people more quickly on to the Work Programme. Labour says it will continue to help families and pensioners and guarantee work or training for every young person unemployed for six months.

Education and skills

Norfolk suffers from lower educational attainment than the national average, though it has been improving in recent years.

Higher aspirations among young people need encouraging and for our region to be able to compete in industries such as renewable energy it needs a better skills base.

It is not entirely clear how the political parties will help Norfolk to catch up. In general the Conservative Party wants schools more independent of politicians, smaller classes, and better career advice. It also wants more university and college places and extra apprentice-ships. The Liberal Democrats want smaller class sizes and would scrap university tuition fees, which might encourage teenagers from lower-income families to go to university. Labour is guaranteeing a place in education or training for all 16 and 17-year-olds.

Affordable housing

This is a key issue familiar in every community, not just areas like north Norfolk and Southwold which are popular with second home owners.

High property prices and relatively low average wages make it difficult for local people to stay where they grew up.

Labour says it is building up the supply of affordable housing and has started the biggest council house building programme for almost 20 years.

Conservatives would work with local communities to set up local housing trusts to build new affordable homes. Liberal Democrats want more affordable housing in rural areas and would offer grants to turn empty properties into social housing, give councils more powers over second homes and allow farmers to turn outbuildings into affordable homes.

Meanwhile the debate about how many new homes the region can take -­ and where - rages on.

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