Rival groups draw up plans to replace EEDA

PLANS for one of the Government’s new-style Local Enterprise Partnerships aim to put East Anglia back on the map.

A broad mix of business groups, individual companies and local authorities are backing a proposal for a partnership covering the counties of Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, together with north-east Essex.

Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are being introduced in place of the current network of regional development agencies such as EEDA, the East of England Development Agency, which covers the three traditional counties of East Anglia plus Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.

The proposed East Anglia LEP would cover the whole of Suffolk and Norfolk, the Colchester and Tendring districts of Essex and Cambridgeshire, excluding the unitary authority of Peterborough.

Supporters of the East Anglia proposal, which is among 56 submissions currently being considered by Ministers, include CBI East of England, the eastern region of the Country Land & Business Association, Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, the Suffolk branch of the Institute of Directors and the East Anglia branch of the Federation of Small Businesses.

The proposal also has the backing of the Choose Suffolk and Haven Gateway economic partnerships and individual companies including Adnams, Anglian Water, Bio Group, British Energy, BT, Cambridge University Press, Huntingdon Life Sciences, Hutchison Ports (UK), Kettle Foods, Lotus, May Gurney and The Technology Partnership.

Local authorities supporting the East Anglia LEP proposal include Suffolk County Council and all seven district/borough councils within the county, plus Norwich City Council.

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The Colchester and Tendring districts in Essex are included in the East Anglia LEP proposal in order to avoid the Haven ports on the rivers Stour and Orwell – principally Felixstowe and Harwich International, both owned by Hutchison – being split between two separate LEPs.

The case for the inclusion of the districts in East Anglia is further strengthened by plans for Essex and Kent to join together in forming another of the new LEPs, one which would inevitably focus heavily on the Thames corridor.

Within East Anglia, competing LEP proposals have been put forward for a county-based partnership covering Norfolk alone and for a Greater Cambridge & Greater Peterborough LEP, which also lays claims to parts of western Norfolk and Suffolk, north-west Essex and north Hertfordshire.

However, the backers of the East Anglia LEP proposal believe that the economic, geographic and cultural links between Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk amount to a uniquely compelling case for creating a regional partnership, small enough to share a genuine community of interest but large enough to have sufficient influence in the quest for funding and investment.

Andy Wood, chief executive of Adnams and chairman of Choose Suffolk, who is among those spearheading the East Anglia LEP campaign, said: “At Choose Suffolk, we believe the case for recreating East Anglia, from three counties with a comparable geography and culture and a proven economic connectedness, is a compelling one.

“With the coalition Government seeking to rebalance the economy, away from the public sector towards the private sector, we need a solution which creates the right conditions for businesses in East Anglia to flourish, succeed and pick up the slack.

“There are undoubtedly many strengths in the localism agenda but, taken too literally, it could blight business and, therefore, economic development. What East Anglia needs is a lean, strategic body – big thinkers, not big bureaucracy – a body with economic weight and scale, that is hard-wired to Westminster and Europe as potential sources of funding.

“This will help us develop our economy and deal with the economic and social challenges we face while still allowing for local or sector-specific delivery.

“Economic scale will enable us to drive the best deal on things such as road, rail and high-speed broadband to crucial to local businesses.

“We are the nation’s breadbasket, we are natural innovators, have world-leading research and technology, and benefit from a coast which could deliver both new nuclear in the south and offshore in the north – nothing short of the UK’s Green Energy Coast.

“East Anglia could become a great brand once more and deliver a world-class economy. We now must not miss that opportunity.”

The cultural coherency of East Anglia was shown by the number of journeys made between the major centres of Norwich, Cambridge and Ipswich, for reasons of work, leisure and relaxation, said Mr Wood.

And Choose Suffolk also believed that other parts of the country with stronger regional identities had in the past benefited at the expense of East Anglia.“When people go away on holiday they will often refer to going to the Westcountry or the North-East,” he said. “They often talk about the area they are going to, not the individual counties. Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridge can all be visited in the space of a few days. We could put East Anglia firmly on the map by packaging them together.