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Suffolk Labour criticises Lowestoft Conference

Letter from Cllr Sandra Gage, Shadow Spokesperson for Roads and Transport:

I attended the Lowestoft Conference on 15 April, as the County Council Labour Spokesperson for Roads and Transport, as did a number of my Labour Colleagues who are Lowestoft Councillors.

I have to say the mood at the conference, and tone of the debate during the ‘question time’ did not suggest this was a ‘landmark event’ as quoted from Colin Law. Whilst there were over 200 there, only 36 were members of the public, and around a third were local businesses. It was unclear who the conference was intended to be for, and both members of the public, and a scarce young person in the audience challenged the Panel on the lack of engagement with all ages, gender and cultures. Ironically the event was held at the Sixth form College, though none on the Panel had thought to invite any of the students. One member of the public who wished to outline his thoughts on transport improvements was told to sit down at both the transport workshop I attended, and the question time held at the end, though he had drawn his own map of how he felt the town could be developed, and simply wanted to share this.

It was published afterwards that a ‘Question Time’ session rounded off the event and saw people put a range of questions to a panel. However, again that does not accurately describe what appeared to be a ‘talking to’ session rather than an open debate. Questions had been submitted before the event, and we were encouraged to submit questions during the conference, to be asked at the ‘question time’ session. None of the questions submitted on the day were asked, and only two of the pre-event questions were raised. It seemed the main purpose of the session was for the Panel to ‘talk to’ the audience, as most of the time was spent with Panel members, Peter Aldous, Mark Bee and Colin Law repeating at length what was already decided by them, as included in the WDC Area Action Plan, and therefore how decisions on housing, land use and transport infrastructure were all beyond debate. Thankfully a few stood up including Trevor Garrard Chairman of East Suffolk Transport Ass, and Paul Hobbs, local artist who challenged the Panel on both rail and heritage for the town.  A question from the audience to WDC Leader Colin Law on the council’s recent dealings with the Sanyo site caused heated exchanges, and was inadequately explained by Colin. It remains an issue that many in the audience, and I suspect the town, would like answers to.

A debate on how Lowestoft can maximise its potential in terms of tourism, heritage, jobs & business growth and housing is long overdue. The urgent need for locally supported improvements to transport infrastructure is one which needs addressing, if the people of Lowestoft are going to feel they do have a say in what happens to their town. This conference did not achieve that. It was more about Peter Aldous, and Leaders Mark Bee and Colin Law of Suffolk County and Waveney District Councils talking to rather than listening to Lowestoft people.

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