Hard-fought election battle expected over 'safe' seat of Suffolk Coastal
PUBLISHED: 11:06 20 April 2015 | UPDATED: 11:41 20 April 2015
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In every election since 1997 the Conservatives have increased their share of the vote in Suffolk Coastal, writes Richard Cornwell.
It’s a reflection of just how true blue the constituency is that even in times of Labour government, it still rallied behind John Gummer, now Lord Deben, and last time around Therese Coffey.
It also shows how hard the other parties will have to work to win the seat – though UKIP strongly believe they can make a big dent in the vote this time, following their strong showing in the area in the recent European elections, and the Liberal Democrats will argue that they took 30% of the vote in the 2010 General Election.
In 2010, Therese Coffey polled 25,475 votes, a 1.8% increase on 2005, with a majority of 9,128 over the Lib Dems, while Labour lost 10% of its support.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, the Conservatives regularly polled well over 30,000, and it’s the Lib Dems who have made inroads into that total.
Suffolk Coastal is a largely rural area, peppered with market towns and dozens of villages and hamlets, with its main urban centre, Felixstowe, at its southernmost point.
It includes almost all the county’s coastline, as far north as Southwold.
With the economy improving, it is one of the places showing signs of recovery with unemployment having fallen steadily across the constituency in the past five years.
Latest figures show that only 444 people in Suffolk Coastal are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, the lowest on record, and 918 fewer than five years ago – a drop of 60%. Youth unemployment is also at its lowest since records began.
Its tourism industry is buoyant with attractions and accommodation providers reporting consistent success in attracting increasing visitors and ongoing investment, including £500,000 this year from the Coastal Community Fund towards projects including an annual Children’s Film Festival, a sculptural viewing platform at Snape Maltings and the expansion of the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival.
Even Felixstowe is seeing signs of regeneration with Wetherspoons and Premier Inn building new facilities, £4.2m seafront gardens renovation, the Spa under new ownership and set to reopen, and permissions for new housing, an 11-acre warehouse for Uniserve and a new pier.
One of the biggest concerns is the impending Sizewell C project. Most people support it or accept its inevitability, and it will without doubt bring thousands of new jobs. But the questions for the candidates on the doorsteps will centre around the impact on the community and how they would deal it.
Government is already being pressed for a commitment to help fund an A12 four villages bypass and many want the D2 link road from A12 to the power station, too.
There remains concerns over many other aspects, too – including the accommodation camp for the workers and park and ride sites.
Housing will be another major issue. There is a need for new homes but many people are upset at the loss of fields, the expansion of communities without additional infrastructure, and the change in the rural environment.
Health facilities, too, are under increasing pressure in rural areas of the constituency. Surgeries, with growing populations, are stretched. People find themselves travelling long distances – often to Ipswich Hospital – for the most routine treatments or checks. Protecting community hospitals and health centres, and boosting facilities is paramount.
It will take an enormous effort and swing to break the Conservatives’ hold on Suffolk Coastal which stretches back to its creation in 1983, but no-one can be complacent in an uncertain political climate and it will be a hard-fought campaign for all.
For a full election round up for Suffolk Coastal, see here