Housing was MP's first priority

PUBLISHED: 12:00 16 October 2001 | UPDATED: 10:40 03 March 2010

JAMIE Cann's best-known achievements in politics are the leisure facilities in Ipswich which were developed during his time as council leader and helping to save the Bartlet Hospital at Felixstowe.

JAMIE Cann's best-known achievements in politics are the leisure facilities in Ipswich which were developed during his time as council leader and helping to save the Bartlet Hospital at Felixstowe.

Crown Pools, the town's sports centres, and the Regent Theatre were all developed under his stewardship.

But he always regarded his own greatest achievement as the improvement of the town's council houses.

It was the state of housing in Ipswich that first persuaded Mr Cann to become involved in politics.

As a young teacher, he was appalled at the homes that many of his pupils at Bramford Road School lived in.

He said that it was his determination to do something about this which led him into local politics – and ultimately to the House of Commons.

Mr Cann was first elected to Ipswich Council in 1973, and was almost immediately elected chairman of the Housing Committee.

"That was a very big job, and he did tackled it head on," said Labour agent and fellow councillor John Mowles, who became Housing Committee chairman himself several years later.

"When Jamie came in we didn't really have a housing department as such. It had just been part of the treasurer's department.

"He changed that and created the department to take charge of the housing. He was councillor for Chantry, so he really knew how important it was," Mr Mowles said.

Mr Cann was especially proud of the fact that Ipswich was one of the first councils in the region, if not the country, to ensure that all its homes had an inside bathroom and hot and cold running water.

The timely intervention he and his close contacts with then health secretary Frank Dobson gave the Bartlet campaigners victory in their battle with Suffolk Health.

And Mr Cann ensured that the triumph was announced in exactly the right way – by arranging for campaign leaders to hear the news personally from Mr Dobson at Whitehall, followed by a champagne celebration in the Houses of Parliament.

Paying tribute to Mr Cann, Roy Gray, chairman of the Bartlet Support Group, said: "He will never be forgotten by the people of Felixstowe or indeed the people of east Suffolk.

"Mr Cann's intervention and assistance, along with that of the Community Health Council, in bringing the campaign to Frank Dobson's attention was so important and helped us to win our fight to keep the Bartlet safe much more quickly than we might otherwise have done.

"We showed Mr Cann around the Bartlet and he understood at once how important it was to the people of east Suffolk.

"He had genuine and strong feelings about the hospital. He also understood the enormously strong feelings of the local people on the issue and he was able to convey those to Mr Dobson.

"Mr Cann's sad death is a great loss to his family and a lot of local people."

Mr Gray said he would personally never forget going to Whitehall to meet Mr Dobson and hear the Bartlet's fate.

"It was quite wonderful to be told the news – and Jamie arranged all that especially for us," he added.

The Save the Bartlet Campaign was launched by The Evening Star after it was learned that Suffolk Health Authority wanted to close the rehabilitation and convalescent unit on Bath Hill to save £330,000 a year.

More than 23,000 people signed a petition, and the campaign was backed by town, district and parish councils, pensioners' associations and community groups.

During his time in the House of Commons, Mr Cann never forgot his constituency roots – he was always more in tune with the voters on Chantry or Gainsborough than he was with the spin doctors at Labour headquarters.

It led to his opposition to moves to reduce the homosexual age of consent to 16. It led him to oppose moves to liberalise abortion laws – he wasn't afraid to oppose his party if he felt he was right.

When Mr Cann's legacy to the town he adopted is considered it will be the sports facilities and the Regent that will stick in many people's minds.

But for him the greatest achievement was always that the council gave thousands of families decent homes to live in.

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